Judge Dylan Charles wants to see a show on Unidentified Fridge Objects.
Our review of UFO Hunters: The Complete Season Two, published May 15th, 2009, is also available.
Hoax or History?
It is within our very natures to make the unknown known. We shine the piercing flashlight of science into the dark night of uncertainty in the hopes that we'll reveal a startled alien raccoon rummaging in the garbage cans, which represents the Earth or something.
If I were to continue my analogy further, UFO Hunters: The Complete Season One would be a drunken redneck who uses his Zippo to try and find the raccoon, but ends up setting himself on fire.
Facts of the Case
The UFO Hunters are a group of men dedicated to searching for the evidence that extraterrestrial life exists and that it has made contact. They are lead by Bill Birnes, a man devoted to the hunt. Then there's Patrick Uskert, who's always on the scene in the muck and the grime, trying to find what others have missed. Rounding out the team is Ted Acworth (Doctor Ted Acworth to you), a scientist charged with the difficult task of being the only sane and rational member of the team. And then there's Jeff Tomlinson, an intern.
Together they combine to form…the UFO Hunters! Hoorah.
UFO Hunters: The Complete Season One has 13 episodes spread out over four discs:
• "The UFO Before Roswell"
• "Crash and Retrieval"
• "Military vs. UFOs"
• "Cops vs. UFOs"
• "Reverse Engineering"
• "UFO Vortexes"
• "Alien Contact"
• "Invasion Texas 2008"
• "UFO Dogfights"
• "Code Red"
• "The NASA Files"
I'd like to get something out of the way right now, just so it doesn't get lost in my laundry list of complaints. UFO stands for Unidentified Flying Object. Please notice the lack of "Alien" or "Extraterrestrial" or "Xargon Warship." UFO simply means that there's an object that's flying and can't be identified. I mention this because every time someone says UFO on UFO Hunters certain members of the team (Bill Birnes) translate this to mean "alien." If I sound snippy, it's because I haven't seen such a mangling of science since my sixth-grade science fair project about werewolves.
Each episode follows a basic pattern: Bill Birnes briefs everyone about a particular incident or incidents and they discuss what to do. They head out into the field, interview experts, question witnesses, and pick up chunks of rock. Dr. Acworth and John Tindall design an experiment that usually has no bearing on what's going on. The team regroups and Bill Birnes tells everyone they have incontrovertible proof that there are aliens on Earth.
The incidents they choose are interesting enough, with each episode focusing on one or two different UFO sightings. Sometimes they choose a more general topic (Cops and aliens, NASA and aliens) or find a person who has had a sighting and then use that to introduce one particular aspect of ufology (like underwater UFOs in Episode Two). So UFO Hunters is at least well-constructed.
And then it all goes to hell.
First, and in a category all his own, is Bill Birnes. Birnes is not what I'd call unbiased. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say he's the exact opposite. He takes any piece of evidence and skews it in his favor. It's not simply because he's a believer. Pat Uskert seems to genuinely believe in alien contact as well, but he at least takes the time to reason through the evidence, to try and apply a critical eye to what's going on. Birnes lacks that eye. At one point, Uskert has to take him aside to keep him from talking about alien hybrids to a young man who could be dangerously flexible-minded. When Dr. Acworth says an alien implant found in one contactee is just a piece of metal, Birnes says it's most likely an alien artifact. He just blatantly ignores the results of tests and experiments and it drives me mad every time it happens.
Speaking of those experiments, I have a bone to pick with them too. Dr. Acworth and John Tindall spend an awful lot of time proving things that don't need to be proven. As a for instance, they prove that ocean currents are capable of moving a sunken object over a period of time. Did that really require an experiment? It's akin to them proving gravity and high-fiving each other and saying, "Whoo-hoo! We did it guys! Proved gravity!" This happens in the field as well. They investigate a plane crash site (possibly due to the presence of alien artifacts) and take soil samples. From the soil samples they find that there was a large fire. Imagine, a fire in the vicinity of a plane crash!
Toward the end of the season, however, they actually did put their lab to good use and to spectacular effect. Photograph of a ribbon-shaped UFO? Dr. Acworth uses actual science to show it could have been an unsteady camera. Bizarre space spheres flying around a NASA shuttle mission? Tindall uses science to show it's just ice crystals. Every time they effectively applied science, my heart stopped for the space of a single second. I nearly wept. They even begin to use more credible experts and listen to what they have to say. This led to their best episode: "Code Red," which focuses on UFO encounters at Edwards Air Force base. If the whole series was like "Code Red" (and perhaps "The NASA Files"), I would have little to complain about.
This doesn't make up for all the times that I wanted to drive a rail spike through my brain. In the very first episode they talk about an encounter with a UFO that did damage to a boat, killed a dog, and injured someone's arm. But they never mention hospital reports or descriptions of the injuries or descriptions of the damage done to the boat. They're just not asking the right questions. Or if they are asking the right questions, they're ignoring the answers.
The whole show just smacks of the sensationalism that the History Channel has been indulging in of late. I haven't been this appalled since their documentary The Lost Book of Nostradamus, where they were more interested in fear mongering than objectivity. Rather than a skeptical, critical look at UFO phenomenon, UFO Hunters delights in showing whatever it finds, regardless of the scientific validity or plausibility.
At the very least, the History Channel has indulged UFO Hunters with an extremely nifty Steelbook case. The extras amount to a smattering of scenes clipped from the episodes that don't add much, just an experiment or two that didn't do much to shore up the case for extraterrestrial contact. There's also a subscription card to UFO Magazine included, which I don't think I'll be using.
If UFO Hunters' goal is to convert the unbeliever, then it is a complete failure. I left the show more convinced than ever that, if there is life beyond this planet, it has done nothing to contact us.
UFO Hunters is guilty of the brutal double murder of Reason and Rationality.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
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