In Search Of… S04E04: Australian UFOs
UFOs down under! Let’s put a shrimp* on the barbie** and listen to everybody’s t’hai’la*** Leonard ‘Spocko’ Nimoy talk about Antipodean UFOs and mispronounce the word ‘Melbourne’ ****
We open on a literal white dot on a black screen, which proves UFOs. This is in some way connected to a re-enactment of a pilot in flight. Super spooky music, though. Got to give it that.
And then we get into the episode proper. Nimoy wonders if UFOs have been sighted over Australia and New Zealand. There’s some lovely old timey photos of flying saucers, and what looks like some leftover footage of the last In Search Of… UFO episode. But this is just to whet out appetites and kill screen time. Standing in front of a radio telescope, his Season 4 moustache still in the picture. Nimoy tells us that most UFO sightings have been in the southern hemisphere.
News to me.
For some reason, we’re now talking about New Zealand. That’s almost Australia, I guess. You know, in the same way Quebec is basically Ohio. The story itself is uninteresting. We see: a picture of a radar installation, a photo of a commercial pilot, a light against a black background. Story: a Kiwi saw a saucer. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: what makes this show magic is that it can take something as unimpressive as that and make it seem creepy and sinister.
Now we’re talking to a New Zealand astronomer, Douglas Maven. He thinks that the pilot saw Venus or Jupiter. You know what? I’m inclined to believe that the people who spend all their time looking at lights in the night sky – whose one job is looking at lights in the night sky – are probably better at identifying those lights than other people. Yes, including pilots.
But the show puts dodgy pictures of saucers over him as he wryly explains that he doesn’t think that extraterrestrials have visited Earth.
Now we’re doing a re-enactment of a re-enactment. An Australian journalist and New Zealand cameraman were asked to take the same flight that Maven did, immediately after his story broke. Now In Search Of… does a re-enactment of the journo following in the extremely metaphorical footsteps of the pilot.
The re-enectment is one of the silliest so far. It’s a couple of guys pointing cameras out of an airplane, interspersed with footage of what is literally nothing but a round light against a black background and the real journalist talking about the incident. The journalist has a wonderful each way bet, saying that there’s no way you can tell if its extraterrestrial but it probably is. He also claims that it’s a metal saucer with a transparent sphere on top. If that’s the case it’s just not visible in the shaky, low-res footage.
Nimoy talks up this footage for all he’s worth, claiming that it shows something inexplicable. He says that the footage has been analysed by scientists and shows a metallic object. Again, this is a 1970s analogue camera which shows a moving light. I’d kind of like to know which ‘scientists’ said this.
Now we’re talking to Bruce Cathie, a New Zealander who published books about a world energy grid system. He’s the ‘hundreds of diagrams’ sort of UFO researcher. His bit is the best so far, he just talks about sightings while spooky music plays. It’s kind of cool.
And then they ruin it by showing the stupid ‘picture of a light’ footage again.
From here, we’re talking about the disappearance of Frederick Valentich. Valentich was a pilot whose plane was lost over the Bass Straight***** in the 1970s. The re-enactment of his death is even crappier, because I’m not sure In Search Of… was able to find an adequate cockpit set for the actor to sit in. For this reason, he appears to be shot in magenta light to make the background less visible. The spooky electronic music is doing its job, but the cutting between footage of a small plane at night time and a control tower in the day doesn’t help much (both plane and tower would have been in the same time zone). Otherwise it’s just talk between the tower and the plane about seeing aircraft. The actor playing Valentich is mostly pretty decent.
An interview with an air traffic controller tells us that that Valentich thought he saw something metallic. The only opinion he expresses is ‘very strange’, which could be read in a number of ways. More heartbreaking is Valentich’s father’s sad explanation of how he was expecting his son for dinner.
It’s a sad story. Nimoy talks up Valentich’s flying credentials, but a little research shows that in his short life, Valentich had twice been rejected by the Royal Australian Air Force, failed to obtain a private flying license, had been having significant difficulties achieving his commercial pilot’s license, and had been involved in several avoidable aerial incidents. But of course in shows like In Search Of… any pilot who claims to see a UFO must be a perfect paragon of the art and science of aviation.
But that’s neither here nor there. The episode does such a wonderful job of creating an atmosphere that I do what I so often do with this show: I forgive it for lying to my brain because it did such a wonderful job of making my heart beat a little faster. The episode does what a good UFO episode should. It unsettles the viewer at the very least and perhaps even makes him or her look suspiciously at the sky.
Nimoy tells us that they never found the plane even with the most advanced technology that the 1970s had on offer. No hard evidence of Valentich’s fate has been found. So what do ‘some say’? Good question. Nimoy tells us that ‘some say’ that Valentich mistook a lighthouse or lights on fishing vessels for flying objects. This would suggest to me that he was flying lower than he believed, and so an accident isn’t all that surprising.
Valentich’s father tells he believes that the lights that his son saw were flying saucers who took his son into space. And, of all people, this is the last guy in the world I would dream of criticising for wanting to believe this. He also says he gets calls from people who believe his son is alive, which is forgivable.
Now we’re moving onto a séance run by a New Zealand psychic called Colin Amery who looks basically like an aging Jermaine Clement. That is literally the only interesting part of this sequence.
Nimoy now claims that the Australian government has suppressed the taped conversation between Valentich and the control tower. So, um, where did the dialogue in the re-enactment come from? Just curious.
But then there’s more frantic requests from the tower played over footage of the Bass Straight, and once again I forget my objections.
And then there’s a summing up which is mostly footage from old episodes, while Nimoy insists that flying saucers are real, the end.
So not a bad episode all up. The title’s a bit dodgy, since most of the UFOs we’ve been talking about were seen over New Zealand and most of people we spoke to were Kiwis. But important thing are: 1. All pilots know a saucer when they see one but no astronomer does. 2: All pilots are above average. 3: Film of a light against a black background is proof positive of something. 4: All is forgiven if there’s creepy electronic music playing over it.
“Nobody connected with this case has been prepared to say that they are extraterrestrial because I don’t think you can ever say anything is extraterrestrial until you can actually physically hold onto it or meet with the inhabitants or the thing lands in Central Park and you beam it on live television around the world, and then people would say it was hoaxed anyway.”
Creepy music: 9/10, Spooky white dot: 7/10, Nimoyness: 8/10, Australianess 5/10, New Zealandness 5/10. Overall: 34/50. Credit
* Australian slang: shrimp = ‘jumbuck’ or ‘itinerant agricultural worker’.
** Barbie= ‘colonial policeman’ or ‘stagnant backwater’.
*** T’hai’la = ‘mate’ or ‘friend’.
**** It’s pronounced more like ‘Ken Burns’ than ‘Jason Bourne’.
***** The stretch of water between Tasmania and the Australian mainland (actual information).