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MonsterQuest - Season Two
"Witnesses around the world report seeing monsters. Are they real, or imagined? Science searches for answers, on MonsterQuest." This dour, terse introduction precedes each 45 minute episode of the History Channel show, slamming In Search Of's venerable booga-booga eeriness into the ground. Trouble is, it then leaves the booga-booga lying in the dust replacing it with increasingly formulaic science that drains much of the enjoyment out of your average cryptid/ paranormal funfest. Even casual Bigfoot fans hunger for anything close to proof, but MonsterQuest's attempts at investigation repeatedly resemble bland reality-dating TV.
Episodes all feature eyewitness recollections, generally bolstered by filmed recreations and CGI. Then MonsterQuest investigators head out into the vast wilderness with FLIR (infrared) camera technology and camera traps, where they usually fail to turn up anything more interesting than the odd opossum. An anthropologist will say that there's no chance such monsters exist, then an avant-garde zoologist will mention that in such gigantic wilderness areas, anything's possible. Then two guys will spend one night deploying an infrared camera on an RC helicopter, hoping that they'll turn up photos of Sasquatch lurking around in 600,000 acres of wilderness. I'd ask you to do the math, but I don't have the heart. I'm a lifelong cryptid fan, a lover of splinter-cats, Momos and Hodags, but somehow the repetitive nature of dry failure involved in MonsterQuest sort of sops up most of the juice you'd hope to find. Give me more eerie music, (ala In Search Of) terrifying narration, and - most importantly - tons of lame grainy photographs and amateur footage, please. Somehow, most of these basics of crypto-TV are missing. Snaps of Texan Chupacabras are delightful, but when you're forced to recreate the famous Patterson Bigfoot footage, it's clear that time, money, and MonsterQuest lawyers are all in short supply.
MonsterQuest is amusing enough, and deserves tons of credit for taking each and every project seriously, maybe a little too seriously.
Mega Hog roots out what truth is to be had behind those Internet pictures of hunters crouching next to gigantic porcine beasts. Rumor has it that thousand pound wild hogs the size of Rhinos scout the wilds of Texas, looking to trample humans with extreme prejudice. Or maybe it's just hunters tagging loose, super-huge domesticated pigs and then playing with perspective while snapping shots. Parallel scientific examinations pit skull measurements of a purported wild mega hog against attempts to trap one of the bacon factories. But the best plan involves strapping a hog-cam with a one mile broadcast range onto a smaller wild hog, in hopes that she'll score footage of the full meal deal. One Texas expert muses, "when I heard they were gonna put a camera on a hog and see what happens, it just sounded like something I needed to be a part of."
Vampire Beast investigates unexplained animal deaths in North Carolina. Could they be the work of a mysterious Vampire Beast that terrorized the state in the 1950s? A necropsy conducted on a puzzlingly murdered Pit Bull may provide answers. Or good old attempts to capture the beast on remote camera (an already too-familiar tack) might provide the goods. When animal corpse discoverers mention strange noises associated with the attacks, MonsterQuest even attempts to use the sounds of science - er, the science of sound to zero in on a target beast. In a burst of near-satisfaction, this episode almost reaches a conclusion.
Ghosts. OK, ask anyone (especially boys four and up) and they'll tell you a ghost is not a monster. Monsters are corporeal beings, sucker! Though these weak phantasms are historically segregated from proper monsters, we'll give it a pass because we love ghosts. Three or four examples of contemporary spectral evidence are scientifically examined (one is debunked) while MonsterQuest explorers tackle the haunted Lizzie Borden house for what seems like an eternity. The best our team can do is dredge up some suspect EVP evidence. This electro-voice-phenomena (recorded voices from beyond) at best turns up one spirit saying "so ..." - add a question mark to the end of that utterance and you'll have proper editorial comment for this episode of squandered potential.
The Ohio Grassman profiles sightings and possible physical evidence linked to the buckeye Bigfoot. Named either for having long, grassy hair or wandering around in grassy marshes, (I don't recall, maybe both reasons are correct?) this cryptid is near and dear to Ohioans' hearts. Eyewitness accounts provide drama not delivered by scientific inquiry that employs a sad decoy and an RC helicopter with a FLIR infrared camera. The helicopter - done up like an inanimate raver with colored glow-lights - picks up a lone, stationary heat signature in the vast Ohio wilds. Meantime, folks discover what might be a huge Grassman nest, and footage of what could only be described as a possible hairless, albino Grassman is examined.
Giant Killer Snakes slithers closer to known phenomena. Time is spent examining large pythons and anacondas (possibly released into the wild after Hurricane Andrew busted open pet stores and zoos in 1992) who have grown and thrived in the everglades, and are now encroaching on civilization. Random ten-foot constrictors vexing Floridians is becoming common in the south. Though the scaly beasts have been known to reach 30 feet, barefoot sleuthing in the Amazon struggles to turn up fabled beasts rumored to grow anywhere from 45 to 150 feet long.
Super Rats don't fly through the air foiling crimes, but they do supposedly live in a large metropolis - New York. The biggest ever Norway rat captured was 12 inches long, not including the tail, but New Yorkers claim to have seen rats the size of cats. More eyewitness accounts ease the loony blow of watching MonsterQuest teamsters trying to harness a backpack-cam to a wild rat, but when one of those eyewitness accounts comes from a guy who's been living in a subway tunnel for six years, credibility scurries away.
The Black Beast Of Exmoor may or may not be one of several pumas or jaguars stalking the British Isles. Or they may be outsized tabbies spotted by overeager souses deep in their cups. The storied land was once home to many types of large cats, but centuries have passed since their excision. Nonetheless, the possibility seems not out-of-the-question, especially in light of some 1994 footage.
Chupacabra is a word well familiar to X-Files fans and modern Fortean followers, but it's only been a decade or so since the goatsucker first made its appearance. In this episode the creepy creature gets much science lab play, with hair, skin and flesh samples examined carefully. Flesh samples? Yes, Texans have been quite able to shoot weird beasts that look like mangy, hairless coyotes gone very bad. The investigation compels, even as a naturalist teams up with a cryptozoologist who looks like he's just left the road after Ministry's last tour.
Legend Of The Hairy Beast employs a dorky linguistic twist to spice up your standard Bigfoot hunt. The 'Hairy Man' has recently been spotted life-size in thousand-year-old Pacific Northwest petroglyphs, leading some to conclude this is proof of the creature's existence - at least historically. Plenty of eyewitness (and earwitness) accounts, but no new photographs (or anything, you know, interesting) back up the claims. Sasquatch call-blasting - loudly playing supposed Sasquatch howls into dark woods - and camera traps constitute the MonsterQuest contribution towards finding Bigfoot.
Vampires In America isn't another attempt to resuscitate Eddie Murphy's career, it's a look at the possible existence of the bloodsuckers in These United States. Tuberculosis in New England would be a good title as well, as colonial and post-colonial epidemics of the disease seem to be inextricably intertwined with reported vampire killings. Modern-day Vampires are also put through the ringer in a pair of investigations that somehow manage to bring out the FLIR camera yet again.
Boneless Horror might excite your monster-loving mind, eliciting images of weird floppy dudes squishing under doors to gitcha. But no, give the copywriters credit for describing the mythical giant octopus in this way. Sailors of yore would spin yarns describing giant octopuses with 200-foot tentacle spans, able to take down entire sailing vessels. The giant pacific octopus is the largest species ever found, but their puny 10 - 12-foot tentacle spans are only good for doing things like latching onto the faces of unwary octopus hunters. Yes, though historical incidences of huge blubbery things washing ashore divide scientists - are they mega-octopuses or chunks of whale blubber? - our MonsterQuest guys get the most play from real aggressive giant pacific octopuses, which have no problem going after the cameras like Nick Nolte on a bender.
Bigfoot In New York zeroes in on a series of 'Hairy Man' sightings in the gentle hamlet of Whitehall, New York, thus disappointing in the same manner as Jason Takes Manhattan - the big guy doesn't stalk the cement canyons. All the same jazz takes place; eyewitness accounts and folks setting 'camera traps' in the woods. Like Mulder says, I want to believe, but I'll let you guess as to whether any concrete evidence is uncovered.
Lake Monsters of the North focuses on that other primary lurking zone for monsters; water. If they can't hide in the bushes, better hide in a lake, like the rumored monster eels of Crescent Lake in Newfoundland. Are there 20-foot eels mesmerizing fishermen and others up north? Or are they just floating logs or beavers? MonsterQuest breaks out the traps, sonar, divers and other devices to both search for the creatures and test the reliability of witnesses. Of note is a forensic sketch artist who takes two hours questioning a witness to draw, essentially, a floating log.
China's Wildman searches for another large hairy hominid, this one 5 to 7 feet tall, covered in orange hair, and lurking in China's highlands. All the usual Bigfoot stops are covered, only this time in China (and look forward to more from the missing-link camp later in the series). Most interesting is when researchers hope to lure the creature into a camera-trap with banana peels. If bananas grow at 9000 feet, I'd be surprised, but I'd be more surprised if the Wildman didn't fly into a rage upon finding only empty peels. Give the man a meal already!
Giant Bear Attack explores the compelling notion of huge versions of this apex predator growing bold and attacking humans more often. From hybrid polar-grizzly bears (pizzlys in the parlance) to mammoth brown bears running up on hunters, and finally to black bears encroaching on neighborhoods in New Jersey, the threat of giant bears attacking is very real. Whether 2000 pound, 14-foot-tall bears rivaling those of prehistoric times are wandering the forests of today is a task the MonsterQuest crew and the standard array of camera traps attempts to discover.
If giant bears attacking isn't bad enough, how about a Giant Squid Ambush? Humboldt Squids swim the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. With bodies nearing six feet in length, the beasts are formidable, and they have even longer oceanic cousins, but can the Humboldts reach lengths over 100 feet? With the way these vicious creatures repeatedly attack the MonsterQuest crew, let's hope not!
MonsterQuest really gets scary when Monster Spiders start crawling around. Historic accounts from the Congo and current stories told by Amazonian tribes-people seem to point towards tarantulas big enough to take away dogs and children, while topical reports from the sands of Iraq hype giant camel spiders that run fast and like to eat, eat, eat! Plenty of photos and footage of these too real (if not as gigantic as rumored) creatures will have your skin crawling. And - biggest surprise of all - when MonsterQuest searches for camel spiders in Texas, two women conduct the investigation! It's a gender-reversal unseen thus far in season two of the show.
Jaws In Illinois once again plays to MonsterQuest strengths (for what they're worth) by steering away from true cryptids and focusing on things more, shall we say, real - and thus scientifically verifiable. Bull sharks, known to be very aggressive and attack without apparent provocation, have also been known to swim hundreds of miles upriver from the gulf coast. Both of these items are news to me, and MonsterQuest folks do their best to affirm the knowledge. Bumping up to Northern climes, huge sharks have been rumored to swim mucho miles inland on the St. Lawrence River as well, and ... MonsterQuest is there. Large violent sharks swimming in peaceful old rivers? Not cool. Verifiable evidence discovered by MonsterQuest through the usual methods? Pretty darn cool indeed.
Real Dragons comes with another tricky name, since we don't go searching for huge flying beasts in China, but rather wind up hunting for large monitor lizards. In Australia the quarry is a huge scaly beast 20+ feet long, possibly a descendent of a lizard gone extinct 40,000 years ago ... or maybe not. Meanwhile the Indonesian Komodo dragon is a real fearsome beast, sometimes ten feet long and able to rip your arm off, not to mention pulling off the nifty trick of parthenogenesis.
Our last MonsterQuest stop heads right back to good old Bigfoot in Sasquatch Attack II. Apparently the hirsute hominid has a grudge against a particular fishing cabin on Snelgrove Lake in Ontario Canada. Attacks at this same cabin have been reported in years past, attracting the MonsterQuest crew previously. DNA evidence and hair samples are collected, leading to a possible primate connection, but, as usual, the hair sample collected proves troubling. One thing's for certain, someone in Snelgrove Lake likes the attention.
MonsterQuest deserves praise for tackling the beasts with scientific sincerity, but (at least taken in marathon form) the show's repetitive nature and semi-dismissal of fun, scary aspects of the subject limit its appeal. The show is padded reality-style with plenty of recaps and summations - nice if you need to get a snack or visit the loo, but lending to its repetitive nature. Adding to the déjà vu is the fact that MonsterQuest teams do pretty much the same thing every time; head out into a vast wilderness overnight, with a few camera traps, hoping to photograph a solitary, reclusive creature. It's like catching lightning in a bottle - not gonna happen. Oddly, eyewitnesses never seem to have a camera either, even though many of them are out bushwhacking with specific intent to discover a creature. The show would do well to increase eeriness, seek out some of that good old photographic evidence (those bits are classic for a reason) and have more fun with the subject.
All episodes and extras are presented in letterboxed fullscreen ratios - as originally broadcast on the History Channel. You can zoom or stretch to fill your widescreen, but at best you'll lose some information from the top and bottom of the image. Colors are fine, blacks are nice and deep, and the image is sharp. Many underwater shots, (and there are plenty) lit in murky depths, suffer from posterizing - there are clear breaks in gradation as spotlights penetrate the gloom. Details are pretty fine, though I noticed some shimmering as shots pan over tiny, sun-dappled leaves in the trees, for instance.
Digital Stereo Audio is robust, with deep, throaty bass and screechy high-end (check out some of those Sasquatch howls). Mixing is good, with dramatic music (read: not spooky) effective but unobtrusive, and narration and dialog clear and understandable.
Disc One touts about six minutes of extras: Cryptozoology finds noted expert Loren Coleman explaining the subject for under three minutes, while Cryptozoology Museum takes the same amount of time to briefly tour the man's collection of evidence and oddities.
Disc Two doles out a three-plus minute explanation of Hybrids, mythical animal mixes like the Werewolf, Jersey Devil and that good old Chupacabra.
Disc Three has two bonus segments, a three-and-a-half-minute overview of the Bigfoot phenomenon and an almost four minute look at Mermaids
Disc Four has average three-minute-long takes on Lake Monsters and Sea Monsters.
Disc Five finishes off with two more three-minute segments; Dragons and Thunderbirds, for a season two grand total of about 27 minutes of extras, but don't forget simple things like Closed Captioning and Episode Menus with Scene Selections.
As a lifelong lover of things outré, macabre, and many other French words that mean weird, I'm a bit disappointed in MonsterQuest: The Complete Season Two (bearing in mind that I haven't seen the first season). I loves me some monsters, and I love that this series takes them seriously, seeking out legitimate proof for lake monsters, Bigfoot, giant spiders and more. But the show has faults. At 25% Bigfoot content (five of the twenty episodes feature essentially the same creature) it seems that after just two seasons the series is running out of material. And, like most reality-based TV, plenty of time is given over each episode to recapping what you've just seen and what you're about to see. Upping the repetition ante, Questers do the same thing each time they're on the hunt, essentially spending a night in a giant wooded area hoping to lure singular, solitary creatures with a couple of packages of pigs feet and some camera traps. It's easy to guess what's going to happen each time, after about two episodes. What we're left with are eyewitness accounts, a dearth of even totally played out historical photographs (like those famous shots of Nessie) and a dour demeanor that's less In Search Of and more America's Most Wanted. It would be OK for MonsterQuest to hype the scare-factor while still pushing hard science, and it would make the show a lot more fun. Serious cryptozoology fanatics might want this in their collections, but on balance I'd only recommend you Rent It.