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"Revealed in upcoming episodes of this program are the contents of a recently unearthed repository classified by the secret government … The Phenomenon Archives."
Thus the seemingly ill-at-ease Dean Stockwell opens each episode of this short-lived series. Equal parts silly speculation and hard science, these "lost archives" are the sort of TV tabloid stuff you'll find on UHF at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon. While it purports to offer stunning and "newly unclassified" insights into several of history's burning questions, the truth is that "The Lost Archives" are sort of like an X-Files documentary (in the best episodes) or a particularly goofy episode of Nova (in the more boring chapters).
Fans of science fiction, conspiracy theories, and supernatural speculation should have a reasonably good time with this 6-disc collection. Compiled here are all 13 episodes of the 1998 series, some of which are really very fascinating, while others are as dry as driven dirt. Each chapter comes complete with a teleprompterally assisted Dean Stockwell (of Quantum Leap and Married to the Mob fame), who is compelled to utter several notorious insinuations regarding the subject matter both before and after the commercial breaks.
Let's just break down the goods on a disc-by-disc basis. (Each episode runs about 45 minutes in length.)
Up for Sale – A brief and compelling (if not all that complete) history of the Space Race, the era of space station expansion, and the current state of Russian space exploration. It's interesting to learn how America chose to employ several nuclear scientists from the former-USSR … if only just to keep the guys from working for the other side!
Heavy Watergate: The War Against Cold Fusion – Cold Fusion: is it a true and viable option for clean and practically limitless energy – or is it a scientific pipe-dream that was rushed into existence by foolhardy competitors? Both sides make their case pretty clear on the matter, although the Lost Archives writers clearly dig the Cold Fusion concept a whole lot.
Noah's Ark Found? – What starts out as a fascinating concept slowly grinds down to become a bit of a bore. Although the subject matter (have the remnants of Noah's Ark been found among the Ararat Mountains?) is ripe and intriguing, it seems there's not enough hard evidence to support a full 45-minute episode, and we get a bunch of increasingly less interesting ideas before it's all over.
Tunguska: The Russian Roswell - 200 square kilometers of Siberian landscape were mysterious scorched in the 1900s. Was it the site of a meteor crash? The testing ground for some (failed) new mega-bomb? The landing site of a (rather massive) alien visitor? All of these theories (and more!) can be found at Tunguska, which I think is one of the best episodes on this set.
Stolen Glory: The Cover-Up Of Cosmonaut Vladimir Ilyushin - Most people who choose to know these things recognize Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin as the first man in space. But here's some pretty juicy evidence that the REAL first guy in space passed out in his capsule and crashed into the Earth with a thud. His name was Vladimir Ilyushin, and (according to the Lost Archives) there was some seriously shifty stuff going on in the Russian Space Program.
Keeping The Faith: The Mystery Of Mass Suicide - Another one of the series highlights is this episode, which focuses mainly on the infamous Jonestown Massacre, but also on a handful of other "ritual suicides" that have occurred throughout history. Bolstering this particular episode is the inclusion of some previously unseen footage from Jonestown – as well as a few insightful concepts on how something like "Heaven's Gate" could even happen.
Science Fraud: E=MC$ - Although this chapter leans a little bit on the "paranoid" side, there's still something addictively entertaining about it. The focus here is on science: who does the research, who pays for it, and who benefits the most from it. The skeptics in the audience will have little trouble scoffing at the material, but that doesn't mean it's no fun.
Genesis Revisited - Do you believe that humanity could have sprung from ancient astronauts? Is it possible that ancient Sumerian tablets clearly contain an illustration our solar system? Is there even the slightest possibility that Stargate was based on a true story? If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, you may just be a little loopy. But you don't have to believe in this stuff to be entertained by the sci-fi craziness of it all.
Irretrievably Lost: The Search For The Savannah Bomb - Is there a fully armed nuclear bomb buried beneath a river than runs through Savannah, Georgia? Common sense would cause you to answer "um…no," but the Lost Archivists seem to believe otherwise. Here we get a glimpse at how stupidly careless people can be when dealing with nuclear weaponry. As in, they sometimes lose entire missiles. Yeah, spooky.
American Midnight - Did the tragic murder of two young men have some sort of tenuous connection to the Iran Contra disaster? Seems a tough connection to make, but the Lost Archive gang gives it a go. Perhaps a bit more 'off the deep end' with the elaborate conspiracy theories than most of the other episodes, but hey, that's kind of why you're watching it in the first place.
H.A.A.R.P.: Holes In Heaven? - Boasting the very welcome Martin Sheen as a guest narrator, this episode focuses on a machine that may or may not be able to control our planet's weather! Of course it could also be used as a land-based weapon of epic proportions … or could it? A host of gradually less-impressive scientists stop by and chime in on the story.
Monopoly Men - Here's a truly paranoid (and therefore very entertaining) piece about the Federal Reserve, American finance, and the truth behind who really owns what. A few really fun stories in this episode, even if none of 'em are all that factual.
An Unknown Encounter - The final episode brings us into the realm of poltergeists and they people they harass. This one's a good time in a "campfire tale" sort of way, even if the show chooses to employ some truly silly "re-enactment" material in between the interviews and the archival video footage.
Full frame television-quality transfers that occasionally suffer from blotchy color, but the episodes look pretty darn good across the board. Keep in mind that much of the material is comprised of archival material, video interviews, and PBS-style computer graphics, so the visual goods vary from moment to moment.
Dolby Digital 2.0, and it sounds precisely as good as it needs to. An obscure TV series release like this doesn't exactly need to be THX-calibrated, and the Lost Archives probably sound even better than they did on channel 52.
The Lost Archives reminded me a lot of a great old show called In Search Of, only that program needed a mere 22 minutes to tell its tales … and it had Leonard Nimoy instead of Dean Stockwell. Fans of scientific speculation, both practical and/or fantastical, could do a lot worse than giving these discs a spin. (If you'd be renting 'em on an individual basis, I'd go with discs 2, 3 and 6.)