Tag Archives: sasquatch

“The Question is, What’s Going On…” MISSING IN ALASKA

MISSING IN ALASKA

on History Channel


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(2/5)

Pros: Interesting basis for the episodes…


Cons: …but the conclusions drawn seem like a stretch

“This dramatized program is inspired by eyewitness reports and legends and may contain certain sensationalized and/or controversial content. The personal opinions and theories expressed are not endorsed by the network.

Viewer discretion is advised.


There are currently 738,000 people living in Alaska. In the past 20 years…more than 60,000 have been reported missing. Some believe a number of these cases…stem from mysterious phenomena.”

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So reads the intro of History Channel’s latest supposed documentary Missing in Alaska, which premiered in July 2015 and follows the exploits of a three man team – former police officer and apparent skeptic Jeremy “Jax” Atwell, folklorist Tommy Joseph, and “specialist in strange phenomena” Ken Gerhard, who’s been featured in many vaguely similar programs and doesn’t go anywhere without his trusty curved cowboy hat – whose goal it is to explain some of those many disappearances. Appropriately enough, this show airs just after the now-almost-parodical Ancient Aliens and on the one hand, I’ve got to give the producers credit for at least acknowledging that what’s covered in their “dramatized” show might be “sensationalized and/or controversial” – right there, they’ve already been more honest with their viewers than any number of the typical “monster hunt” programs, of which Destination America’s Alaska Monsters may be the most flat-out absurd. Of course the disclaimer does leave the door open for everything discussed in Missing in Alaska to be utter hogwash, so the question then becomes why anyone would want to watch such malarkey…

BRAND_H2_MSGA_162202_TVE_000_2398_60_20150722_000_HD_still_624x352The MiA team on the hunt…

Initially, Missing in Alaska seems fairly straight-faced. Each episode tackles one possible cause that would explain people vanishing in the so-called “Alaska Triangle.” The program’s first episode deals with the sudden disappearance of a C-54 military transport carrying some 44 persons in January 1950. Numerous planes go missing in Alaska but the majority of these cases can probably be blamed on unpredictable and dangerous weather patterns. The particular incident covered in the show is noteworthy not only for the amount of people who were lost, but also because a massive military search operation didn’t yield a single clue as to what actually happened. Gerhard, being of sound mind, believes that the so-called “vile vortices” may be to blame, thus making a connection to the blatantly phony Devil’s Graveyards mockumentary. Episode two likewise travels through familiar territory, covering the team’s search for the so-called “Hairy Man,” a Sasquatch-like creature prowling the Alaskan wilderness that is rumored to be both larger and more aggressive than the typical “Bigfoot.”

Missing_In_Alaska_Tommy_Joseph_Bio-E“Expert on Alaskan legends” Tommy Joseph posing with supposed Hairy Man nest.  Yeah, I’m not buying it either.


After a narration provides some backstory for each episode (and to be fair, there’s legitimate historical basis for at least some of the subjects tackled here), the MiA team sets out on a quest not only to find experts and witnesses who may shine some light on the case they’re investigating, but also to have some first-hand experiences for themselves. Invariably (and in some cases most inexplicably), the team’s research leads them to conduct some sort of nighttime investigation, which may be about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard – is it really a good idea to go lurking around after dark in remote areas where five out of every thousand people disappears, knowing full well that bears may be lurking just out of camera range? Even if I can accept that the investigation of the “Hairy Man” might turn up something in the nocturnal hours, what could possibly be learned by prowling around at night in search of vile vortices? Regardless, these segments do wind up providing the almost mandatory infrared and night vision sequences along with a multitude of declarations like “did you hear that?” or “there’s definitely something out there!”

29EA0EB600000578-0-image-a-11_1435136401617Landscape photograph in the show is, as might be expected, outstanding.

Like many other modern “speculative documentaries,” Missing in Alaska does a reasonable job of appearing to represent authentic events and situations. Similar to a program like America Unearthed, Missing in Alaska incorporates some subtle reality TV moments: to an extent, the show is more about what happens during the team’s investigation rather than the underlying topic being examined. The documentary-like approach is also pretty solid, boasting some stunning photography of the breathtaking Alaskan landscape, but the illusion of verisimilitude collapses or is at least severely strained at times. Episode one features a moment where the team utilizes an aerial drone to try and get a wide-range view of a snow-covered valley. The drone is quickly lost during a sudden change in weather, but “miraculously” appears – with its tracking beacon and scientific gear still functioning – later on during the episode’s climax. Much as I like to keep an open mind, I don’t at all believe the nudge-nudge-wink-wink assertions that this drone actually went through one of the vortices the team was searching for and then apparently jumped ahead in time and space – that notion just pushes my suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. Similarly, episode two’s conclusion of a shadowy figure knocking a trail cam around seems highly suspect – it’s simply too convenient and frankly unbelievable that this team would randomly stumble upon an unknown hominid during the course of a few day film shoot.

ken_gerhard.1322040_stdKen Gerhard – specialist in strange phenomena.  And owl wrangler.

Given the sketchiness of the show, I was somewhat shocked that Gerhard, a somewhat respected (?) figure in the world of cryptozoology and the paranormal, would appear in something like this. Maybe the guy’s looking for acting gigs nowadays, for that surely is more what Missing in Alaska seems: I would hope that most viewers would take any of the “factual” information here – at least that which the research team stumbles across – with a grain of salt. There are strange things occurring in the Alaskan wilderness and the number of missing persons in the state is undeniably alarming, making the real life aspects and historical incidents depicted in Missing in Alaska quite fascinating. To instantly jump to the “mysteries and monsters” conclusion with regard to explaining these disappearances however seems not only illogical but irresponsible. As a “documentary” then, though Missing in Alaska is not quite as utterly reprehensible as what I’ve come to expect from the genre of ghost/monster/unknown-related programming, it’s still highly questionable. As entertainment however, it does exactly what it’s supposed to, raising numerous questions and getting a viewer thinking about the infinite possibilities that are/may be out there. This isn’t must-see TV by any stretch, but those who enjoy shows dealing with the paranormal will probably get a kick out of it.


 

The Weird Side of the Soviet Union: MONSTERS BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN

MONSTERS BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN on Animal Planet

(4/5)


Pros: Well-organized; interesting variety of subjects; more level-headed and objective than is usual for this type of program

Cons: It’s a speculative documentary: some folks just won’t appreciate it; sensationalist title doesn’t represent the material very well

Refreshingly straight-forward in both its presentation and in the various hypotheses it proposes, the two-hour special Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain, which premiered October 26, 2014 on the Animal Planet Channel, stands in stark contrast to increasingly manipulative (and goofy) programs like the previous year’s Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives which handles some of the same subject matter. Directed by Gareth Sacala, Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain operates in much the same manner as an episode of Monsters and Mysteries in America in that it features discussion of a half dozen or so stories of the unknown which originated in and around the former Soviet Union. A few of these stories specifically involve the existence of unknown creatures which seems to be a very popular subject on television these days, but the majority deal more generally with unexplained phenomena.

The real monster
Subliminal messaging: is this the REAL monster behind the Iron Curtain?

The program starts with what in my opinion is its most interesting segment, one which seems to have been pulled straight out of the pages of Dark Matters: Twisted but True: a brief examination of the history of rather unorthodox experiments that took place in the Soviet Union during the 1920s. While researching how organs were controlled by the brain and functioned, scientists and developed the basic techniques by which organ transplants are conducted today, yet hearing about how this duo not only kept the hearts and whole heads of dogs alive after they had been separated from their corresponding bodies, but also created two-headed animals and very nearly reanimated a dead human suggests these scientists may have been willing to push the boundaries of science a bit too far in the name of progress. What’s more shocking perhaps is that even though the former Soviet Union has released some files relating to these experiments, it’s unlikely that anyone will ever really know how far these experiments went. After viewing some of the actual film footage seen here (which includes images of a heart beating independently of its body, one dog’s head being kept alive in a metal bowl and another animal having to fight off the snapping jaws of a second head that’s been grafted onto its neck), I’m not sure anyone would really want to uncover the true extent of these experiments even if the knowledge gained has proven to be invaluable.

WARNING: GRAPHIC! Footage of dog head grafting experiments.

From here, Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain goes through an intriguing, if fairly typical collection of segments and stories, some of which seem more outrageous then others. A viewer hears about the legend of the , a subterranean creature who’s said to spit venom and be able to conduct electricity and delves into the legend of the so-called “” which exists in the remote Siberian forest. This plot of barren land apparently causes death and misery to anyone who ventures near it, leading scientists to debate its true nature as the site of a possible underground fire or maybe even the location where meteoric debris has settled. A from the Caucasus Mountains in which a group of mountaineers was severely burned by an unknown ball of light is investigated, as well as a in which a young medical student attacked fourteen women, killing four. In the wake of the attacks, it was speculated that the man was possessed by a demonic spirit called a , a being which appears to have been at least partially responsible for the modern idea of the vampire. It’s almost expected that a program of this nature at least briefly focus on some sort of Bigfoot story, and this is provided in the form of an examination of the Russian Wildman. The documentary concludes with a substantial inquiry into the fascinating and enigmatic in which nine mountaineers were killed under mysterious circumstances while skiing in the remote Russian wilderness in 1959.


Remains of one of the Dyatlov expedition members. Half the mountaineers died from incredibly traumatic injuries which, according to official government reports, were caused by “a compelling natural force.”

Along with a steady narration provided by Eric Myers, Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain is told largely through interviews with various researchers and investigators and occasionally, the actual people involved first-hand in the stories. Throughout the program, we have a number of well-handled recreations of the situations discussed which hammer home the subjects the talking heads are discussing. I think one of the best things about the program (as mentioned) was its use of sometimes gruesome and disturbing archival film footage and photographs. Some of the segments here are largely recounted through dialogue, but there has been an obvious effort made to add credibility to the eyewitness accounts and people making them whenever possible. Keeping in mind the undeniably sketchy evidence usually presented in these types of shows, I’d have to say that Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain does a fine job of honestly presenting its information. I also appreciated that the program doesn’t automatically go for the jugular and force the viewer to buy into some very outlandish explanation for what’s occurring in these stories. The program for instance proposes that the mysterious ball of light was actually the incredibly rare meteorological phenomenon known as ball lightning, which actually seems plausible in this circumstance, and the Dyatlov incident segment focuses on the notion that a top-secret parachute mine test caused the deaths of the mountaineers. Generally speaking and as might be expected, this documentary doesn’t come up with any real answers, leaving it up to the viewer to make up his own mind with regard to these cases. I thought this sense of ambiguity was welcome when the vast majority of crypto-reality TV shows jump to wild conclusions in five minutes or less.

artists' rendering
Artist’s rendering of the Mongolian Death Worm.

Even if it takes this program less that twenty minutes to conveniently introduce Idaho State University professor Dr. Jeff Meldrum (who shows up in virtually every Bigfoot-related documentary to explain that yes, there is a possibility that previously unknown creatures do exist in the world – just in case anyone needed that point reinforced) as the obligatory “voice of reason” to add some sort of scientific seal of approval for what’s being proposed here, Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain is easily a more level-headed and ultimately better program than dozens of vaguely similar shows that have turned up in the last couple years. Compared to outright fabrications like the Russian Yeti, Megalodon, or Wrath of Submarine which choked viewers with phoniness, this one at least attempts to remain neutral and objective, simply presenting information in much the same manner as a program like Unsolved Mysteries. For that alone, it deserves commendation in an era where sensationalism goes a long way in making a program stand out from the crowd. Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain obviously wouldn’t be counted among the greatest documentaries of our time, but it’s well-done for what it is and should please viewers interested in the paranormal. Recommended.

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D.o.A.: KILLING BIGFOOT

KILLING BIGFOOT on Destination America

(0.5/5)

Pros: Fairly serious and more credible than the lot of similar programs

Cons: Everything is very familiar and I simply can’t for the life of me condone this show’s message

With the current, rather pathetic wave of cryptozoological (read: monster) related reality television shows coming to an end and a few weeks before the new season of Finding Bigfoot starts, it was only a matter of time – a week to be exact – before the Destination America channel’s next monster show would turn up. Unfortunately, as this genre as a whole has become ever more phony, goofy and unbelievable, Killing Bigfoot, which premiered on Friday, October 24, 2014, appears to be deadly serious – and, in my opinion, completely reprehensible. Following the exploits of another acronym-defined paranormal research group (the GCBRO – Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization; they have their own hats so that means that must be legit), the show attempts not just to find one of the hairy, bipedal apes rumored to exist in the woodlands of Texas, Lousiana, and Arkansas, but kill one of the creatures to prove their existence once and for all.

Yes, as one eyewitness points out with regard to the unknown hominids, “most people just let ‘em be.” Not our gang of trigger-happy bayou folk. That’s just not how they roll…

oh snap

Working off the same pattern that led to shows like Mountain Monsters, Swamp Monsters, Monsters Underground, and Alaska Monsters (UGH! – that has to be one of the worst quartets of shows imaginable), Killing Bigfoot begins with a brief, stylized introduction to the eight-man team the program revolves around, a group of “vets, ex-cops, and hardcore woodsmen” who are shown in the opening montage cocking huge shotguns and blowing away paper targets shaped like the (in)famous . Multiple people featured in the show are identified as “snipers,” while a few – including one fella who’s name is given as “Grumpy” – are given the task of “investigator”; hell, I was cracking up imagining that the show existed as a deranged version of Snow White and the Seven Dorks. Mainly, this crew goes about the normal monster investigation routine – interviewing witnesses, looking for proof in the swamps and forests of western Louisiana, and conducting night investigations that tread suspiciously close to looking like what one would find on the typical hunting program since they involve multiple people traipsing through the woods with shotguns at the ready. What’s shocking about the show is that, unlike the increasingly preposterous monster-related shows on Destination America channel, the characters…er people featured in Killing Bigfoot don’t seem to believe they’re part of an ongoing hoax or comedic program. These guys really are trying to kill a Sasquatch.

leave it to texas
Leave it to Texas to declare that it’s legal to kill Bigfoot…

Right there, I’m already on the verge of writing this program off on principle alone. To me, that this group of supposed investigators’ first response when encountering an unknown creature – even one that reportedly is mighty similar in both appearance and behavior to human beings – is to “bag it and tag it,” is disgusting. It’s this kind of pompous, gung-ho attitude that has caused many problems in recent years (read into that what you like), and it’s about the most unscientific, irresponsible thing I’ve ever heard when mentioned in regard to the existence of unknown creatures. Sure, a Sasquatch corpse likely would silence all the critics – but I can’t in any way, shape, or form condone the wanton killing of an unknown creature just to prove its out there. In all likelihood, if these creatures do in fact exist (in which case, their habitat is rapidly decreasing due to human population expansion), they’re incredibly rare and by eliminating a breeding member of their population, the survival of the species as a whole is potentially put in jeopardy. All one has to do is examine the history of the , or to see what effect the kind of mentality put forth in this show can have on the animal kingdom.

I know harry, I know
I know Harry…I know.

By autumn 2014, television producers are old pros at making programs of this nature and the ultimate flaw of Killing Bigfoot (aside from its careless main theme of shoot first, brag about it later) is that everything here is painfully familiar. Despite that, I have to admit that this program seems substantially more credible than the likes of Mountain Monsters/Swamp Monsters/Alaska Monsters. First of all, the GCBRO members here don’t just conveniently stumble into the path of the creature they’re seeking: though the show’s narrator informs us that there are “signs of the creatures all around,” we never get any proof of Bigfoot’s existence – or a massive, fabricated pursuit of an unknown beast during the episode. This, in my mind, is indicative of the fact that the producers are at least to some extent attempting to make a more factual, level-headed program whose primary goal is not necessarily just to shock a viewer with how asinine the whole production is (as seems to be the case with most other monster shows).

um
Um…just what is that?

Refreshingly, though the show may feature some of the worst sighting reenactments I’ve ever seen, not one character featured in Killing Bigfoot falls in line with being labeled as the goofball, “wild card” or loose cannon (i.e. the , , or character) – this gang seems dead serious, although this has repercussions in the long run. Namely, the show is nowhere near as entertaining as some of its other, unbelievably ludicrous monster-hunting kin. There isn’t a whole lot of camaraderie on display between team member and there aren’t obvious jokes and wisecracks being traded around continuously – hell, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say the GCBRO was made up of people who hate each other even if they are rather civil about it. As might also be expected, the climactic “night hunt” sequence is pretty low-key – not much of anything happens and the show’s conclusion is more or less ambiguous (even with the obligatory cliffhanger).

told ya
Told you – the GCBRO has its own line of stylish caps. It’s gotta be a legit organization, right?        RIGHT???!?

Ever since Mountain Monsters changed the very nature of the crypto-reality show through the use of obvious fabrication, I’ve been wondering if any producers of this type of program would have the balls to make a show in which a monster wasn’t instantly, inexplicably found and chased down. Dumb as it is, watching a group of actors … I mean “monster hunters” … stumble around in the dark chasing phantoms has its appeal on a purely stupid level. As some have pointed out in the commentary on my no star review of Alaska Monsters, watching the show is like looking at a car crash – and the statement is true. I’ve just never quite come to terms with the fact that in order to watch these shows, I had to give up an hour of my life that would be MUCH better served doing something more rewarding and/or worthwhile. Problematic though it is in many, many ways, Killing Bigfoot to its benefit doesn’t automatically assume its viewers are morons looking for supposed entertainment of the lowest, most idiotic variety (and let’s be honest – most of these monster shows are designed for people who would watch just about anything if it was on TV). In a way, I appreciate its serious tone and apparent focus on faux-authenticity – no documentary can ever be entirely objective, but this show seems vastly more reasonable than many similar shows and for that it deserves some measure of credit.

just what we need...
Just what we need: another monster show, and another bunch of gun-happy “investigators” trying to shoot phantoms…and each other.

Try as I might however, I don’t think anything could ever make up for this show’s main premise as it goes out of its way to pursue its own, unreasonable agenda: when you’ve got multiple persons attempting to convince a viewer that Bigfoot should be killed to protect the residents of Louisiana…and GASP! their grandchildren…I could do nothing except shake my head at the screen. This type of blatant and unfounded paranoia-inspiring fear-mongering is dangerous in terms of what affect it has on viewers and one of the main problems if not the main problem with American media. Is it really us humans who should be afraid of Sasquatch, a creature which, if we’re to judge upon reliable evidence, has never posed any serious threat to people? Or is it Sasquatch who should be afraid of us, a species who not only randomly kills virtually every other animal on earth, sometimes purely for sport, but even kills members of its own species for the most fickle reasons imaginable? You be the judge. I’m giving Killing Bigfoot a half a star and I’d urge most viewers to avoid it.

from on .

Why…Just Why? ALASKA MONSTERS

ALASKA MONSTERS

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(0/5)

Pros: May amuse some people, though that may be an indication that there’s no longer any hope left for humanity

Cons: Completely…utterly…hopelessly unnecessary, phonier than a three dollar bill, and dumber than five boxes of rocks

Another week; another positively ludicrous phony monster hunt program. Alaska Monsters is the Destination America channel’s latest entry in the crypto-reality genre, following the exploits of a monster hunting crew located in the “last frontier” of the forty-ninth state. As has come to be the norm, we have the usual gang of characters: team leader “Little Bear,” a trap engineer named Todd, tech specialist Levi, a fellow named Rhett who’s billed as the “rookie,” a trapper named “Face” who’s the obvious “wild card” of the group and finally, a “researcher” who goes by the name of – get ready for it – “Crusty.” This gang, known as the “Midnight Sons” has been tracking creatures in Alaska since 2008 (at least if you believe anything this show is trying to tell you), and in the first episode of the reality show revolving around them, go in search of Alaska’s Bigfoot-like creature that’s known locally as the “Wild Man.”

first episode
On the first episode of Alaska Monsters, the team searches for “security expert” Huckleberry. Wait…that ain’t right…

The program follows the now very well-established monster hunt formula to a ‘T’: it starts with the initial night “recon” mission, involves a few eyewitness accounts (one of whom declares he was “out here gettin’ wood with my dog…” sounds like a personal problem), and sputters towards a final “midnight hunt” that puts the team directly in the path of an imaginary beast created solely through dubbed-in sound effects and blank expressions of fear from the actors…er…team members. Alaska Monsters seems a bit more modern in terms of the gear used during the investigations featured on it: in this first episode, the team not only utilizes night vision and FLIR infrared technology, but also a small drone with a camera mounted on it to survey the nearby landscape. This allows the seemingly misplaced Levi character (who seems not at all at home alongside a group of people one would expect to see waiting in line at the local soup kitchen) a sense of purpose in the show. Rhett, on the other hand, has nary a thing to do throughout the program and I’m not even sure that he takes part in the final night investigation that mainly involves the team tramping around a saw mill with firearms at the ready. After some obviously scripted “suspense” (“Oh no! A production assistant is shaking this blind I’m sitting in!”) and plenty of dubious acting on the part of the cast, the team walks away without a single solitary piece of evidence relating to the creature they’ve been pursuing. The show (like every episode of Mountain Monsters) ends with the crew making vague insinuations and wisecracks about the existence of the creature in an attempt to convince a viewer that he hasn’t just witnessed a load of complete bullshit.

supposedly scary scene
This poorly concocted, “scary” scene stands as the premiere episode’s climax.

It really is astonishing to me that somewhere, some network executive is giving each and every one of these absolutely ridiculous and devastatingly pointless monster programs the green light – and actually spending some money on their production. The ultimate sad fact about shows like this one, Monsters Underground, Swamp Monsters and Mountain Monsters (which lost all credibility or, more importantly, sense of fun it once had during a painful to behold second season) is that they make shows like Destination Truth and even Finding Bigfoot look not only like top-notch entertainment but actually, undeniably credible. Let’s not forget that Destination Truth’s host Josh Gates wasn’t at all afraid to admit that he found no evidence of the at best rare and more probably completely imaginary creatures he was seeking and Finding Bigfoot still has not one solid bit of evidence after five full seasons. The notion of a monster hunt program that doesn’t instantaneously come up with a creature seems almost preposterous in context of this new breed of monster hunt programs exemplified by any of the Mountain Monsters clones that not only invents fictitious and frequently outlandish beasts, but then tries extremely hard through glaringly phony video evidence, sketchy eyewitness reports, and falsified, scripted scenarios to convince the audience of their actual flesh and blood existence. I’m kind of scared to see what happens on the next season of Finding Bigfoot: will that show even continue when it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that there’s still nothing on the hill?

After an overload of absurdly similar and increasingly worthless programs, I would hope that most people would recognize the fact that very few of these monster-related shows are even making any attempt to be authentic in their presentation of content. Hence, it’s impossible for any savvy viewer to take these shows as anything except entertainment – they clearly are not documentaries. That said, it’s surprising how lousy most of them are in the entertainment department, and I think most of that is directly related to the fact that there is absolutely no originality to these shows. Alaska Monsters is a carbon copy of Mountain Monsters, a fact which is best exhibited by examining the characters. Trap builder Todd (much in the way his counterpart Willy does in Mountain Monsters) sets about building the most outrageously elaborate and positively impractical traps one could possibly imagine. In order to catch a Bigfoot-like creature, Todd constructs a “cylinder snare trap” – basically a huge tube with a system in place to close metal wire around a creature trapped inside of it. Why any beast would actually go inside this contraption in the first place is never explained (do these “expert trackers” not realize that their human stench would be hanging over this device like a fog?), and it’s no surprise when something goes wrong with the mechanics of the device and it’s not actually unusable.

acting
ACTING!

Additionally, we have smarmy narration provided by the appropriately named “Crusty,” a guy who seems vaguely unlikable and sleazy (or maybe it’s just that I can’t see the fashion value of the animal claw he wears in his thick, bushy beard) and “Face,” the obligatory “wild card” character who talks in a raspy, cartoonish voice and achieves moments of enlightenment when discussing wild man “doo doo” and imitating Fred Flintstone. I couldn’t possibly make this stuff up. The characters here seem way too “hammy” and almost make Vincent Price performances from the 1970s look restrained in comparison. All in all, there’s simply no way one could take anything in Alaska Monsters seriously – not when “Little Bear,” sporting an outfit that makes him look like a complete d-bag, starts mystically playing a pitch pipe around a campfire and discusses his tendency to “burn sage.” Seriously, where’s Bobo and Ranae when you need them?


So…”Little Bear” (in center) is wearing ass-less chaps, some sort of fur stole, a cowboy hat with the face of a small weasel on it, a fistful of gold rings, and a big, blinging medallion shaped like either a grizzly bear or a domestic hog. And we’re supposed to take this show at all seriously.

I’ve gotten to the point where there’s no way to even describe how atrocious shows like Alaska Monsters really are: this fails horribly as a monster-related program due to not having one iota of credibility, but even as the trashy, clinically dumb piece of populist entertainment that it is, it’s a complete waste, way too similar to other monster hunt shows that any viewer who watches this program probably would be familiar with. The producers don’t seem to be aware of the fact that they’re running this genre of television into the ground through pure, unadulterated, unchecked overkill, and I sincerely hope that someone behind the scenes is making hay while the sun shines, because the genre of the crypto-reality show is very quickly outlasting its relevance and has already overstayed its welcome. Programs like Alaska Monsters not only seem entirely capable of ruining anyone viewer’s interest in the subject of cryptozoology, but make me long for a program where a mysterious creature isn’t instantly located by a group of morons whose idea of “tracking” a creature is whooping, hollering, screaming, and careening through the forest while explaining each and every obvious move they’re making to an audience who is well aware of the absurdity of what they’re watching. I also don’t need any scenes of hobo-looking fellas giving each other a brofist each time they make a smart-ass, scripted remark about a fantasy creature. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m actually looking forward to the new season of Finding Bigfoot just to provide some sort of balance to a genre that’s well out of control at this point – better prepare the lifeboats just in case though…

National Geographic’s BIGFOOT: THE NEW EVIDENCE Gets to the Truth

National Geographic’s

BIGFOOT: THE NEW EVIDENCE

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(4/5)

Pros: The nature of the Yeti finally revealed!

Cons: May not be the answer Squatch enthusiasts want to hear…

Undoubtedly one of the most interesting of the recent deluge of Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti-related television programs, National Geographic’s 2013 special Bigfoot: The New Evidence is one of the few documentaries relating to the possibility of unknown hominids roaming the corners of the globe that actually makes serious headway in the investigation. As programs like Finding Bigfoot continue to (literally) feel around in the dark during their supposed search for the creature and shows like Destination: Truth come up with some intriguing but more often puzzling evidence, this National Geographic documentary scientifically examines the Bigfoot phenomenon, comes up with a hypothesis – and proves that hypothesis through the use of DNA testing. Granted, the end results of this investigation might not be exactly what the typical Bigfoot enthusiast would want to hear, but I’d have to declare that the results of this investigation are nothing short of remarkable.

faces
Do I detect skepticism on the faces of geneticist Bryan Sykes (extreme left) and researcher Mark Evans (extreme right)? 

ONLY SCIENCE HAS THE REAL ANSWERS!

The program starts off by introducing Oxford University professor and geneticist Bryan Sykes, who undertakes a study in which he will attempt to apply DNA testing on alleged Bigfoot hair samples gathered from around the world. During the course of the program, hair samples are obtained from the American Pacific Northwest (regarded as the one true “hotspot” of Sasquatch activity in the US), Russia (no mention of the “killer” Russian Yeti – I wonder why?), and the Himalaya, all the while various eyewitnesses tell their stories about alleged sightings and encounters to the National Geographic cameras. While some of these stories are fairly typical (a Russian family finds a trail of large footprints; American outdoorsmen hear wood knocks and see something in the woods), The New Evidence does examine a few encounters that are quite enthralling – and controversial.

One of these relates to an American hunter named Justin Smeja who claims to have shot and killed a young Sasquatch in October 2010 in the Sierra Mountains of California. This case has had a polarizing effect on the Bigfoot community – most “squatchers” frown upon anyone killing one of these creatures, but if there was one, single way to prove the existence of Bigfoot, producing a corpse would absolutely be it. Smeja provided some hair and blood samples for Sykes to examine, but his outlandish account may not be the most downright outrageous one presented in this National Geographic special – the story involving a Russian “wild woman” found in the late 1800’s may actually take that honor. Nicknamed “Zana,” this animalistic woman was reportedly captured by hunters in the Russian province of Abkhazia and proceeded to mother several children to various Russian men. Given that Zana was essentially a prisoner during most of her life, one can draw his own assumptions of how she became pregnant in the first place, but the end result is a legend about Zana being a surviving Neanderthal whose bloodline continued on after her death. Leave it to Russian researcher Igor Burtsev (yes, the same guy who turned up in Discovery Channel’s Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives! mockumentary) to not only produce the unearthed skull of Zana’s son, but also to point National Geographic’s lead field examiner Mark Evans on the path of even more of Zana’s rather burly and rough-looking descendents in an attempt to extract DNA samples for analysis.

famous
The famous Shipton photo, taken high in the Himalayas in 1951.

On a certain level, Bigfoot: The New Evidence plays out much like one would expect a program of this nature to work. The special is well-made from a technical standpoint, with crisp editing and some wonderful aerial views of the Washington state wilderness and frigid terrain of the Himalaya. We also get the expected recreations of alleged encounters – though no special effects or men in ape suits are seen – and quite a lot of talk rather than the presentation of any actual evidence (there is only one piece of video evidence shown during this program, though I think this video is somewhat compelling). Just to prove how predictable and formulaic the typical Sasquatch-related program has become at this point, Idaho University primate expert and perhaps the world’s most capable/famous Bigfoot researcher Jeff “Look at me, I’m on TV” Meldrum shows up within ten minutes of the start of the show – it’s nice they get Meldrum’s obligatory appearance out of the way right off the bat.


Researcher Mark Evans GRILLS Justin Smeja.

Additionally, the show certainly is more than a bit provocative in its presentation of not only the generally distasteful (by conventional standards) story of Zana, but also researcher Evans’ in-your-face grilling of witness and supposed “squatch murderer” Smeja. When a police sketch artist is brought in to render a drawing of the creature Smeja allegedly killed – and then Evans proceeds to practically shove the sketch into Smeja’s face while asking him how he felt when he killed a creature that looked “this human…,” the program nearly crosses the bridge into being absolutely outrageous, sensational programming that I’d have a hard time taking seriously.

why so serious
WHY SO SERIOUS?
I just killed a Sasquatch.
wait..WHAT??!?

It’s a good thing then that Sykes’ purely scientific investigation delivers the goods by producing some hard, extremely compelling results. I don’t think I’m giving much away when I reveal that the vast majority of the hair samples examined actually turn out to be of the dog, bear, deer,horse, or even cow variety – results which do not at all amuse the persons who collected the samples in the first place. The program’s final segment however (in which Sykes examines hair samples taken from the body of an unknown animal killed in the 1970s in north-east Nepal and ones lifted from an alleged Yeti “nest” in Bhutan in the early 2000s) pretty much drops a bombshell on research into the existence of the Yeti – by proving that there is in fact a previously unknown creature responsible for the sightings and reports. Some Sasquatch researchers (i.e. those whose motivations for continuing their search seem, at least to an extent, to be related to capital gains rather than scientific advancement) probably won’t be very excited about the results of this National Geographic investigation, but those interested in the honest-to-goodness factual basis for these unknown creatures would likely be stunned. The ultimate payoff of this program is a genuine revelation.

dna
This is it doubters: the truth is revealed in this program.

In many ways, Bigfoot: The New Evidence would be an ideal introductory piece for anyone interested in the Bigfoot phenomenon. This program provides a crash-course examination of how Bigfoot lore started in the first place both in America (with footprints cast by Gerald Crew in 1958) and in the Himalaya (with the famous 1951 photographs taken near Mount Everest by Eric Shipton), and also does a nice job of, frankly, cutting through the b.s. relating to all things Sasquatch by utilizing – are you ready for it – actual science. This – reliable scientific process applied to the case, providing indisputable evidence – is after all, what’s been missing from Bigfoot research all along – a fact that any “serious” scientist is all too happy to regurgitate time and again. Bigfoot: The New Evidence fixes some of that lack of hard science, and draws some undeniably fascinating conclusions. This may not be the most flashy Bigfoot program around, but it does have some amusing moments (check out the scene where HUGE Russian former boxing champ Nikolai Valuev commands some young boys to watch their language or one where Igor Burtsev demonstrates the type of “chatter” that Sasquatch-like creatures use to communicate – the reaction face of researcher Mark Evans says it all) and I’d call it a must for Bigfoot enthusiasts.

Trailer:

from on .

Five Seasons In, FINDING BIGFOOT Desperately Needs Some New Life

FINDING BIGFOOT on Animal Planet

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(2.5/5)

Pros: Sasquatch!

Cons: Way too formulaic from episode to episode; will they ever FIND Bigfoot?

Premiering in 2011, Animal Planet’s usually hour-long Finding Bigfoot program not only jump started the recent Bigfoot craze, but also has provided the blueprint for other, equally asinine programs (Uncovering Aliens and to some extent, Mountain Monsters spring instantly to mind) which attempt to probe the existence of monsters and aliens while answering the question of just how low some people will stoop to make a hit TV show. Finding Bigfoot follows a team of four investigators – Matt Moneymaker (founder of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization), field researchers and Sasquatch experts Cliff Barackman and James “Bobo” Fay (who both previously appeared on History Channel’s Monster Quest), and biologist Ranae Holland (the obligatory “skeptic” whose primary task on the show is to question and criticize any “evidence” of the creature) – travel around the United States and, in some cases, the world in search of large, unknown hominids. Undoubtedly, the most remarkable thing about this show is the fact that, after four seasons of episodes, a viewer is no closer to determining whether or not Sasquatch actually exists. Sure, the program has produced some interesting footage, physical evidence (such as footprints and hair samples), and perhaps most notably, strange sound recordings that seem to feature vocalizations of unknown creatures prowling America’s wilderness, yet hard evidence proving once and for all the existence of Sasquatch has turned out to be as elusive as the beast itself.


Straight out of a bad ’80s movie montage, it’s the Finding Bigfoot Crew. Left to right – Cliff, Ranae, Bobo, Matt.

Finding Bigfoot began its fifth season on June 8, 2014, and frankly, I’m a bit surprised the series has lasted that long. The obvious main problem with this program – I mean aside from the fact that if the group actually FOUND Bigfoot, the show would no longer be necessary – is the fact that by now, each and every episode is painfully formulaic, consisting of nearly identical material from show to show. Finding Bigfoot operates under a rigid (and by this point, stale) format in which, following a brief introduction and look at sometimes intriguing but more often lousy and sketchy video or physical evidence, the investigators embark on a “night investigation” which doesn’t so much capture evidence of Bigfoot activity, but instead shows that whatever region the investigators find themselves in is indeed “Squatchy” – an area that would, in theory, have the resources to support a population of large, bipedal primates.

From this point, every episode only gets more tiresome, with the team calling a “town hall meeting” to hear increasingly eccentric stories about Bigfoot encounters from local eyewitnesses. While three of the team examines and recreates a few of these encounters, with the physically imposing and rather burly “Bobo” used as a stand-in for Sasquatch, the remaining member embarks on a “solo investigation” in which he or she surveys the local landscape in search of the perfect Squatch habitat. Without many exceptions, these solo treks (which quite obviously aren’t actually solo journeys since there’s a camera crew along to document the whole thing) provide absolutely zero evidence of a Sasquatch. The climax of every episode is provided in the form of a final night investigation in which the team uses wood knocks, animal calls, and a variety of other techniques in an attempt to elicit a response from local Sasquatch populations. Scanning the geography with thermal cameras, the researchers often record various animal sounds – some of which are unexplainable and perhaps somewhat indicative of something strange in the woods. Perpetually though, any Sasquatches lurk just off-camera, thus we never quite get the A-HA! evidence that a viewer would ideally want.


For clarification purposes.

Season five’s first episode took place in the northern tier of the state of Kentucky, an state which has hosted a Finding Bigfoot investigation before. After examining footprint casts made in the region, some of which were acquired just days before the arrival of the investigators, the gang sets out into the woods and manages to record some faint wood knocks, a behavior that’s proposed to be a way in which Sasquatch communicate with one another by banging on trees. Recruiting the help of local outdoorsman Ernie “Turtleman” Brown, Jr., who has his own (possibly even more ridiculous) Animal Planet show called The Call of the Wildman, Bobo and Ranae embark on one of the most absurd and fruitless night investigations ever seen on the show, while Cliff interviews some witnesses and Matt pokes around by himself in the Kentucky countryside. By the end of the episode (which is mainly noteworthy only for the fact that one of the eyewitness accounts is determined to be not credible – a rarity on a show in which Moneymaker, Barackman and Fay in particular, seem to believe every single witness account no matter how outlandish they are), the team describes their investigation in Kentucky as “eventful,” a claim which doesn’t seem substantiated by the program itself. Yes, there are some noises heard in the woods that would sound strange to the average viewer (especially to those who don’t spend long amounts of time outdoors), but without actually finding the source of those sounds, it’s impossible to speculate on what actually produced them.

With the sense of familiarity from episode to episode of this show being almost absurdly high, it begs the question of why anyone would really want to watch it. Quite honestly, the only reason I can come up with for the popularity of this program (which ranks as one of Animal Planet’s most popular, sitting alongside the infinitely more factual and authentic River Monsters) is that the viewing audience, raised on conspiracy theories, science fiction and monster movies, desperately wants to believe that Sasquatch exists, and honestly, who can blame them? In an era where many theories about unknown animals, locations, and circumstances are flat-out discredited by a scientific community who seems more willing to fall in with the status quo than take a chance in honestly evaluating hypotheses proposed to them (which to me seems to go against the very notion of the scientific process – it’s typically the “out of the box” thinking that’s resulted in honest progress and enlightenment throughout history), it’s refreshing to hear about things that mainstream science doesn’t put much faith in.

show logic
Sad thing is, the logic in the show does almost work in this way.

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m a sucker for these types of shows – I’ve been fascinated with cryptozoology literally for decades and I would count myself as a person who does desperately want some of these mythical creatures to exist. Finding Bigfoot though, despite benefiting greatly from the conviction of its “researchers” and their playful rapport with one another, is only slightly more credible than an obvious load of malarkey like Mountain Monsters. The same, lousy CGI effects used to visualize Sasquatches in poorly-concocted recreations along with the extremely predictable formula of the show and behavior of the various team members are bad enough, making it seem like if you’ve seen one episode of this show, you’ve seen them all. The most perplexing and annoying element of the show however – and one that has similarly ruined numerous “ghost hunter” type shows – is that the sound engineers insist on having music cues and sound effects trample over field recordings which supposedly capture Sasquatch vocalizations. When a viewer is straining and struggling to pick out these distant, screechy sounds which under the best conditions, are difficult to hear, it’s incredibly irritating when post-production sound intrudes. One has to wonder then if the producers really have any interest in actually proving the existence of these creatures in the first place. As I stated before – would this show even have any reason to continue if Bigfoot actually was found?

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Still the most compelling – and controversial – piece of evidence supporting Bigfoot’s existence: the Patterson-Gimlin film.

Though this show (like many similar programs) is entertaining on a certain level and does deal with subject matter that many people quite obviously find interesting, Finding Bigfoot doesn’t truly satisfy, paling in comparison (particularly in terms of its entertainment value) when placed alongside the goofy but intriguing Destination: Truth. Unlike that program’s mostly skeptical host Josh Gates, most of the Bigfoot investigators have a tendency to jump to conclusions (“that’s a Squatch!!”), and the obligatory skeptic along for the ride doesn’t do much to offset the pervading notion that every single sound or unexplained event in the woods is the direct result of Sasquatch activity or presence. I believe I’ve seen most every episode of this show, and though there have been some thought-provoking moments in which I couldn’t quite put my finger on explaining the evidence provided, the entire series has increasingly seemed tiresome and exhausting, not illuminating or legitimately convincing. As it begins a completely unnecessary fifth season, it quite honestly feels like this show is being produced simply because people expect it to continue, not because it really has anything new to prove or say. Thus, Finding Bigfoot now simply preaches to the choir of believers while making the rest of the world chuckle at just how ludicrous the whole thing is. Most people would be better off not wasting their time.

Oh, the Irony: