Cold open on a nuclear explosion. Okay, In Search Of. You have my attention.
Nimoy says that, sure nuclear tests were big in the '50s, but there may have been a nuclear explosion in 1908. We're talking Tunguska, baby! The 'Tunguska Blast' was a real event, an anomalous explosion in depths of Siberia. It's as interesting as hell, but there's that word: anomalous. 'Anomalous' is to fringe thinkers is like a red rag is to a bull.
Looking at pictures of stars now. Nimoy talks about satellites so maybe alien space probes? Maye Tunguska was caused by the V'Ger? Close up on map of Siberia 'a land Nature has forsaken'. It looks pretty barren. There's some Soviet era black and white footage of Siberian peasants and music that's meant to sound like a balalaika. Nimoy gives the usual patronising speech people get if they aren't living in First World conditions. Simple people, ancient traditions, blah blah. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S03E07 Siberian Fireball"
Dowsing. The supposed ability of people to find water with a stick. It's… look, it's uninteresting. Sorry, dowsers. Sorry sceptics. I know you all have something to say on the subject, but I just don't care. Probably that's unfair of me, but… y'know.
Anyway point is, let's see how this works in In Search Of… We know the show can make Bigfoot, alien abductions and shark worship interesting, but those are pretty interesting to start with. How does it do with something really dull? Let's find out. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S03E04: Water Seekers"
Open on a moustachioed 1970s-y, who's playing with a film camera. He's investigator Francis Hitchins, and Nimoy tells us he may have recorded the last remnants of a seventeenth century ghost. A wailing noise rises and creepy electronic music plays.
Oh, yeah. This is going to be good. I can feel it. Haunted castles. Leonard Nimoy telling ghost stories! I don't believe in ghosts now. I'd be willing to bet good money that when this episode has finished twenty minutes from now, I still won't believe. But you know what? These next twenty minutes are going to be awesome. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S02E20 Haunted Castles"
We open on footage of people jogging. How to achieve immortality 1970s style! Love it! Nimoy gives speech about the inevitability of death. "Most of us will live for a billion heartbeats," he says, which is an interesting way of looking at it. He goes on to say that death is less inevitable than it used to be which… look, things are inevitable or they aren't. It's not a sliding scale. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S02E15 Immortality."
We start with sirens an police cars. A man in a beige check shirt I patted down and locked up. Some firefighters train, putting out burning cars. What looks like footage of a hospital crash cart recycled from the Life After Death episode.
What does any of this have to do with astrology? Well, Nimoy tells us that police arrests, fire service callouts and hospital emergencies spike on nights of the full moon. It's a myth that's been pretty thoroughly debunked, but then so has astrology in general. To hell with it, I'm going to do a 'research light' review again. I'll just watch and enjoy as a woman with fluffy hair and a grey tank-top tells us about her star sign in excruciating detail. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S02E05 Astrology"
We open on Stonehenge, silhouetted against the sun. Awesome. Nimoy talks about how people built 'this great machine' then disappeared, leaving their work behind them.
Great cold open, seriously. Almost immediately, we're looking at footage of modern day druids, and Nimoy's talking about a 'strange power' in the place. I'm kind of pleased. After a couple of not-too-factually-awful episodes, I could really use some of the good stuff. We're not just looking at Stonehenge. We're looking at the magic of Stonehenge. Now, is that going to be the main thing we're looking at? Or is it going to be an enticement to see a relatively straightforward documentary, treasure in the Inca Treasure episode.
Nimoy, in the studio, claims that Stonehenge is a 'classic mystery' which I guess it is. He divides the mystery into two questions: who built it and why? Both good questions. Nimoy claims that the 'why' part of the question is 'so simple it was overlooked for centuries'. I feel a little let down, now. It's just going to be that it's a calendar, isn't it? I guess that was a new and exciting idea in the mid-70s, so I can't fault the In Search Of… people for making a big deal about it. Even so, it's a bit of a letdown. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S01E24: The Magic of Stonehenge"
This is a dull movie and kind of pointless, and yet its historical importance is undeniable. The central idea -- taking two successful characters from different franchises and throwing them together -- didn't begin here. But by the same token I think this is where the idea started to appeal to the owners of properties, rather than just to creators. At the same time, similar ideas were being explored in the nascent comic book publishing business, and these days the idea of 'take two characters that you love and make them fight' is a dominant one at the box office.
In purely Frankensteinian terms, this film represents a big change for the Monster. Teaming him up here with the Wolf Man is just the start. Later, Dracula would be added, and the next thing you know the trio become inseparable in the public mind. There are a lot of iterations of this trio, whether as heroes, villains or comic foils. A lot. And it all starts here. ...continue reading "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman – 1943"
"How wide is the gulf between Man and Plant – if there is a gulf at all?"
In this new series, I am going to go episode by episode through the 1970s TV show In Search Of. Why? Because I have time on my hands, and if this doesn't convince people to give me a full time job, I don’t know what will.
My cards on the table: I'm a skeptic. Note the small s. I don't go to skeptic meetings or even read a lot of skeptic literature. By skeptic, I mean I draw a pretty distinct line between 'real' and 'made up', and I try place ideas on one side of the line or the other based on how well supported they are by evidence.
By the same token, the older I get the less I care if people don't want to do things that way. Unless it's actively harmful nonsense like vaccine denial or some of the racist conspiracy stuff, I say believe what you want. A UFO kidnapped you? Cool story, bro. Think Bigfoot is out there? Off you go find him, and the best of luck to you.
So this isn't a debunking of In Search of…per se. What would be the point? The show's forty years old, and I doubt even true believers will be willing to back up many of the specific claims the show makes. I will probably argue against ideas the show presents if I think them dangerous or harmful, but I won't stoop to complaining about anything so gauche as mere factual inaccuracy.
I also don’t plan to endorse the show. It's basically drivel turned into something entertaining by the mystical alchemy which is Leonard Nimoy's voice. Occasionally, the show turns away from esoteric subjects and presents a short documentary on something more substantial. When that happens, I will judge it as I would a real documentary. Otherwise, I intend just to enjoy it as pleasant nonsense.
The Other Voices
Let's start at the beginning. I don't have access to the original Rod Serling specials that preceded the regular show, so I'm going to begin with season 1 episode 1: Other Voices. The other voices are the voices of plants. It's a slightly odd and extremely tame intro to a series best remembered for creepy stuff about swamp monsters and space aliens, but here we are: psychic plants.
The show starts with a weird noise, supposedly gleaned from plants. Leonard Nimoy assures us that there are plants everywhere. Good point, Leonard. He wonders whether plants can communicate, and goes on to wonder how they communicate and who they communicate with. Will these questions be answered? Let's find out.
We are then shown a research chemist teaching his grandchildren (? I guess) how to feel the energy of plants. We are assured that children find it easier to understand things like this, but are not given a clear idea of what 'this' is.
We skip past 'this', and return to Nimoy in the studio. He explains that there are green thumbed people and brown thumbed people. This doesn't come up again for a while, so it's weird to put it here. Nimoy questions whether the phenomenon of houseplants is a passing fad. From our position here in 2016, I think we can safely say that the fad hasn't passed yet. There are stock pictures of seed packets. I had forgotten how badly some these episodes are padded.
We then go on to something more interesting: the famous experiment about whether plants like classical music or rock music. My understanding is that similar experiments have been done many times, but I can't seem to find any sort of definite consensus on whether it's true that plants grow better to classical music. In Search of… concludes that they do.
Okay. Why not? But having made that conclusion, they take a completely unnecessary jump: that the reason plants grow differently in different musical environments is an aesthetic choice on the part of plants. Well, if my plants don't learn to like Cold Chisel, maybe they deserve to die.
Next up is a photographer, who takes Kirilian photos of plants. Now, I'm not a physicist so take this with a grain of salt, but my understanding is Kirilian photography basically involves running an electric charge through an object sitting on a photographic plate. The object gives off a gas discharge, which is usually invisible to the naked eye, but which exposes the plate, creating a picture.
It's interesting, if you're into that sort of thing, and makes for some extremely pretty photos. In the seventies, though, the idea got around that the image on the paper somehow corresponded with the mystical aura of the object being photographed. The photographer in this episode talks enthusiastically about energy patterns, then talks about his experiment in taking Kirilian photos of mutilated leaves, and then having people with a reputation as a 'green thumb' hold their hand over said leaf. Supposedly, the photo becomes brighter. If a 'brown thumb' holds their hand over the leaf, it is supposed to get darker.
Nimoy assures us that this has 'profound implications', which is certainly a nice sentiment.
Next we see a polygraph expert who runs tests on plants. Polygraphs, or lie detectors are… well, look just Google it. Basically, they don't really work, but are still used extensively in law enforcement. Interesting piece of trivia: the guy who invented the polygraph also created Wonder Woman, and he did a much better job with her.
The polygraph guy's experiment is to prove that plants feel sympathetic pain when a human is harmed. His experiment fails, but when he tries again, this time jabbing one of the production team rather than himself, he gets a reaction.
It's a good thing that this sympathetic pain doesn't go both ways, or cutting wheat would be a very painful occupation.
Next up is my favorite part of the episode. Not content with showing that plants feel our pain, the experimenter wants to proves that bacteria have 'primary perception'. If anyone ever doubts that Leonard Nimoy is a great actor, watch just how serious he gets as he explains a plan to attach a beaker of yogurt to a lie detector. The experimenter then puts antibiotics in the yogurt to kill the bacteria in another container of yogurt. Perhaps surprisingly--perhaps not--the first yogurt does not react. There's another experiment involving feeding milk to yogurt that seems to work better, but its way less cool.
Nimoy then wraps up by suggesting that psychic messages are carried by plants. For now, he says, we can only communicate with plants using machines. One day, those machines may not be necessary. It's hard to argue this point: it's 2016 now, and plant communication devices certainly seem to have become obsolete.
Though there are many interesting lines from the plant-music woman and the Kirilian photographer (who I can't tell if he's high, or just really happy), the episode's best line comes from Nimoy:
'Certainly, there's nothing in the plant world like the human ear and mind. But perhaps there's something else. A way of hearing that doesn't involve receiving and interpreting sound waves. What we call a sound wave is merely one form of energy, but scientists know that energy takes many forms.'
'A way of listening that doesn’t involve receiving and interpreting soundwaves,' is about as meaningless a statement you can make. The line exists simply to paper over the crack between the segment suggesting that plants can literally hear and the segment that suggests that plants communate with weird auras. And yet, when Nimoy says it, it sounds like the entire friggin' Federation might collapse if you don't listen.