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"
It's an episode on cryonics -- an idea so terrible I can't even be bothered debunking it. Just google 'debunking cryonics' or 'cryogenics = crap' or something. Anyway, we start with a bunch of technicians freezing an embryo, which is a little cool and mad sciencey, but not by enough. Nimoy is in top form, though, talking about how the internal processes of the embryo cease at low temperatures and how that might help to preserve life forever.
After the break, we're looking at ice – cold winds over a snow field, a car driving on a snowy street, people walking in a blizzard. Nimoy intones a little sermon about cold being the cruellest enemy of man. He talks about the medical implications of freezing, and we see some file footage of doctors treating frostbite. Now we're looking at the cold weather gear of Alaskan oil workers.
We open on some mice and an eerie musical cue. Nimoy tells us that some of these mice have genes from several other mice, some have genes from only one parent. We move onto some slightly creepy footage of twins and triplets, and Nimoy wonders if identical clones of human beings might be possible.
Best. Opening. Ever.
No, really, it's hard to do it justice. In Search Of's great strength is its ability to make riveting television out of not much at all. A camera moving through the woods. A light in a stairwell. A weird guy talking about nothing. Whatever, they can make a nothing into a something. This is that ability at its peak:
Disaster porn is a fairly minor theme in In Search Of… but it's always well done. Whatever else you can say about the show, they have some great researchers and access to some substantial film archives. The episodes about tornadoes and earthquakes were pretty impressive, so how does this episode on Tornadoes stack up?
Open on shifting clouds, and Leonard Nimoy explains how cold air meets warm air with the same gravity as if he was delivering the prologue to Henry V. Then… well, footage of a tornado. It's beautiful footage, accompanied by dramatic chords and Nimoy proclaiming the tornado the most deadly of all storms.
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.
The Secrets of Life represents the point where I owe In Search Of… an apology.
In the earlier episodes in the series, the show was very hasty to proclaim some new discovery imminent. Atlantis was just about to be found, aliens were just about to be proved, ESP was on the verge of acceptance by the scientific community, and yet here we are forty years later with all of those things still considered eccentric fringe ideas.
Another mundane episode, it seems, but it begins with what seems like the strongest opening we've seen so far. It's black and white amateur footage of an earthquake in Alaska in 1964. Since it was taken by sailors on a freighter, it’s much steadier than similar footage taken from land would be. It begins with something utterly mundane – two dogs sitting on the shore, the sort of dull thing that home movie enthusiasts used to love. The all at once, the sea goes crazy and there's huge waves everywhere… it's pretty cool, and it sets the topic and tone wonderfully.
This use of file footage is one of the most effective aspects of this episode. No longer having to rely on crappy reenactments and lingering shots of rocks, the producers can show drama directly, rather than having to imply it. Unfortunately, the footage they show is a mix of actual news footage and clips of simulated earthquakes from old movies, though to be fair Nimoy does acknowledge this. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S01E07 Earthquakes"