History Channel // 2009 // 226 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 13th, 2012
Find out if ancient texts refer to UFO phenomena.
The Drake Equation is a formula for determining the number of other groups we could communicate with in the universe. The equation takes into account the kinds of stars that support planets, the kind of life those planets support, the chances of said life becoming intelligent, and the chance this life could develop communication methods we can intercept. The problem with the equation is that it's all guesswork. We have some ideas -- like how many stars of our type contain planets enough like ours to support life -- but the rest of the equation is ruled by educated guesses and blind faith. If those probabilities are high enough, then theoretically we should already have seen signals from other civilizations. If, however, those probabilities are low, then it's unlikely we'll ever contact or be contacted by another intelligent civilizations. What most interests me about the Drake Equation -- and why I mention it in a DVD review -- is that it says nothing about the existence of aliens per se. There could be aliens everywhere all the time, but the Drake Equation only takes into account the kinds of signals we can recognize. In all likelihood, there are and have been aliens, but communicating has been difficult if not impossible due to technological limitations.
History Channel's Ancient Aliens takes the opposite approach. Not only do aliens exist, but they have existed, and more importantly they've contacted humanity numerous times. The evidence for such contact is all around us, in our art and the stories we've handed down for millennia. This Blu-ray "best of" set offers newcomers an entry into the show's first four seasons, while giving longtime fans the chance to see photoshopped aliens in hi-def and possess a single set to loan to skeptical friends.
Best of Ancient Aliens gathers the first episodes from each of the series' four seasons. That means things kick off with the 90 minute premiere which establishes the show's modus operandi. Starting from a factual example -- a curious carving that looks like a bird -- the show then interviews experts who say the example isn't what we think. Instead, it's proof that aliens had access to some kind of superior technology -- so the "bird" is actually a design for a plane. That's on firm speculative ground, generally speaking. From there, we move into the realm of pure guessing. Most of these experts claim this superior technology could only have come from contact with extraterrestrial life forms. Each episode then follows this same basic template, while focusing on some particular area or historical moment. So, we get an episode about the Mayans, weird places on earth, and strange things cowboys might have seen.
Visually Ancient Aliens is interesting, combining documentary footage of various scientific experiments, talking head interviews, location footage, and archival material. The interviewees are filmed against compelling backdrops, the location footage wasn't just filmed out of the back of a van, and the documentary moments look like other contemporary shows.
As far as content goes, it's really up to the viewer to decide. I can say that no compelling evidence is shown. What we have are artifacts which can be interpreted to be related to something like an alien. So, when The Bible says "chariot of fire in the sky" that must mean alien spacecraft. Or, because we don't know how the ancient people did something, they must have had help. These are plausible theories, but they're just that. They won't convince the skeptical. On the other hand, those who are a little more open minded will see how someone could connect Mayan calendars to alien visitations. Again, it's pure speculation and only connected to history through multiple layers of assumptions, but the chain is there for those willing to follow it. I could spend time pointing out that writing a book -- the chief qualification for many of those interviewed here -- doesn't necessarily make someone an expert, but really this show is all about the theories not who is espousing them.
All four of these alien-centric episodes are on a single Blu-ray disc. The 1.78:1/1080p transfers look sharp and bright. They're not designed to push the boundaries of broadcast, but establishing shots show a strong amount of detail, and talking head interviews look impressive. Noise isn't a problem, and black levels remain consistent and deep enough for this kind of show. The LPCM 2.0 stereo track is similarly appointed. The mix of music, narration, and dialogue won't blow anyone away, but sound is well balanced. Every word is easy to understand, even with the thick accents of certain interview subjects. English and Spanish subtitles are included, but there are no extras.
Best of Ancient Aliens is very much the kind of release that puzzles reviewers. Other than being the first episode of each season, I don't see how this translates to a "best of." More importantly, as I write this, fans can only buy the first and fourth seasons on Blu-ray. So, this is the only way to see any parts of Seasons Two and Three in hi-def. I can understand putting out a sampler disc to hook new fans, but doing that before the release of all the seasons on Blu-ray makes little sense to me. And if this is their way to hook fans, why no extras? A cool documentary or behind-the-scenes featurette could further induce viewers to purchase the regular season discs or become a regular viewer.
As a convincing example of the possibilities of history (since it is, after all, a History Channel production), Best of Ancient Aliens fails utterly. Though the show starts in the realm of facts, they quickly move from speculation to speculation and arrive at the conclusion that aliens have previously contacted humanity. However, looked at as a piece of sci-fi storytelling, the show succeeds in providing compelling narratives around unexplained moments in humanity's past. Approached as fiction or with an open mind, this can be fun, but only as a rental.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 226 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated