Judge Dave Ryan says it's no fun bein' an ancient alien.
Our reviews of Ancient Aliens (published August 1st, 2009), Ancient Aliens: Season One (Blu-ray) (published November 27th, 2010), Ancient Aliens: Season Two (published July 10th, 2011), Ancient Aliens: Season Three (published March 2nd, 2012), and Best of Ancient Aliens (Blu-ray) (published September 13th, 2012) are also available.
I want to believe. No really, I do!
Ancient Aliens. Well, there you go. The title of this 2010 History Channel series—really five two-hour documentaries on different aspects of the same subject, using many of the same talking head experts, with the precursor two-hour stand-alone documentary Ancient Aliens: Chariots, Gods and Beyond added as a bonus feature—pretty much gives the game away. You're not getting evidence of ancient brilliant engineers, or ancient leapers-forward in human knowledge, or ancient rock stars. You're getting aliens, and old ones at that. If you're a Fox Mulder-level believer, this will probably fall into the "well, duh the Nazca Lines were made with alien assistance!!!" category. If you're a skeptic, you'll only be entertained by the massive leaps in logic necessary to accept some of the conclusions herein. Either way, you pretty much know what you're getting: pseudoscience, and lots of it.
Of course that doesn't mean that this series isn't entertaining. Far from it—Ancient Aliens is well-produced, and largely free of the usual filler/padding technique you often see on the History Channel (namely, taking five minutes after a commercial break to repeat and recap things you just saw minutes ago before the commercial break). Some of the theorists are downright sensible, and even the loony ones (including the Elvis of the aliens-have-walked-among-us crowd, Erich von Daniken) are entertainingly illogical. Combine that with a nice anamorphic transfer and a decent sound mix, and you've got a good value package for the pseudoscientists in your life.
I don't want to bash these folk too much, as they clearly are well-meaning and earnest in their beliefs. But man, do they make leaps of logic. You have to admit that many of the things posited to be "evidence" of past alien visitation defy explanation given our current knowledge of history and past cultures. For example, the aforementioned Nazca Lines: giant linear formations and pictographs made on the floor of the high Peruvian desert plains that can only be properly seen from the air—made, apparently, by a people who lacked technical and engineering knowledge of the wheel, let alone flight. We can't explain how or why ancient Peruvian tribespeople made pictures you can only properly see from an aircraft. Therefore, it must have been aliens. Did you see the leap there? Why must it be aliens? Where is the proof? Yes, it's highly unlikely that this primitive high desert culture had, say, hot air balloons…but it's even more unlikely that extraterrestrials helped out. We don't have evidence of either of those things, therefore neither of them is currently a supportable hypothesis. But that's the kind of "science" that's on display here.
But let's assume, arguendo, that aliens did visit the Earth and help build the pyramids and put up the statues on Easter Island. If you think about it—if you really think about it—doesn't that mean that the aliens were…well, jerks? It's a well-known fact that the ancient Egyptians did not use the wheel. In fact, that alone is one of the pieces of evidence that is used to support an alien theory: how could the Egyptians have moved so much heavy stone without wheeled transportation? It's a valid question. So say they had some aliens helping out with gravity beams. Well…why didn't the aliens ALSO teach the Egyptians some useful information that would have helped their society greatly? Like, say, telling them about the wheel, or about plumbing, or about how to irrigate cropland using levees and dams? It's all well and good to help out with the pyramids, but wouldn't a flush toilet have helped out even more? I find it hard to believe that benevolent aliens would have the Egyptians build the Giza pyramids to serve as gigantic power stacks producing microwave radiation (an actual theory) while still letting them poop in holes in the ground. Unless, of course, they were jerks.
So ultimately, that's my problem with Ancient Aliens. I'd love to believe that friendly big-eyed, big-headed aliens came to Earth and helped our ancestors build great monuments that have stood the test of time. But to do so, I also have to accept that said aliens were basically selfish dicks who gave us juuuuuust enough information to get what they wanted, then split without a trace, leaving us to wallow in our own filth and ignorance.
But I still enjoyed it! The mysteries that are supposedly explained by ancient alien visitation are still interesting mysteries, regardless of the leaps in logic applied to them. There are a lot of things out there that just defy easy explanation. Who knows—maybe aliens did visit the Earth. I can't say they did; I also can't say they didn't. This documentary series doesn't have that problem—and if you agree with them, there's a lot here to love. But it's definitely worth a look, if you have an interest in the subject, and there's a good deal of stuff on this set for you to absorb.
I don't have a verdict one way or the other right now. I think I did a couple of days ago, though. Did aliens visit Earth and implant a chip that caused me to lose my verdict memory??? Tune in to season two of Ancient Aliens…
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
• Bonus Episode
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