Wednesday, December 14, 2011

FACT OR FAKED: Bar Fright; Mexico City Cave Witch

SyFy - Original Air Date: 11/30/11

The "shown but not investigated" videos this episode include: Greensberg Flyers shows UFOs through a grove of trees. Lanisha thinks they look like balloons, and that was my feeling, too.  Trent UFO Photographs show an iconic UFO shape over  a house and telephone lines (much like the Rex Heflin case).  Devin points out some photo inconsistency, and Austin suggests the UFO could be suspended from the power lines.  (Which is pretty much how I made a similar photo as a kid; plus, I've always thought this UFO looked suspiciously like an old-time metal lampshade -- look for the cord at the top.)  Stonehenge Apparition seems to show a shadowy figure on one of the stones at the famous monument. But more shadows are a likely culprit, and it seems slim evidence for a long trip.  In the commercial debunk, Enfield Demon Seed seems to show a mysterious figure in a nighttime crib.  But the figure turns out to merely be the baby's twin, who was already in the crib, and a motion blur from the IR camera.  Which leaves the 2 cases for investigation:

Ashtray Poltergeist seems to show an ashtray in a bar (on security cam) shattering for no reason, and also an orb (bug).  The bar has plenty of "spooky" history, but stories aren't proof, so the team does some experiments.  First they test dropping objects, in case something came loose from the ceiling.  But objects big enough to shatter the ashtray are picked up by the camera.  Next, they try shattering the ashtray with thermal shock (sudden temperature change).  But normal heat won't shatter a frozen ashtray, though a blowtorch does.  Next, they rig the ashtray with a special effects squib. They get a puff of smoke, but otherwise the vid is dead on.  Later examination shows what might be a similar rig in the initial video.  Case solved, but they still do a ghost hunt.  (Annoyingly, every show must have a nighttime ghost hunt.)  Of course, they get strange results, but one -- a glass falling off a secure bar rack -- impresses even me (a bit), though the EVP, not so much.  Again, we get the annoying "fake but maybe some real supernatural goings on anyway" verdict.

Mexican Bruja seems to show a floating witch-like figure (outside a cave) that then seems to fly away.  They talk to the witness, who swears (of course) that it's all true, and go to the cave to make some tests.  First, they use a big owl to see if the shape could be a bird.  But it shows clear wing flapping: no match.  Next, Austin dresses in black and does some parkour (free-running) moves, in case it was just an athlete caught by mistake.  Closer, but doesn't quite have that float/fly quality.  So, they set up some pulleys and a dummy, and ... Bingo!  Perfect match for the original fake.  (Liar!  Liar!  Witness on fire!)  Happily, they do not do a night bruja hunt, just to be sure.

Again, this show does some very good scientific investigation, and exposes two hoaxes (plus extras).  I just wish they'd skip the ghost hunts, which have very little (if any) basis in science (experimentation, repeatability, etc.)  Clearly, though, those ghost hunt segments play to people who want to believe, and SyFy must believe: 1) those folks make up a big percentage of FoF's audience, and 2) those people would desert the show if the investigations stuck to pure science, like Mythbusters.  Too bad.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

FACT OR FAKED: Old West Haunting; Freeway Flyer

SyFy - Original Air Date: 11/16/11

Debunked videos this week include: Zombie Cam claims to show a zombie figure caught by a hunter's camera trap, but it's just Photoshop trickery.  Snow Triangle shows a huge "snow circle" design in the Alps.  It's a fractal, as many "circles" are, but fakery seems very likely.  (Regular readers will know I think -- with some justification -- that crop circles are made by human artists.)  In the commercial-break debunk, Wedding UFO shows strange lights hovering over the water, but it's merely a reflection of a chandelier on the picture window between photographer and water.  Leaving us the subjects of this week's show.

Bird Cage Theater Ghost is another famous haunted site, and the video seems to show a ghostly image of a figure which appears as a flashlight beam passes over a wall.  At the theater, they hear scary stories and talk to the original videographer, who shows them where and how he shot the video.  First, they test whether items on a nearby table could cast reflections/shadows to form the "ghost."  They get some interesting shapes, but not the right ones.  Then they try hoaxing the image with black light paint, but the image is too vague.  But Devin has noticed something, and shining a flashlight through the wheel of a big museum coffee grinder produces a perfect match.  But, because the audience won't like the "no ghost here" conclusion, I assume, they then stage the usual ghost hunt.  Naturally, they hear spooky sounds, and one of the camera lights falls off and is mysteriously outside a door (where it was previously inside).  Rats maybe?  No, that plus an EVP are  this week's sop to believers.  Video: faked; paranormal activity: yes.  Really?

Freeway Flyer seems to show a bright light hovering over a freeway (at night) that then zips away with amazing speed.  They talk to the videographer and then set up their own highway in the desert to test some theories.  They start by shining a laser into the moving vehicle used to film the video.  But the laser beam seems too small, and the beam reveals itself when it moves: no match.  Next, they test reflections off of power lines; similar, but too elongated.  Finally, they test a helicopter with a mounted searchlight.  That and a little After Effects trickery to speed the light up at the end create a perfect match.  The team's Layered Voice Analysis (which I'm not sure I totally believe in) suggests that's how the videographer did it -- doctoring the original video to make it sexier.

So, two good debunks this week, but I'm still bothered by the apparent need to reinforce audience beliefs in the supernatural.  Why not let this show be a real supernatural Mythbusters and just go for it?

FACT OR FAKED: Asylum Apparition; Mystery Over Mexico

SyFy - Original Air Date: 11/9/11

The videos the crew is not investigating this week are: Roswell Alien shows a purportedly living alien in B&W footage, though puppetry, animatronics, or CGI seem more likely.  Cascades Bigfoot is a cell phone video of a mysterious figure walking through the woods -- but it's shadowy enough to be a suit or even just a person.  In the commercial break, Sky Portal is supposedly an alien portal in the sky.  The "portal" is merely a misidentified smoke ring being used to advertise the amusement park where the video was shot. Which leaves the two cases they're actually looking into.

Waverly Hills Apparition shows 2 figures in the deserted hallway of a legendary haunted sanatorium.  A second video seems to show a toy ball moving on its own.  Waverly is a ghost-hunting hotspot, and the team gets the usual grisly tour (as seen on several Ghost Hunters shows).  A test with a ball immediately shows how uneven the floor is.  They do a wind test, and the ball moves around easily because of that, too.  Seems debunked to me, but the team becomes caught up in the ball moving too much, rather than just rocking as in the video.  That's silly.  Clearly this drafty old place with the un-level floors could produce any number of effects on a light ball like this, depending on drafts and floor dents/grooves. Then they try  to recreate the hallway apparitions with first humans (too solid), then with heaters (too obvious in frame or not defined enough when out of frame).  So, even though this "ghost" looks like another reflection or camera malfunction to me,(nothing was seen by the human filming, only the camera), they start a ghost hunt and (no surprise) hear strange noises.  Plus, the ball they set down rolls around, seemingly on its own.  I'd be more impressed with a baseball, basketball, or even a standard playground ball, rather than the lightweight play balls they're using. Vibrations in this rickety old building could probably move the test-subject ball around.  In fact, a heavier-looking ball nearby doesn't move at all.  They also get EVPs, which you should know by now I think are almost always completely bogus.  Should you be surprised that they declare Waverly Hills haunted?  You shouldn't be; the MO of the group this year seems to be to have one gimme for believers every episode.  I'm guessing the SyFy execs think there's not enough ratings in bursting believer balloons -- or rolling balls -- every week.  And speaking of balloons...

Guadalajara UFO Fleet seems to show a fleet of round white UFOs hovering in the sky.  Their first theory is that the objects might be birds, so they send up a flight of pigeons, but the birds are obviously birds.  Next, they try floating ping pong balls in a pool with dry ice clouds to fake the shot.  Closer, but ripples are a problem.  So, they try what I thought the obvious solution from the beginning (though I understand the need to structure the show this way) and release a mass of balloons.  Yeah, hey, bingo!  Balloons plus dodgy camera equals UFO fleet.  Which makes me think the original videographer was an idiot not to notice.  I saw three UFOs this summer, and one of them was likely a Mylar balloon floating over Yellowstone.  (Other 2 might have been a helicopter and a Chinese lantern.)  So, good job, group.  One out of two ain't bad, but...

The problem I'm having with this show this year is that each episode seems to have an obvious sop to believers -- a case where the group just doesn't push far enough.  Last year, this wasn't so much a problem, and I was encouraged.  This year, not so much.  I hope they'll do better in the second half of the season.

Monday, November 7, 2011

FACT OR FAKED: Sinister Spirals: Flying Saucers

SyFy - Original Air Date: 11/4/11

This week, the crew rejects Menger Hotel, which seems to show a shadowy figure walking across walls and down a hall (not enough info & possible CGI), Duende Gnome, a tiny figure chased by teens (probably a marionette), and UFO in the Clouds where a San Paolo (Brazil) photog supposedly catches a UFO hiding in a cloud and later mysteriously zooms away.  Close inspection by Bill shows the object missing from the sky as a truck passes: CGI  Galveston Ghost Face -- their commercial break debunk (which I remain glad they're doing) -- shows a "mysterious" face on the side of a building, but it's only a stain and pareidolia, the tendency of human beings to see patterns as familiar shapes -- like Jesus on a piece of toast.  Which leaves FOF with the two cases they will be investigating.

Heflin UFO Ecounter is a famous case that shows a hat-shaped silvery object floating above a road in 3 pictures and a mysterious smoke ring in a 4th.  Supposedly the photos were later confiscated by Men In Black and then mysteriously returned 28 years later.  Ben, Devin, and Lanisha go to California and talk to "researchers" who talked to the photographer, who is now dead.  Scientifically, such second-hand information means very little, and when a "doctor" (of what?) declares that Polaroid photos of this type would be very hard to fake, my spider sense goes off loudly.  I could fake you a great Polaroid UFO before I reached high school.

Nevertheless, the crew stages some experiments.  First, they re-create the photos using a remote-controlled helicopter UFO, testing whether the pics could have been taken in 20 seconds, as Heflin claimed.  Why they believe the 20 seconds is necessary, as this was before date/time stamps on photos, I don't know.  I certainly don't believe it.  But they do, and they do manage to replicate taking 3 photos that fast -- though none of the photos is as sharp and focused as the Heflin photos (which are very clear).  This, for me, would tend to indicate Heflin lied about the rapidity of his picture taking, but the crew continues.  They try some natural explanations for what he saw, using various types of wind-blown debris: paper plates, clay pigeons, and a hat.  But it's too hard to take pictures of things moving that fast.  (Hmm...  Wonder how fast that "UFO" was flying....)  Then they try a hat on a fishing line, which looks quite similar, though they then declare that there's no evidence that Helflin had an accomplice to pull of such a hoax.  This seems like flimsy reasoning  to me -- for reasons I'll explain in a bit.

Finally, they put up a saucer-shaped balloon to "prove" that what Heflin saw could have been a large object further from the camera, as he claimed.  Results look similar (though they don't match the size and distance he claimed to have seen the object at).  So they decide to explode the balloon, as if it had hit a power line, theorizing the hat-shape might have been an actual balloon, and its explosion could have created the smoke ring.  The explosion, though, just kills the balloon.  Devin, however, recreates the smoke ring with a metal tube, diesel fuel, and propane, essentially blowing a smoke ring into the sky -- with technology available from the time.  So that, at least, could be hoaxed.  Ben notes that El Torro Marine Corps is near the original sighting area, and might have been doing testing.  Devin adds that perhaps the MIB were really from the government, as they claimed, and protecting a then-secret project, only to return the pictures later.  Ben concludes that they were able to show that the craft could have been close to the vantage point, something hoaxed, or something far away -- so the case is still open.

I say, nice try, but you didn't try hard enough.  First, I would ask, if I wanted to fake this, how would I do it?  1) I'd simply toss a pie plate or vintage hub cap (both made of metal at the time) in front of the camera -- or have someone do it for me.  2) I'd take as many Polaroids as I needed to get a some good shots, and then I'd throw the rest away.  Remember, there are no negatives with this type of film (or, at least, the negatives elements are seldom kept).  Unless the photos were numbered in their canister (I don't remember if they were), there would be no way to tell how many photos I actually took to get 3 good ones.   3) And for a capper, I'd use Devin's set-up to get a mysterious smoke ring -- or just have someone blow a cigarette smoke ring for me and then photograph it back-lit against the sky so that it appeared black.  Because I'm clever, I might take all 3 pics against slightly different backgrounds, to make it hard to compare shadows to show the passage of time while I was experimenting.  4) Then, I'd claim to have taken the pictures faster than I actually did, just so people would think I couldn't have faked them in the supposed time frame.  (He wouldn't have time to throw a hat into the air 3 times in twenty seconds and take pictures!)

I don't buy that no one ever having come forward as an accomplice is proof of something not being hoaxed.  My brother hasn't come forward to talk about our hoaxed monster/UFO photos, has he?  And even if they were famous, would he?  It's a silly argument.  But, if I had no accomplice, I'm certainly capable of rigging up a pole with mono-filament to take the pictures myself.  Heck, I've even got a convenient van to attach it to.  All I need is a bit of time to move the rig around between shots -- and since I've already decided to lie about how long it took me to take the pictures....

Which is to say, I think that -- because of this case's iconic nature -- the team was way too easy on this one.  In my experience, anything that can be faked, likely has been faked.  People do hoaxes for a number of complex reasons, and sometimes, once done, they don't admit it ever.  Look how long the Loch Ness and Cottingley Fairy hoaxes took to be exposed.  It's reasonable to assume that some hoaxers carry their secrets to the grave rather than face embarrassment or public ridicule, especially in a famous case like this.  (And let's not even start in on the malleable nature of memory and how people can come to believe their own lies.)

Sorry, team, you blew this one.  I hope you'll be harder on iconic cases in the future -- as you were on the UFO in the Woods story a few seasons back (even if doing so may crush the feelings of your want-to-believe audience).

Spiraling Rods shows mysterious wave-like creatures flying through the sky.  (Those of us who saw the Monster Quest show know they're really just insects and slow-shutter digital cameras, but maybe that bears repeating here.)  Bill, Austin, and Jael go to Joplin, Missouri, to talk to the videographer.  He claims to have taken the pictures after setting off a bug bomb -- so it couldn't be bugs -- and to have taken similar photos in winter (though we never see any of those).  The team then bug bombs the area, sets up a net tent, and brings in various critters to try having them fly past the camera.  Bats don't look like it, nor does a slingshot, but the team wisely notice that the bug bomb has not cleared the area of insects -- not nearly.  (You'd have to be a dope to think it would.)  So they catch some bugs and try fly-bys with some of the bigger ones.  Close ... until they put on the slow-shutter night shot, and then ... Bingo!  Perfect match and a job well done.  Hopefully, this puts the "rods" case to rest for good.  Mistaken identity, bugs, and shoddy camera work (and knowledge) -- end of story.

So, one out of two this week ain't bad, though given last season, I'd come to expect more from Fact or Faked.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

FINDING BIGFOOT: Birth of a Legend

Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 10/30/11

This Bigfoot Believer show returns with a 2-hour premier looking at the legend they're pursuing by going to Humboldt County, CA, site of the controversial Patterson film -- still the Holy Grail for many bigfoot researchers.  (Despite the fact that National Geographic's Is It Real debunked it for me long ago.)  The rest of the crew, Cliff, Bobo, and Matt have all clearly spent a lot of time convincing themselves the film is real.  Happily, despite having seen the film as a child and believing, Ranae Holland, often the only sensible member of the team, remains more skeptical; she thinks it could be a suit.  (And so do I.  See part of my critique in this review, here.)  The team goes to Bob Gimlin, the surviving member of the two-man team who filmed the footage, and they all ride and hike into the forest where the film was taken.  More "why it's real" excuses by the believers ensue.  Ranae asks Gimlin if it could possibly been a man in a suit, and he says no; he could see the muscles moving under the fur.  (Though I seem to remember an interview where he previously confessed that Patterson could have duped him; sadly, despite my Howls & Growls database, I cannot turn up a program reference.  Nor do I remember Gimlin mentioning muscle movement on the thing until that became the catchword of bigfoot believers.  Muscle movement is bullshit.  See the Michigan Dog-man case.)

They reconstruct the sighting using Bobo as bigfoot, and though it looks good, Cliff makes the usual muscle-movement excuse for why he still thinks the original is real.  I suggest they check the Is It Real show on bigfoot.  So they do a night bigfoot hunt in the area, including Bobo's dog in the team.  Would you be surprised if they heard mysterious sounds?  I wouldn't, and sure enough, they do: Ranae seems to hear children yelling.  But finding nothing else besides a bear track, they leave behind some camera traps and move on to Willow Creek, a town built on bigfoot belief.  There, they meet Al Hodgson and see his bigfoot museum; not surprisingly, he thinks the film is real.  He thinks both Patterson & Gimlin were honest men, though we know Patterson had a history of hucksterism and deceit.  They then call a town meeting, talk to more witnesses, and try to recreate sightings for which there is no video record.  All in good fun, I guess, but aside from placing sightings for further investigations and collecting interviews, not a lot of hard scientific.

So they do a night investigation and camp-out sasquatch party, hoping to attract the supposedly curious animals.  But even with Ranae yodeling bigfoot calls, no luck.  So, they move on and show video of a "bigfoot" watching a ridge line, but only Ranae seems to think it's a person.  The video also shows a 'bigfoot hut" (nest) and supposed tree damage, but the videographers are all laughing at the time, and the entire thing could possibly be a joke.  An actual witness doesn't think so, and Bobo stands in on a ridge for a reasonable recreation.  "I see no reason to discount that (original film) as a sasquatch," Cliff says, and Matt and Bobo agree.  Ranae sensibly points out there's no reason it couldn't be a hiker.  Believers vs. skeptic again, but the cast is not tilted in Ranae's favor.

Now they hire a chopper to do a thermal sweep on the Hoopa Indian Reservation in a nighttime investigation.  Matt & Bobo spot something on a road below, while Ranae and Cliff walk nearby.  Ranae hears a strange whistle and spots eye-shine nearby.  "Oh my God, that was ... there is something standing to your right, there," she declares.  They hear more strange noises (perhaps a rock hitting a tree), but they can't locate the thing they're seeing and hearing.  Bobo and Matt, now on the ground -- with no mention of what the figure on the road was -- check their sighting area and then converge on the other two.  They "smell animals," and hear a yell (which sounded like a person to me), but....  At the end of teh night, Ranae admits that events have decreased her skepticism.  "I had a rock thrown at me.  Definitely," she says.  "Maybe there really is a small possibility that there is something out in the woods of Northern California."

Maybe.  But like Ranae, I'm going to need a lot more evidence -- and a lot less belief on the part of investigators -- before I'm convinced.

FACT OR FAKED: Area 51; Cajun Apparition

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/26/11

The videos that fail the test to be worth investigating this week are Utah Sun Halo, which could be UFO stargate technology, but is actually a "sun dog" halo, an atmospheric condition created by ice crystals (great diagram of this, guys).    Goodyear Chupacabra looks almost identical to the one in their previous Texas chupacabra invstigation, likely a mangy dog or coyote.  Which leaves the new team to investigate this week's posers;

Cajun Ghost is a mysterious shape-shifting mist at The Myrtles Plantation, (supposedly) "America's Most-Haunted" in St. Francisville, Louisiana.  This place has a history that would do a horror film proud: abused slaves, murder, inter-racial affairs, a supposed Indian burial ground, etc., and they're clearly doing good business on their haunting.  The team tests whether the mist could be condensation on the video lens, but there's too much condensation, and you can't see anything.  They next text a windy fog vortex, but the fog diffuses too quickly.  The industrial fogger and flashlights also don't work, but using the IR light on the video camera in fog proves just right; a near-perfect match.  Naturally, despite having debunked this video, they have to do a ghost hunt as well.  And naturally the equipment does weird things and they catch "laughter" on their EVP session.  But they do figure out that a mirror casts strange, face-like shadows on a nearby wall.  Good catch there, though I'd have just skipped the ghost hunt and stuck to the facts.  (During a walk on the chilly night I saw this show, my breath produced a similar "ghost" on my glasses.)

Area 51 is a shape-changing UFO moving through the sky (supposedly) over Area 51, the secret government test facility which Ben admits he's wanted to go to for most of his life.  While there, the team is watched almost constantly by government agents at the edges of the secret base -- which I gotta admit is spooky.  First Ben, Jael, and Austin test a military heli-kite, a combination of winged kite and balloon used to check wind speed.  (Good idea, and they should have gone further down this line of reasoning.)  It doesn't look or behave right (because of its tether).  Then, they check a payload slung beneath a helicopter -- but the suspension sling is clearly visible, and keeping the helicopter out of the picture would require a dedicated hoaxer. 

So, they tromp around at night, trying to check out the forbidden area with telephoto lenses, during which time they're under constant security surveillance.  Momentarily, the base landing lights go on, and, almost simultaneously, something that looks exactly like a shooting star to me, streaks across the sky.  Coincidence, or something more?  On later analysis, Bill doesn't think it's a shooting star -- which makes me wonder how many shooting stars he's seen.  (I've seen dozens, more than 30 in one night alone.) Sadly, having failed to replicate the video, the show seems to buy into the "mysterious (alien) craft in Area 51" mythology.  Bill says, "Good work," but I say...

This "UFO" looks like a balloon cluster caught in high altitude winds to me.  In fact, it looks almost exactly like the simple balloon cluster from UFOS OVER EARTH: Mass Sightings in Mexico show.  The investigators on Fact or Faked should have checked that out before jumping to their own erroneous conclusions.  They got close with their heli-kite, but then stopped too soon.  Personally, I saw three UFOs this summer, and I suspect that one was just such a balloon.  (The other two were likely Chinese lanterns.)  Further, there's nothing I saw in the "Fact" video to indicate it was taken at Area 51.  The sky looks the same everywhere; where are the landmarks?  I also think a hoaxer designed this balloon to be a convincing UFO for his/her film.  I'm calling "Bullshit!" on the conclusion of this investigation.  I expect better from the Fact or Faked team; they haven't failed this spectacularly in quite some time.  I'm hoping in future that the show's need for ratings (by pandering to believers) won't outweigh their need to find the truth.

This week's quiz is of a supposed mythical beast sighting: Ontario Unicorn, which turns out to be CGI perpetrated to boost a local museum exhibit.  Glad they set the record straight on that, otherwise people might have been seeing unicorns in their gardens.

FACT OR FAKED: UFO Crash Landing; Graveyard Ghost

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/19/11

Fact or Faked is back for its third "season" with crew regulars Ben, Bill, Jael, Devin, Austin, and new member Lanisha (replacing fab photographer Chu Lan).  Videos not investigated are Alien Plant by a garden pool (obvious CGI) and Habitat for Humanity Ghost (likely spider inside the security camera housing).  That leaves the two they will investigate, which turn out to be a ghost case and a non-ghost case, a developing trend.

White Sands UFO seems to show a saucer-shaped object which comes down, ricochets off the ground, and then zooms back up before finally falling to the ground and exploding.  White sands is only 200 miles from Roswell, so there's a UFO connection there, too, and possible "back-engineered alien technology."  Ben, Devin, and Jael head to White Sands to talk to the filmmaker and observe the local area before setting up their experiments.  First they try a rocket engine alone, but it's way too wild for the controlled trajectory seen in the film.  Then they create a fake saucer and run it on guide wires with a special effects explosion to finish it.  Looks great, but the speed is too slow, and the bounce is pretty wobbly, because of the cable guiding system.  They then suggest the shape is merely the exhaust plume from a rocket hidden by speed and poor film quality -- and that ends up being a perfect match.  (It's amazing what blurry video/film will conceal.)  Maybe it's just me, with more than a half century of life experience, but that would have been my first guess.  Though I suppose they have to walk through the others to help convince non-believers (or, in this case, UFO believers).

Cemetery Ghost seems to show an white shape floating over the landscape near Tonopah Cemetary, an area reputedly haunted by miners slain in a nearby disaster.  Bill, Lanisha, and Austin head to the area to check it out, hear the legend of "Big Bill Murphy," who rescued miners before dying himself, and talk to the videographer.  Then they set up experiments, and, as a capper, do some "night investigation."  Naturally, during the investigation, their paranormal-catching equipment does strange things.  (You'd almost think it was designed to do so.)  And of course there are mysterious EVPs.  (Aren't there always?)  But disproving the video proves easy.  It's not a person with a light, their first guess, but their lens flare from highway traffic lights theory proves dead on the mark.  Of course, the show notes, this doesn't mean there are no ghosts, just as the first segment doesn't prove there are no UFOs.

And therein lies what I think is one of the show's innate faults: its audience is composed largely of people who want to believe.   So, if you want to keep them tuning in week after week, you can't constantly dash their hopes.  This, I think, sometimes hurts the show's investigative qualities, which can be quite good.  I wish they'd cut back on the ghost segments (Don't we have enough ghost hunt shows?) and concentrate on other weirdness.  Or, alternately, just be willing to stand up and call "Bullshit!" more of the time.  A new feature this season is a short "quiz" -- at a middle commercial break -- debunking popular videos.  This week the short is walking slippers in a cemetery. which was done with invisible wires or strings.  I like the short addition, as I miss when they debunked more videos at the start of the show.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Legend Quest - Coda

My review of Legend Quest was brief mostly because it's a bit outside what I usually review in these spaces -- that is, "true supernatural" TV shows.  (Though I have been known to review movies and/or theater productions, too.)  Longtime readers know that my hope in doing most reviews is to separate the wheat from the chaff, allowing me and the readers to track the science of the supernatural, and whether shows are giving good, scientific info, or merely repeating dogma and legends (which is what most do, most of the time).  We can't hope to find out, for instance, if bigfoot is real without actual, scientific evidence -- as opposed to (often unreliable) hearsay and witness testimony.  I want to know whether monsters are real; I praise shows that work toward that end and damn those that (often deliberately) repeat myths and otherwise obfuscate.

Legend Quest doesn't really fall into that realm.  It is a show that attempts to draw connections between pieces of actual evidence associated with mythical objects and places.  I may not agree with those connections -- so far, I think a lot are big stretches -- but, at least as far as I can tell, Ashley Cowie and his crew aren't deliberately ignoring or cutting their show to conceal facts that don't fit with their presuppositions.  Instead, they're following thin threads of evidence and, hopefully in so doing, making viewers think in new directions.  They're also highly entertaining when they do it.  That's the true value in the DaVinci Code and for this show, too.  I think that's worth doing.  And I hope Legend Quest encourages others to think rather than merely believe.  (Thus, my admonition to not take it too seriously.)

It's also worth mentioning (and maybe not obvious from my review) that I enjoyed both of the episodes I've seen so far.  They have that adventurous, headlong quality that I admire so much in Destination Truth -- a quality that makes going out and searching for legends look like a lot of fun.  That, too, is worthwhile, and hopefully it will encourage others to get the training needed to go into the field, find out new things, and do good work.

Be like Cowie.  Be adventurous.  Ask questions.  (Even about "reality" TV shows.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Legend Quest - micro-review

SyFy - Original Air Dates: 7/13/2011 & 7/20/11 and beyond

There is a difference between an adventurer and a scientist, and, to me, Ashley Cowie falls firmly into the "adventurer" category.  Mostly, this show seems to follow a series of thin, often-art-based "clues" to supposedly uncover the "truth" about ancient mysteries such as: Excalibur, the Ark of the Covenant, the Cintamani Stone, the Mayan Talking Cross, etc.  It's a lot like a weekly episode of The DaVinci Code, and -- as someone with a minor in art history, I can assure you -- about as accurate and substantive.  Just the thought that Cowie can solve centuries-old archaeological riddles in a half hour every week is absurd.

But, boy, all that globe hopping and checking out cool art and mysterious places sure looks like fun.  Just don't mistake it for science ... or history ... or truth.  Oh, and don't expect them to actually find anything amazing and new and revolutionary.  So far, all the segments have ended with a statement like "This may well be the resting place of..."  Or it may well not be.  Smart money is betting on "not."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Alaskan Monster Hunt: Hillstranded

Discovery Channel - Original Air Date: 7/19/11

The brothers HIllstrand, captains on The Deadliest Catch, look into Alaskan legends of the cryptid animal cadborosaurus.  They start by viewing a video of the supposed beast taken by a local salmon fisherman.  The video puzzles all of these experienced seamen and cryptozoologist Paul Leblond, too.  (I'd be somewhat more impressed if they had a top marine biologist -- though Leblond's resume claims he was one, formerly.)  The brothers then start outfitting for the trip as if they're on the world's biggest fishing trip.  I am reminded of Quint's ill-fated venture to catch Jaws, and I am more than slightly disturbed when brother Andy declares, "Time to go kill a sea monster!"

Now, I don't watch Deadliest Catch, so I don't know if this is how these guys usually act, but their expedition seems irreverent at best.  Methods include huge fishing lines with barrels as bobbers.  They start at the mouth of a river, catch nothing, and then travel up to Lake Iliamna, which boasts a lot of monster reports.  They overfly the lake with a pilot who saw the creature once.  They talk to local Tim Laport, who suggests places to fish for the beast, and also suggests that it might be a sturgeon (an ancient type of huge fish).  They repeat their barrel and bait operation, and succeed in losing their bait to ... something.  Soon, one of their barrels ends up a mile away from where they set it, with the heavy hook bent straight.  Then they spot something big and white (15' long?) in the water; so they fish for it, apparently hook it, and... the line breaks.  Just another one that got away.  What's left to do but throw a tantrum, toss dynamite in the water, and shoot the lake with automatic weapons.

I'm unimpressed.  A better equipped, more scientific expedition might have gotten better evidence rather than just another fish story.  I'm also vexed that the original video is not shown in its entirety -- making creature identification difficult for any home viewer.  Monster?  With this type of "evidence," who can say?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

FINDING BIGFOOT - Behind the Search

Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 7/17/11

This is a wrap-up show for the first season of Finding Bigfoot.  Matt, Ranae, Bobo, and Cliff go to the "Bigfoot & Beer" cafe in Oregon to talk about their experiences.  They start by recapping the season's highlights -- which means you can catch this show and maybe skip the originals, unless you really like long segments of folks stomping around in the dark and howling.  (Alternately, you can use this episode to survey which shows in the series might be interesting to you.)  The show also gives us some outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage, which give an interesting glimpse of making the series.  Plus, the audience gets to ask questions about the show, the crew, and the techniques and investigations.  The crew even puts forth an alternate explanation of the river raft bigfoot video -- though Matt still thinks it's a monster and Ranae thinks it's not.  Overall, it's nice to have a season summary like this, and it's not a bad springboard for those new to the series.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

FINDING BIGFOOT - Alaska Bigfoot

Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 7/10/11

On the "season finale," the BFRO goes to Alaska to hunt. I predict they'll hear compelling stories, make howls, tromp around in the dark, have Matt make unsupportable statements and Ranae be skeptical. Let's watch the show and see how I do.

They start on Prince of Wales Island -- a place covered with rain forest and full of black bears -- supposedly at the behest of Hydaburg's mayor.  They have photos of a "nest," snow-melted tracks, and a blurry figure (bear? gorilla suit?).  They talk to the mayor and witnesses.  Ranae thinks that the prints could be bear plus elk, snow melted; Cliff estimates the prints at 17"; Matt says that it must be a male bigfoot because of the size.  Matt also says the tracks were made right before the witness came by, though they clearly show melt, which makes me doubt his credibility (again).  This calls for ... a night investigation!  Oh, and howling.  They find a fresh footprint in soggy earth, which Bobo speculates is a juvenile squatch, and take a photo.  (Casting impossible because of water.)  A town meeting is in order (I forgot to predict that), where they hear the usual compelling stories.  Breaking with tradition, they only choose 2 stories to investigate.

First involves a log thrown at a car (cab), and the witness came back next day and found a foul-smelling stick and a green eyed creature standing in a tree.  The witness says it wasn't a bear; it was a sasquatch.  Bobo thinks only juveniles climb trees; Ranae notes the branch in question couldn't hold a creature of that size.  The other witness saw a tall, hairy creature step behind a tree when she was out hunting deer with her cousin.  Cliff and Matt guestimate it was 8 1/2 feet tall and male, but find no physical evidence.  They then talk to a 12-year-old deer hunter who saw the creature in a clearing from 30' away, while hunting alone (so we do get 3 witnesses).  Even Ranae thinks the witness saw something scary and strange; the rest estimate it as a 9' male squatch.  They pick a location and set up a 6-foot-tall laser perimeter (new tech!) to try catch a bigfoot feeding on deer at night.  They use deer calls which lure ... deer, and bigfoot calls which lure ... a perimeter hit.  They then look for whatever broke the beam, but find nothing -- apparently forgetting that the beam could be tripped by anything at that height, say ... a bat flying by.  (Speculation by me.)  They hear strange noises, but find nothing.

Which just about sums up this series.  Lots of stories, lots of tromping around in the dark, little (or no) good, hard evidence, Matt making declarations like he's studied a captured specimen of the creature up close, and Ranae being skeptical but compassionate.  Its Ranae (and the likability of Bobo) that gives me hope for this show, but it needs more hard science and (as in most of these shows), more follow through.  Let's see what they've got for the season summary episode (next week) and hope they do better next season.

FINDING BIGFOOT - Frozen Bigfoot

Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 6/26/11

The BFRO heads to The Pinchot Nation Forest in SW Washington to investigate photos that show a "bigfoot" atop a snowy mountaintop ridge.  By now, the MO of this show should be obvious: they check out a sighting, use Bobo as stand-in, Matt believes the evidence shows bigfoot, Ranae does not.  This show holds true to form.  The photos show a shadowy figure atop a snowy ridge, turning and disappearing downhill.  Matt thinks it's bigfoot, as does Cliff -- by reading details into the photos that I, personally, don't see.  The Bobo's recreations convince Matt it's sasquatch, but (wisely) not Ranae.  Why would another human be on that ridge? the BFRO wonders.  Why was the first guy there taking pictures? I reply.  Looks like a man in a snowsuit to me and Ranae: "I have no reason to believe that's not a backpack," she says of the hump on the back.  The witness seems equivocal to me, and I wish for Fact or Faked's voice stress analysis (though I don't totally believe in that, either).  Howling night investigations in the nearby forest must ensue.  They hear howls back,  w whistle, and strange whispering voices.  (People?)

They call a town meeting in Yacolt to talk about local encounters, and find a few (3, as usual) to look into.  One of the investigations, as usual, involves length-of-stride, which, as usual, Bobo can't recreate.  Another involves pacing through the woods, trying to follow people on a trail.  The third involves crashing through the woods.  Naturally, the humans have trouble re-creating what the witnesses think they saw/heard.  Trying something newish, the group camouflages a canoe, and hauls out an RC goose (!) with a camera in it, to do some riverbank observation -- at night. Thermal hits can't be tracked down, though they do hear return calls to their howls.  (Which might be me, if I were there.)  But they can find no trace of people.  so, it must be bigfoot!  All in all, it's just another day at the BFRO office, with lots of screaming and tromping around in the dark and no solid evidence.

FINDING BIGFOOT - Fishing for Bigfoot in Oregon

Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 6/19

Matt, Ranae, Cliff, & Bobo (the BFRO) head to Oregon to check out some riverside bigfoot footage.  Did some rafters on the McKenzie River accidentally catch bigfoot on tape?  (Maddeningly, as on many such shows, they only show a few instants of the tape, with little context.)  Talking to witnesses, they recreate the footage with Bobo.  Bobo looks bigger than the supposed squatch; Matt start making excuses for why the footage is a real bigfoot; Ranae says "This is a human."  (Are you starting to notice a pattern on these shows?)  "We are clearly in a very squatchy area," Cliff concludes.  Which must inevitably lead to a night hunt.  Would you be surprised if they howl at each other and hear strange noises?  You shouldn't be.  Nor should you be surprised they find elk with their thermal camera.

They then head to Leaburg to attend a "bigfoot beer" meeting ("bigfoot anonymous" Bobo calls it) to hear more local stories and pick a few to investigate.  For once, they meet someone they don't believe; her story stretches even squatch credibility.  Clearly, having a regular "bigfoot beer" night may attract people with issues other than bigfoot.  Then they talk to some youngsters who have pictures and a footprint cast.  And then talk to some people who hung out a rabbit surrounded by glowsticks as live bait.  Naturally, the BFRO has to try the rabbit trick, in the dark; naturally, they hear tree "knocks."  So, they hunt another night -- without the rabbit -- and hear strange howls.  "It was nothing but a sasquatch," Matt declares; his mind is closed.  "I don't know what those other hows were," says Ranae.  They find fresh urine, but see no sign of elk, so maybe it was squatch. However, they apparently take no samples.  Whoops.  What do they end up with?   Howls.  Do they subject these sounds to analysis by an animal expert?  Not so far as the show tells us.

Maybe someone should remind Matt -- who sees squatch behind every tree -- that evidence without rigorous analysis is worthless.


Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 6/12/11

Matt & the BFRO team head to Uwharrie National Forest in North Carolina to check out some thermal image camera footage of "bigfoot" snatching a candy bar left as bait.  They meet the witness and re-create the incident.  Bobo makes a convincing "squatch," but only to Ranae; Matt thinks their recreation was flawed, and other members of the team (Cliff) make excuses, too, as to why the footage was "real."  So they stomp around in the woods in the dark.  Bobo spots something -- a humanoid figure -- and Matt goes running off on his own to find it.  This pisses off the rest of the group, who have this crazy idea they're doing science and collecting evidence.  Naturally, after this close call (or was it?) they head somewhere else to hunt (no sense setting camera traps; do they even have any?), and call a town hall meeting there.  As usual, they get some great stories (there are always great bigfoot stories), and pick a few to investigate.

And as usual, they see the sites and do re-creations with Bobo (whom you'll recall is nearly squatch sized).  Recreations, including footprint strides, if witnesses are accurate, tend to indicate something not human.  But, remember, these are recreations, and witnesses have (often) proven unreliable.  (See the Unsolved HIstory: Roswell review.)  So then they tromp off into the woods in the dark to get scary footage ... I mean, to find bigfoot.  They find only a bat.  So, they gather a group of people to do a grid search for bigfoot evidence.  They find evidence of deer, which Cliff claims might be a food source for sasquatch, and then a deer carcass with a snapped foreleg.  Matt claims a squatch did it; Ranae counters that it could have happened rolling down the hill.  Matt, if you didn't realize it by now, knows everything about this mythical animal -- including all of its patterns of behavior and predation.

They then go and discuss their findings with the witness who first brought them the video.  (Why?)  Matt notes that Ranae doesn't believe in anything she can't see in front of her.  Good for her.  At least there's one scientist in this group.


Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 6/10/11

Matt Moneymaker and the BFRO head to Florida to try to figure where southern bigfoots live, and if they're different from the others.  (Note the assumption bigfoot is real.)  They talk to some homeowners who think bigfoot is visiting their back yard.  They have track casts and also claim that the beast vandalized their birdfeeder (Moneymaker claims bigfoots like food that humans leave out) and broke their fence top (climbing over).  They also claim bigfoot came onto a deck and  left a greasy handprint on the glass door.  Ranae recreates that using Bobo's hand, but the witness is unimpressed; Ranae remains unconvinced.  So they do a night stakeout featuring the usual fake bigfoot calls and listening for knocking.  They hear knocks, growls, and other things that make them think bigfoot are around -- well, all except maybe Ranae -- but the cut out anyway.  Then they have a meeting with Seminole Native Americans, who advise leaving the sasquatch alone.

Naturally, they keep hunting -- now in south Florida -- talking to other witnesses and doing more recreations.  As often, the witnesses are sincere, but the evidence slim.  They call in some RC drones to help survey the Everglades for possible places to stake out for bigfoot; naturally the stakeout must be done at night and include howling.  They find some deer, and a "mysterious" thermal hit, which they first claim is larger than a deer, and then claim is about the size of Matt.  It then "ran off into the woods."  Unfortunately, the editing of this segment doesn't show the "creature" running, just the people reacting to it.  Which makes me think they've cheated this, and it was just another deer.  A more reliable show would have included that footage, even if it was just a false alarm.  The BFRO think bigfoot is real, and their show is designed to reinforce that -- without doing any really hard science to back up their presupposition.  My proof of this?  They have "bigfoot fact" quizzes -- which implies that both 1) bigfoot is real, 2) we know enough about them to have facts.  Here's one:

Do you know why skunk apes stink?  Because they hide out "in air pockets of underground alligator dens, and their fur absorbs the pungent methane."

IAbsurd!  n my opinion, this show could use more hard science -- including camera traps and long-term follow-up investigations -- and less wishful thinking.  Perhaps we could have Fact or Faked or Destination Truth re-investigate the "facts" on this show.

Friday, July 1, 2011

FINDING BIGFOOT - Bigfoot Crossing in Georgia

Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 5/30/11

Every week, the team on this show goes looking for bigfoot; it's like Ghost Hunters, but with bigfoot.  The team is made up of the the perhaps-ironically named Matt Moneymaker (leader), Bobo (the bigfoot stand-in), Ranae (biologist skeptic), and Cliff (the nondescript one); together, they form the Big Foot Research Organization (BFRO).  They're in Georgia this week to check out a police dashboard cam of a dark figure, that might be sasquatch, running across the road.  Ranae thinks its a hoax, but the rest of the crew are pretty firmly in the believer camp already.  Witnesses seem sure it wasn't a bear, or a man in a costume, so the group goes for a recreation (with Bobo, who is very tall).  Naturally, this convinces the group's believers that the original was bigfoot -- though Ranae notes they just proved it could be recreated.  They then tromp around in the area knocking wood and making their own bigfoot calls.  Naturally they hear things they think are bigfoot; though I gotta say, if I was walking in the woods and heard this stuff, I'd do it back, too -- just for fun. Bigfoot, or human prankster?  The question never seems to enter their minds.

After they walk in the spooky woods, they call a town meeting to talk to other local witnesses -- and plot the locations of the "encounters."  And talk to more witnesses, and do more recreations.  Most of the witnesses seem very sincere, and with each one, the group (aside from Ranae) becomes more and more convinced there are bigfoot in the area.  (Though they do question the veracity of one witness, who seems to be telling them what they want to hear.)  They also find some footprints in the red clay earth that match what are commonly thought to be bigfoot tracks; they make casts, and even Ranae is impressed -- though she wonders if people planted them there, knowing the team was in the area.  (And I wonder if this is the best they've had in 25 years, how crappy is the rest of their "evidence.")  Then they drive through the woods looking for hits on their thermal camera.  They get one, but can't track it down.  So they start screaming again, and hear a howl back.  (Me, again?)  And that's pretty much where it ends.

This is a show for believers in bigfoot.  It is not a show for people who want to figure out if bigfoot is real, or what people who think they've seen bigfoot are seeing.  All the people on this show already know it's real (with the possible exception of Ranae).  If you like sightings and eyewitnesses, this is probably a show for you. If you want careful analysis of the facts, you're probably better off with Destination Truth.  We don't even get an end-of-show recap with the "evidence."  Though I admire the fact that it's a show tackling essentially the same "problem" every week, the "researchers" belief in the phenomenon seems to taint all of their conclusions.  I've seen a number of the shows in this series now, and the pattern holds.  What you get in this episode is pretty much what you get in the rest: intriguing video (or picture), stomping around the wilderness howling, talking to witnesses, and believing that "bigfoot is here."

Maybe at some point the show will get some evidence that makes me believe (or doesn't make my wife laugh and say "That's a guy in a suit!"), but I'm not holding my breath.  I doubt Ranae is, either.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

House of the Wolfman = House of Boring Exposition (review)

I really wanted to like this flick. I have a deep love of monster movies and a high tolerance for cheese -- but here's what you really need to know about this film:

We don't see any monsters (not counting a scary servant and granny) 'til more than an hour in -- and the film is only 1 hour and 15 minutes long.

Then, we get a complete cluster-fuck of monsters -- 6 to be exact, all crammed into about the last 10 minutes of the flick.  And most of those monsters come from the "House of No Foreshadowing At All" (an entirely different -- and probably better -- movie).

The movie has good lighting, costumes, sets, makeup, and general production values.  The music, heavily Salter/Skinner influenced, is passable.

But the direction and camera work are pedestrian at best.  (They squander the production values.)  The dialog is suitably 40s in most places, but the plot... Well, there really isn't one.

Oh, wait, there's the standard "Old Dark House" plot where a bunch of heirs are invited to a mysterious mansion/castle.  But, why were they invited?  The audience figures that out in under 5 minutes, but the characters spend the first hour talking about it.  And talking, and talking, and talking.  And the acting...?

SUPER 8 came out this weekend, and it's about kids making their own movies.  Within that film, there are other films: the ones the kids are making.  In a meta-film twist, in SUPER 8 we get to see young actors portraying both naturalistic kids (in the main movie) and kids performing what they think a movie should be in the film-within-a-film.  The acting in this film is mostly on the level of that film-within-a-film.  That is, it's someone's idea of what 40s monster movie acting should be, rather than just letting the actors act.  Lots of line recitation, very little acting (or reacting).

Step One for making a successful 40s (or 50s or whatever) Monster Movie Homage/Parody: Decide whether you're doing a homage or a parody.  And if you're doing a parody, it better damn well be funny.  This one isn't funny enough to be parody or good enough to be homage.

As an author, I know a film is in trouble when I'm constantly rewriting it in my head as it progresses.  That started pretty early in this flick.

My friend (and award-winning short-film maker) Paul McComas, who was watching this with me, walked out before the end of the first hour; Universal Films are holy writ to him, and he just couldn't take it any longer.  (Glad he missed the closing line, which pissed even _me_ off.)  I stayed 'til the end mostly because of the lighting and sets -- and a morbid desire to see how it turned out.  If the movie had started with the last 10 minutes, it could have been better -- but it didn't.

If you want to see a well-made modern "old movie," see ALIEN TRESPASS (very good 50s homage) or CALL OF CTHULHU (brilliant silent treatment) or even FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE CREATURE FROM BLOOD COVE (good effort, but could have used HOTWolfman's lighting director).

Avoid this unless you're looking for a lesson on how to squander good production values.

I know the people making this were trying hard, but see "Step One" above.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Area 51 Declassified

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: Unknown

Just a short review about this program to note it's probably not what you expect.  When I watched it last night, it was paired (in ads) with When Aliens Attack (largely a wargame scenario, positing a long campaign against an invading force).  From that juxtaposition, you might thing this would be another "aliens hidden in Area 51" program.  It's not.

Instead, it's a serious look at what really went on in Area 51 in the 50s and 60s (largely), during the testing and development of the U2, SR-71, and other top-secret airplanes and projects.  The interviewees tell their stories in a way that will be familiar to anyone who's ever watched a History Channel war program -- that is to say with candor, humor, and professionalism.  My favorite moment was when they discovered that a Soviet satellite had seen the shape of a top-secret plane on the runway; the enemy knew what our best plane looked like!  To counter this, the Area 51 crew started making cardboard silhouettes of fake aircraft for the satellite to "find."  They even put heaters on the cut-outs to simulate cooling engines.  Great deception.

No aliens here, just good, old spy vs. spy Cold War era politics.  Highly entertaining and informative.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Truth Behind Bigfoot

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: unknown

"The Truth Behind..." series has been something of a mixed bag -- some scientifically sound, some cluttered with people trying to "scientifically" prove their own beliefs -- so I was a bit concerned about this show going in.  They start with the infamous Patterson Film, and by declaring "If it's a fake, then it's the work of brilliant hoaxers," which almost immediately tips this show into the believer category.  (As professional magicians know, there are no people easier to fool than those who think they can't be fooled.)  They chopper a research team into the area where the film was shot to laser scan the terrain for a digital recreation of the film.  Next, they plan to collect details about the sighting to recreate the creature, and thereby, determine if the film is real.

Next they get Patterson's widow to loan them a 1st generation copy of the film (which removes some artifacts that have been mistaken for anatomical details, like finger curls); where the original is, they don't say.  They scan the film frame by frame in hi-def, and then stabilize the frames to compensate for Patterson's "shaky cam."  Then they overlay a 3d skeleton to try and match the "compliant" gait seen in the film.  They should try to match the gait of Bob Heironimus, but they bring in their own 7' tall actor to do motion capture instead.  Eventually, they get the actor to duplicate the gait (so much for the other no-human-can-duplicate-that-walk shows).  Next, they start talking about rumors that a Hollywood SFX suit maker created the creature from the film.  They claim that the details seen in the suit were "almost unheard of" and "virtually unavailable" in costumes of the day (1967).  (Notice that it was heard of and available.)  They pile on more and more details like this until it become obvious that this is a show that wants to believe in the Patterson film.

And as they keep telling us how "impossible" it would have been to make a suit like this during 1967, I should point out that many of the same kind of arguments were made about the Michigan Dog Man film, which was fairly recently revealed to have been a hoax using a simple ghillie suit.  Sometimes, simple tech in the hands of a hoaxer can fool very sophisticated people.

Meanwhile, they talk to "the world's foremost bigfoot expert" Jeff Meldrum, who has many footprint casts and other "evidence."  He says it's not strange that no actual bones of the creature have been found, because of natural conditions where these creatures would die.  He also thinks bigfoots have flat feet to help navigate difficult terrain.  Others think the casts in his collection are from prints made by hoaxers.  Meldrum cites sheer numbers to dismiss hoaxers, while others note huge variation in such tracks, including the number of toes -- supporting multiple hoaxers with different ideas about the creature.  Meldrum believes the woods could support this type of large animal, and the anecdotal evidence is strong.  He also claims to have 15+ (hair) samples that defy identification, yet show primate characteristics.  (But unidentified samples do not make bigfoot real, any more than unidentified lights in the sky mean we're being visited by aliens.)

Back at the film, Bill Muns lines up a CGI actor with the monster, but can't make both shoulders and hips match.  He notes that the anatomy would be unusual for a human -- but, again, there's Bob Heironimus, whom they haven't tried to match.  Could it be that all this science is being thrown off by a random choice of a disproportionate model (Heironimous) to wear the costume; sure seems like that to me.  Calculating from the sighting distance reported and the lens (25mm) Patterson claimed to have used, the height of his creature would have been a mere 4' tall.  (Clearly absurd.)  Based on foot casts, Meldrum calculates it would be 8' tall.  (For the record, Bob Heironimus is 6' 2" tall.)  Note that this "scientific" TV program now assumes that the reported lens length was wrong, and they substitute their own lens length to fit their 8' creature theory.  I can just as easily, and with more evidential support, assume that Patterson lied in order to line his own pockets.

They conclude that while there is no actual proof, their evidence suggests the film and bigfoot are real.  I conclude that they had a horse in this race when they started, and are therefore unreliable witnesses -- and scientists.

There's a lot of interesting science brought to bear in this show.  Sadly, it's all misused by believers to support the pre-supposed truth of the Patterson film.  Thus, the only real value I can see here is a new, more clear scan of the film.  (And, oddly, that seems less clear that some of the duplicates we've seen before.)  Every person in this show, all of them should be forced to watch National Geographic's own Is it Real? program on the same subject before they're allowed to do another TV showof this type.  Turns out my concerns for this episode of The Truth Behind... were well founded.

FACT OR FAKED: Whaley Ghost House - Muck Monster

SyFy - Original Air Date: 4/27/2011

Videos passed over for investigation this week include Hawaiian Halo, which seems to show circling objects over a Hawaiian landscape. Looks like doves to some in the group, something mechanical to others, possibly a new RC toy.  Fire Fairy seems to show a sprite-like thing dancing around a fire, "an angelic fire elemental" according to the film's creator.  It looks like a lens flare to many in the team (and to me, too).  So, the two remaining cases are...  Muck Monster shows a strange aquatic mass moving in the waters near Jupiter, Florida.  It's an intriguing video and seems to show a large creature with a serrated fin.  Some biologists have ruled out local fauna, including seals and manatees.  The Whaley House (museum) boasts many mysterious still photos, showing hovering lights and shapes, and almost daily reports of strange happenings from visitors.  One photo (which looks like matrixing to me) seems to show a face in a window.

Bill, Austin, and Chi Lan head to San Diego to check out the Whaley House and hear it's haunted history.  The team sets out to replicate some of the famous "ghost" photos.  Some are obvious reflections in the glass blocking off access to the rooms, so they choose a more ghostly courtroom shot.    They set up lights and replicate the image using reflections off of objects in the courtroom; mystery solved.  To replicate the "ghost in the window," they try various things, including reflection of the photographer and a person (Austin with funny mustache) in the room behind the window -- but those don't match it.  And it still looks like random shadows (and human pattern finding: matrixing) to me.  So, they do the usual ghost hunting at night stuff and get the usual mysterious sounds on EVP sessions -- including one they think is a gavel sound (though I remain unimpressed).  Good work on debunking the photos, though.

Ben, Jael, and Devin head off to Florida to search for the Muck Monster.  They talk to witnesses and then set out to recreate the video.   I suppose I might as well go on record that any FOF show that puts Jael in a bathing suit is a good show for me, so take that into account when reading the rest of this review.  First, she and Devin go diving to look for the monster and check out the terrain; there's plenty of debris to be mistaken for a monster.  They try filming a discarded raft, but it doesn't look as alive as the original footage.  Next, they construct their own monster and try to hoax it; closer, but still not right, the original is much more fluid and alive.  So, they decide to go to a the Miami Seaquarium and check out actual local marine life.  Talking to biologists there, they quickly come to the conclusion that the scientists quoted in the myth were wrong; this biologist quickly recognizes the "creature" as a herd of mating manatees.  The strange "flipper" is merely a tail that has been mutilated by a close encounter with a speed boat.  Case solved.

One occasionally wishes that the original rumor mongers would do a better job with their science, and thereby spare Fact or Faked from investigating cases like this.  But then, we wouldn't get to see Jael in a bathing suit quite so often.  Some sacrifices I suppose we simply must endure.  Thus ends another "Syfy season" of FOF, which, happily, will return in the fall.  Like Destination Truth, I wish they would do less ghost hunting, but I'm glad they're out there shooting down some of these very popular -- if absurd -- viral videos.  Good job, team!

DESTINATION TRUTH: Ghosts of Antarctica

SyFy - Original Air Date: 4/19/2011

On the "season finale" (whatever that means), Josh & crew head for Antarctica to look for ghosts.  They stop in the tip of South America (Tierra del Fuego) and pick up a 50-foot sailing boat to make the trip across some of the world's most dangerous waters, including Drake Passage.  The trip takes most of a week and doesn't look like much fun, with choppy seas and cramped quarters.  Naturally, there are icebergs, too, but eventually they reach the remote, inhospitable, and beautiful continent.  They party with some Russian scientists and hear the local legends of Deception Island, first stop in the DT ghost hunting tour.  Though the sun never quite sets (being Antarctic summer), they set up camp and haul out the IR gear to investigate.  Soon, people begin seeing and hearing things: Josh thinks he sees a shape inside a building (but I"m not convinced, and the FLIR evidence seems like video artifacting); Gabe sees a light in a hut, but it looks like an IR reflection to me; Josh and Ryder hear strange bumps in a warehouse-like building -- they don't see big pieces of fallen debris, but there's of junk plenty around to fall, and in a place like that.... Ryder sees a dark shadow by a door.  "This whole place is freaking me out." And therein lies a common ghost-hunting problem.  They never discover the source of the noises or shadow, naturally.  So it's on to their next stop.

Wordie House is an old British base supposedly haunted by its former occupants, after being abandoned in 1962.  The team picks up the house key from some Ukranians, who collect bras to decorate the only bar in Antarctica.  Wordie remains pretty much as it was when abandoned, and while Josh pokes around inside, Ryder discovers a noisy leopard seal outside -- perhaps explaining some of the local weird sounds.  Naturally, the team starts hearing strange sounds within Wordie House.  They set up watches, and hear even more strange sounds.  (Sitting alone in the dark will do this to you.)  Things also seem to mysteriously fall off shelves or tables.  (Vibrations of humans moving about and entropy, anyone?)  In his isolation session, Josh thinks he sees someone outside a door, but finds no one.  They keep recording and having weird feelings, and eventually it's time to head for home and analyze.

They think the FLIR hit at Desolation is something moving; I think it's a video problem.  (Really, these people should become more expert with their cameras, especially, and other equipment.)  Enhanced audio when someone hears something "reveals" a set of "pulses" in series that the team notes could be SOS in old Morse code.  But to me, that's a stretch, and as they note, there's only one series and it could be coincidence.  Really, it seems pretty much within the range of background noise to me.  The "light switch" sound from Wordie isn't much more convincing to me.

One of the troubles with these type of ghost hunter shows is I always have the feeling that the investigators have never lived in an old house, or in the woods, or in any place with an odd variety of natural sounds.  Houses creak and groan (woods do, too, as does ice) and most natural places are filled with sounds (animal or otherwise) if humans will just shut up long enough to hear them.  And wear and tear and vibrations and entropy... boy, that can make strange things clang and clack -- just ask my dish rack.  Also, if Wipeout can put cameras on people that show their POV, I think it's high time that DT did the same, rather than merely having cameras that focus on the team members.  I'm really tired of people exclaiming about something cool they saw just in time for the cameraman to miss it.  POV cams might help capture evidence that's now being missed -- or help show just how prone people are to optical illusions and jumping at their own shadows.

In the end, though this remains my favorite of the supernatural shows, and I like the cast -- in my humble opinion -- this is just another hunt for ghosts that aren't there.  I wish DT would do less of these and stick to searching for monsters -- maybe doubling their time on each case by skipping the ghosts.  We already have Ghost Hunters and GHI, if ghosts are what we want.  More hard science would be welcome, too.

Friday, April 29, 2011

FACT OR FAKED: Dashcam Chupacabra - Nightly News Alien

Syfy - Original Air Date: 4/20/11

"Haunted Funeral Home" features two knuckleheads breaking into a funeral home that's supposedly haunted; tissues fly into a lamp, chairs fall over -- but it looks staged.  The "Lake Lure Ghost" seems to show a ghostly figure near an ice sculpture - but it looks like a long exposure motion blur to Chi-Lan (and me, too).  So the two cases to check out are... From Argentina (again) comes "News Alien," which seems to show a "nightcrawler" like alien walking casually behind an interviewee.  The alien was only spotted when the film aired on TV.  It looks like a fake to me, but off they go to investigate (probably along with last week's haunted swing -- ganging up a trip, I suspect).  "Dashcam Chupacabra" is a video from a squad car showing a strange, hairless doglike animal running down a dirt road in Texas, and a rancher claims to have a carcass.

In Dewitt county, chupacabra rumors run rampant, so they go talk to the rancher who has one stuffed and mounted.  The specimen is a strange, dog-like creature with big fangs and long claws.; the ranch owner claims to have seen another one 3 days ago.  She also has the carcass (meat) of the stuffed one in her freezer -- and is happy to provide samples for genetic testing.  Then, they talk to Sgt. Carter who took the original video.  Could it be mistaken identity?  They set up a simulated dash cam and bring in local animals to check against, including a miniature horse (nope) and an Peruvian Inca orchid dog (very similar, especially in the run - but the snout is wrong).  So, they do a night watch to try and find a live one and use a helicopter drone to help them look.  (Nice tech!  That'll generate UFO reports!)  They hear howls and see something on their IR and night vision cameras, but it's only cows.  The DNA sample comes back as a hybrid of gray Mexican wolf and coyote.  Case solved.  But is this beast the "real" chupacabra?

Austin claims they blew the alien case in Patagonia "wide open"; let's see how they did it.  First they test a stray wind sock blowing past to see if it could be mistaken identity -- but it's too windy to even pull that hoax off.  Could it be a worker moving some kind of equipment?  Nope. Then they notice the alien is casting a shadow opposite that of the reporter in the foreground.  Looking like a hoax, so they go and ask the videographer flat out: Is it a hoax?  "No. Not completely."  Did you fake it? "Yes." He says he did it as a joke, and he then shows us how -- using an animation program that looks like Poser.  (I use the same program to make art.) The hoaxer thinks local people have a predisposition to believe in such things, because of local UFO sightings.  Naturally, because you always have to do a night investigation, they now set up one to look for UFOs on the coast.  Bill suggests that local thunderstorms might attract aliens -- though I think it more likely to create ball lightning or other electrical phenomena.  Jael also mistakes what looks like lens flare for some kind of "gray halo."  (Nailed by Chi-Lan, later on.)  The local sea lions begin acting up, and Jael hears strange whistles, from atmospheric electrical events -- an approaching thunderstorm, it turns out.

Aside from the night investigations, which seem increasingly silly and irrelevant to me, this show featured some very good bringing the truth to light.  I know that "Ghost Hunters" has made tromping around in the dark popular -- and viewers are more easily creeped out at night -- but I wish there were less of it.  A lot less.

FACT OR FAKED: Playground Poltergeist - Alien Intruder

SyFy -- Orginal Air Date: 4/13/11

Passed over this week are "Pantry Ghost," in which a door mysteriously opens, is closed, and a face appears behind the pantry door window.  (Too convenient, no reaction, and a subtle edit for the SFX.)  "Dome UFO" seems to show a light hovering over the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, before shooting into the sky.  The fact that there are no other witnesses to this, and that it looks like CGI rule this out.  Leaving the two cases to follow up: Alien Intruder, in which a Florida couple claims to have caught on camera an alien spying into their bedroom.  Now they have a second strange video, seeming to show a hovering, ghostlike alien.  The second case is of a swing set in Argentina that seems to swing on its own -- but only one of the three seats.  Legend has it that the swing is haunted.

In Argentina, the team talks to the original witness, then they try pulling the swing with mono-filament wire.  It looks good, but you can see the line, plus the swinging swing is ongoing; surely no one would hang around for this long a hoax.  Next, they build a duplicate swing set right next to the "haunted" one.  But, when set in motion, the new swing does not keep going like the original.  Next, they put up an air-supported dome to isolate the swing and use a fan to simulate various wind directions.  Doing this, they discover the center seat is slightly wider than the other two, and the right angle of wind sets it going while the other to remain stationary.  (They don't mention that the swing stopped swinging when they put up their dome.)  So, no hoax, just normal fluctuating wind conditions.

In Milton Florida, the team talks to the people supposedly being harassed by these "aliens;" they also claim worm infestations on their lawn.  The homeowner has set up elaborate mirrors (and even strobe lights) to fool the aliens into thinking that they are not being filmed.  It seems ripe for a hoax to me, but the crew takes it very seriously.  First they use an art mannequin and try to replicate the alien in the bathroom -- they come pretty close.  Next, they set up to see if cast shadows (from a coat rack) could cause an optical illusion of the floating "alien."  Close, but not close enough.  So they set up a puppet to fake the video.  This is closer, but not as eerie as the original. This could be either an illusion or an intentional hoax, but they decide to do a stakeout and see if they can find any evidence on their own.  They set up lasers and one-way mirrors, and monitor the homeowner.  They get electrical interference, the homeowner thinks he hears things, and they find a mass of worms on the lawn.  Did they cause their own electrical interference?  Is there something paranormal going on here.  Voice analysis says the homeowner is telling the truth -- but I'm still not sure I trust that tech.  The case remains baffling; the homeowners seem to believe something is going on.  But what?  I wonder if local electrical interference could be setting up a hallucinatory "fear cage" effect for the people living in the house.

Not a bad episode.  The swing debunking was really well done.  But the "alien" problem would seem to require more long-term surveillance.  (Something I wish was routinely done with contactees.)  Just because people believe something is real, doesn't mean it is real.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

DESTINATION TRUTH: Thai Tree People - Aiya Napa Monster

SyFy - Original Air Date: 4/12/11

First, Josh & crew go to Thailand to search for the Naree Pon, a mythological Buddhist plant-person, 3' tall. A temple supposedly has bodies of these creatures, so off the DT folks go.  After fooling around with local food, they head to the temple and ask to see the bodies.  They're allowed, and take photos.  They then head to an area where the creatures are believed to have kidnapped people, and they talk to a recent witness.  They hike into the jungle, set up base camp, and poke around in the dark.  They find Buddhist shrines and avoid spiders and a poisonous viper, barely.  They poke around in a cave and nearly get hurt.  Back in LA, they ask a mammologist what the what the temple photos are -- and he cannot figure it out.  Because of the bodies, the case remains ever-so-slightly open.

On Cyprus, people are seeing a massive sea serpent, and folks are concerned about what they call the Aiya Napa Monster.  While waiting for their luggage to catch up, the team sees the local ruins and sights.  Local witnesses and fishermen suggest they check out the nearby sea caves, so they jump right in -- literally.  Finding nothing, they hire a boat and head to sea, with Josh doing the diving duties.  Naturally, they have to dive at night, too, and check out some undersea caves & wrecks.  Finding only fish (though glimpsing a big one), they do a surface patrol and catch a thermal hit.  In the end, they figure the monster is likely a basking shark, a gentle giant of the sea.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

FACT OR FAKED: Raining UFOs - Ectoplasmic Pic

SyFy - Original Air Date: 4/6/11

Videos not investigated this week are: Poltergeist Down Under, from Queensland, Austrialia, which seems to show an invisible force moving  boxes and other things across a garage  -- and then similar happenings in a kitchen.  The analysis says these things could be mono-filament wire and simply throwing objects.  Government UFO, in Hawaii shows formations of lights moving over a government installation.  Bill and Chi-Lan point out this would be super easy to fake with CG.  Which leaves the two the team will check out - Seeding UFO a Christmas Night UFO, dripping sparks "seeding the earth" and the old spiritualist ectoplasm photos (including one with a face in the "ectoplasm") by T.G. Hamilton.

They head to Longbeach to check out the UFO, noting that no one yet has an official explanation for the incident.  They talk to the helicopter pilot that took the video, and then they start running experiments using a night vision camera like the one that took the original video.  They start with a military flare; it drips well, but you can see the parachute.  Next, they test a homemade hot air balloon, powered by candles; this is closer, but didn't get quite the altitude.  Finally, they attach sparklers to an RC plane.  Though this seems a dead-on match, they also do a night watch, just in case there are real UFOs.  But all they catch is a bird (which looks like a UFO in night vision).  Conclusion, the balloon or the plane are both good explanations.

The second team goes to recreate the ectoplasm photos in the same house where they were originally taken.  Despite the "experimenter's" precautions, these photos all look completely bogus to me -- and apparently to the team, too.  The first one the recreate by Gavin simply blowing cigar smoke out of the sides of his mouth.  The second they recreate with cotton wadding.  The third they recreate using Dry Ice to create a mist around a "sleeping" figure. The fourth they recreate using a seltzer tablet and a photo attached to the end of a q-tip.  While these are not perfect recreations, they are very good given the time constraints.  And it's worth noting that the original medium had a lot of time to practice her effects and a lot riding on people believing them. The crew concludes that she might have hoaxed everyone, including well-meaning experimenters.

My conclusion: One of the most rigorous episodes in the series.  Well done.

DESTINATION TRUTH: Jungle Temple Ghosts - Namibian Night Stalker

SyFy - Original Air Date: 4/5/11

First up, off to Thailand to look for the Phret, a spirit of the damned, which seems to be captured in a video, scaling a local monument.  The video is fuzzy (and seems like possible camera error to me), but the team heads off, talks to witnesses, and does the usual poking around in Bangkok.  They try to recreate the video with a variety of cameras, and then head out to a jungle temple reputed to house the spirit.  Ryder takes a bad spill on a dirt bike, needs stitches, and they regret not getting good-luck charms to avoid such accidents.  They deploy their usual base camp in the huge Khmer temple reputed to be the creature's lair.  They see mysterious lights inside and outside the temple and hear strange sounds.  Rex starts choking for no apparent reason, and red marks appear on his neck; Josh catches a mysterious heat signature on the FLIR, but they find no further evidence. The lights in the sky were probably distant fireworks or lightning; the light in the temple remains mysterious, as does Rex's incident, and the thermal hit.  The team fails to recreate the original monument video, but it still looks like a reflection problem to me.  Josh concludes, like all things in Thailand, what happened -- and the cause -- may come down to belief.

Next up, they head to Namibia (again with former teammate Jael) to look for the Night Stalker, a blood-draining beast.  (Like an African chupacabra.)  They head for a national park to find the beast, talk to the locals, and Ryder gets painted red by tribeswomen.  (She does Deja Thoris proud.)  They set up base camp, Jael arrives, and they prowl around in the dark (SOP).  They find a dead goat, avoid a live python, and nearly see some other animals in the dark.  Back home, the kills they discovered (goat & giraffe) are analyzed.  The giraffe, at least, was taken by lions.  The goat, the expert is less sure.  There could be something else out there, but for now we will all have to wait for more proof.

DESTINATION TRUTH: Sandstorm Spirits - Cerro Azul Monster

SyFy - Original Air Date: 3/29/11

Josh & Crew goe to Namibia to investigate a ghost town buried in the sand.  With them is old teammate Jael (now from Fact or Faked).  After the usual eating of strange food, talking to locals, and clowning around (Ryder loses a race with an ostrich), the group goes by dune buggy to Kolmenskop, the abandoned town.  They poke around in the sand-covered buildings and hear the (usual) strange sounds.  Ryder has mysterious trouble breathing, Rex swears he sees a figure in a room where there's no one (and immediately gets a bloody nose), and Jael hears breathing in her ear in an empty room.  They actually capture what sounds like the whisper Jael heard, but no other solid evidence.  Josh concludes that the long-gone residents are still seen, heard, and felt - though there's more investigation to do.  (I wish they had out-looking personal cams, as well as ones focusing on the team's faces.)

Next, they go to Panama to research a photo of a supposed mystery beast, the Cerro Azul Monster, photographed by some boys. The creature is hairless and looks something like a land seal.  So, off to the country of the canal to look for it!  They talk to a local professor, who says something unknown could lurk in the jungles, and get sent to possible habitat by witnesses.  They head into a national park, talk to more natives, and almost lose a team member and camera in a raging river.  Avoiding pit vipers and cave scorpions, they poke around in water-filled caves, get scared by fish, and capture a sloth on a perimeter camera.  Back home, they show the original picture to a zoologist, who says the "creature" is, in fact, a sloth with no hair -- possibly because of disease or mutation.  In such a wild land, it's no wonder ordinary creatures can become "monsters."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Cyclops - A Fun Flick, Uncut - Bert I. Gordon

(I watched this movie tonight and then posted this review on Amazon, and figured I might as well share it here, too.)

This is a fun film from early in Bert I. Gordon's career.  In it, you can see many of the elements that would later become B.I.G trademarks: giant people and animals, seat-of-the-pants special effects, and deadpan sincerity.  If you like cheesy monster movies from the 50s, this flick is a good bet.  The actors are attractive and competent, and it's fun to watch Lon Chaney, Jr. chew the scenery -- though it's actually the titular character who does the most scenery chewing.

The Cyclops, by the way, looks like a dry-run for the later Amazing Colossal Man/Beast make-up.  Half his face is melted and the other half distorted, with a huge eye.  It's a creepy if crude make-up.  There's a lot of pretty dodgy matte work here -- Bert got better at that as he went -- and I'm surprised that he didn't do much of it with forced perspective instead.  Still, for all its flaws, this film is a must have for collectors of B.I.G's work or 50s monster movie buffs.

In other reviews, there has been some controversy over whether the "pull the stick out of the eye" scene has been censored from this release.  Well, I just got my copy of the disc direct from Warner Archives today -- 4/7/2011 -- and I can say that I _saw_ that scene in this DVD.  So, unless there's more to the supposedly missing scene than the cyclops pulling out the stick and weeping for a moment, I'd say the current edition is intact/uncensored, folks.

Make sure you get this release and not previous ones.  The DVD quality is good -- a nice widescreen (anamorphic?) transfer -- and it played fine on my old Toshiba player (not a player/recorder).  I would have given it another star, but the SFX are pretty crude -- clearly from early in B.I.G.'s career.  What it lacks in polish, though, it makes up for in imagination and sincerity.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

BEAST HUNTER: Mongolian Death Worm

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 3/25/11

Pat Spain heads to Mongolia to check out the legendary Death Worm.  Mongolia is about the size of Alaska, but with a population of only 3 million, it's the most sparsely populated country on earth.  Basically, there's a lot of empty ground to cover.  Pat talks to the locals and hears the legends of the worm; lots of eyewitness accounts -- even one from close range -- but no actual bodies or other evidence.  As pointed out earlier, Mongolia is big and has a history of mysterious creatures -- including a toad that lives underground 300 days a year -- and amazing paleontological finds, such as the first dinosaur eggs.

Pat pokes around with the local fauna, and hangs with the nomadic peoples, and speculates about what might lie at the bottom of the fantastic myths about this creature.  Could such a poisonous and/or electric creature exist?  His camera traps, set in hopes of catching the creature, show something very mysterious -- which, once viewed completely, turns out to be a close-up of a cow.  "A perfect example of seeing a common animal from a different angle, out of context, and being totally confused by what it could be."  Pat speculates this is what is happening with the local people, though there may be some kind of creature that's causing these legends to spring up.  Whether the creature exists in modern times remains in question. 

FACT OR FAKED: Thermal Theater Ghost - Fire in the Sky

SyFy - Original Air Date: 3/30/11

The teaser cases not investigated this week are: Ghost Twins (AL) which appear suddenly, one on the stairs and another in a downstairs room, both appearing and vanishing during quick pans of the camera. It looks very "Japansese horror" to me, and the pans too convenient -- stopping and starting in just the right places -- and the camera being used (seen in a mirror) is a pro camera.  The Captured Alien video (2008, Brazil) seems to show a "gray" alien being interrogated, but it seems "too good to be true," possibly a combination of puppetry and CGI.  The two cases we're checking out fully are: 1) El Paso UFO, a falling "meteor" that breaks into 3 separate lights and then appears to hover, and 2)  Florida Theater Ghost (Jacksonville), which seems to show a translucent apparition sitting in a balcony seat.

The theater is one of those grand old palaces that are often reputed to be haunted.  The team sets up their night vision cameras and then stations Austin in the seat the "ghost" was seen in.  The image seems too distinct, though I think they've done a bad job replicating the lighting seen in the video (see below).  Next, they create a Plexiglas outline of a person and light it with a light box, but the box spills out too much light.  So, they decide to ghost hunt for a bit, and find mysterious heat signatures.  Because these seem to vanish whenever someone steps next to them, I think it's a calibration problem with the camera.  They, though, try to track this ball of heat across the auditorium, and eventually corner it near the "haunted" seat.  I still think it's a camera problem; nor am I impressed with their replication of the lighting of the original video.  For instance, the doorway (or wall) on the right of the seats is clearly visible in the original, while it remains dark in the recreation  Thus, the seat in question is underlit, thus this whole experiment is a fail, IMHO.  You may think you found something; I think you didn't try hard enough.  Sorry, guys.  More science needed.

They do better with the UFO investigation, starting by talking to the witnesses, and then sending up LED-filled balloons on, essentially, kite string.  But the lights aren't stable enough, nor do they have the streaking, sparkling tails of the original video.  Next up, a rocket deploying military flares, which are timed to last the minute and a half that the incident lasted, as reported by the eyewitnesses.  This looks almost right, but the flares descend too fast and don't hover long enough.  Next, they try a similar trick with sky divers.  The divers strap flares to their boots and then go out of the plane and form a formation.  They then light the flares, plummet for a while, and finally separate into a triangle shape and deploy their chutes.  The effect is a prefect replication of the video.  It's so good, in fact, that the recreation even gets UFO calls to 911 (though apparently people refuse to believe the true explanation).  Research proves that the Army's Golden Knights skydiving team was responsible for the El Paso lights.  Case solved.  Science wins.  Good job, team.

FACT OR FAKED: Real Battle of LA - Queen Mary Menace

SyFy - Original Air Date: 3/23/11

FoF returns for a second season with a slightly altered cast and a firm grasp on their format.  We start with videos, as usual.  A kitchen poltergeist looks too good to be true, with plenty of places to hide people pulling wires.  Napa Valley Vortex shows a pond draining into a huge hole; it looks like SFX, but it's actually an overflow drain.  The two mysteries they're investigating are: One - The Battle of LA (2/25/1942), when radar hits caused an LA anti-aircraft fire barrage.  Nothing was ever found, but a picture shows a supposed saucer-shaped craft being hit by spotlights.  Two - Queen Mary ghost (2008, Long Beach, CA) shows a ghostly white figure strolling out of a wall and down a hall.  It was supposedly captured by a camera set down in a lounge.

In LA, they talk to experts, who confirm that a meteorological balloon was launched the night of the battle, though the experts can't explain why the balloon didn't come down.  The team then drives to the desert to try and replicate the photo.  First, they test for an optical illusion using 8 searchlights, focusing on the same space.  The result is similar, but not the same, as the beams to do not stop in mid-air (and the beams are different, too, see my end-of segment note).  They decide to see if the beams will stop because of flak, which they test at scale (anti-aircraft being unavailable).  Better, but the beams still don't stop.  So they put a weather balloon in the spots.  This looks much more like the original, but it only takes a hit or two to bring the balloon down.  The same would hold true for a barrage balloon, which would more closely resemble the purported object.  So, the mystery remains.

Or does it?  I gotta say, though, the "original" photo looks retouched to me.  The spotlights are shaped oddly (spreading out too quickly), and they stop too abruptly; also, retouching was common at the time, especially to "clear up" muddy photos.  My guess is that the spots were added by retouchers to the picture of the flak, to better portray the scene to readers.  Compare the beams in the show to those in the photo; the photo beams look airbrushed on.  Too bad the FoF team didn't try to find an original negative.  As to why all those shots were fired, ever see 1941?

On the Queen Mary, they tour the ship -- with people who seem to believe in vortexes -- and talk to the people who shot the film.  They then create a base plate of a figure walking, and project it onto haze from the fog machine.  Close, but you can see the beam.  Next, they try projecting onto a teleprompter -- which is a pretty close match.  Then, for some reason, they start doing the usual ghost huting/EVP stuff -- and turn up a very spooky raccoon, plus what sounds like the laugh of a little girl.  (Mysterious!)  Back at the shop, Bill also throws together a video composite, which matches the original almost exactly.  This proves there are many ways this video could have been faked, but that doesn't prove the Queen Mary isn't haunted.

Not a bad start to the new season, though the science could have been tougher in places.