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Thursday, July 18, 2013
Ever wonder what kind of TV shows Agent Mulder might watch on his day off? If he's by himself, he'll probably tune into the sensationalistic "In Search Of" with Leonard Nimoy. But if his ever-dubious friend Agent Scully happens to be visiting, it's more likely they'll be watching Arthur C. Clarke, whose forays into the unknown, while stoking our sense of wonder, remain firmly but unobtrusively on the skeptical side.
ARTHUR C. CLARKE: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION, an 8-disc DVD set from Visual Entertainment Incorporated, brings us all three of Clarke's thoughtful, carefully-produced TV series from the 80s and 90s--52 half-hour episodes in all--offering viewers interested in the unexplained approximately 22 hours worth of baffling and sometimes jaw-dropping mysteries from around the world and beyond.
From his idyllic ocean-front retreat in Sri Lanka, where the distinguished author of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and inventor of the communications satellite has succeeded in getting away from it all, the laidback Clarke introduces a different specimen of unexplained phenomena to be examined in each episode. These range from the earthly to the cosmic, from the real-life to the paranormal, and from historical puzzles to fantastic flights of fancy.
Unlike "In Search Of", however, which tended toward giving the most outlandish theories the benefit of the doubt, Clarke's style is to present both sides in a rational, even-handed manner that allows us to make up our own minds, and then present us with his own conclusions. While these are usually tinged with skepticism, Clarke rarely allows himself to be overbearing or smug when dismissing something he believes is insufficiently supported by the evidence. Thus, the viewer rarely feels manipulated to think one way or the other. "I've always tried to steer a course between skepticism and credulity," Clarke tells us at one point.
The first 13-episode series, "Mysterious World" (1980), is a compelling overview of the wonders that can be found all over our own home world. On these two discs are riveting explorations of such mysteries as monsters of the deep, lake monsters, elusive apemen from the Yeti to Bigfoot, Easter Island's great stone heads, advanced technology in the ancient world, baffling accounts of fish, frogs, and other objects raining from the sky, and, of course, UFOs.
Clarke presents a wealth of eyewitness accounts, historical records, drawings, photographs, and motion pictures either to support or discount according to his own rigorous scrutiny. The famous Bigfoot footage is studied, as are numerous fascinating films purporting to show the Loch Ness Monster and other lake creatures. My favorite is the UFO episode, which not only features the one and only Kenneth Arnold (whose eyewitness account in the late 40s kicked off the "flying saucer" craze) but carefully examines much evidence including startling films and photographs.
Discs three and four contain another 13-episode series, "World of Strange Powers" (1985), which focuses more upon the paranormal. Clarke's skepticism comes to the fore here, but not so much as to spoil the fun for those of us who halfway believe in a lot of this stuff. He does give such things as premonitions, mental telepathy and other forms of ESP, stigmata, water divining, fire walking, and reincarnation serious consideration as is warranted by much of the evidence.
Ghosts, spirit photography, and other things that go bump in the night are taken with a grain of salt but presented without ridicule. Even something as patently fake as those famous fairy photographs featuring sweet-faced little girls surrounded by dancing imps gives us an entertaining look into how the gullible can buy into the most outlandish of stories if there is photographic "proof." Best of all, Uri Geller and his metal-bending nonsense is dismissed outright, as (in my opinion) it should be.
The final four discs comprise Clarke's 1994 series, "Mysterious Universe", whose 26 episodes do their best to cover everything left unexplored in previous shows while revisiting a subject or two. Some of the subject matter almost approaches the lurid, as in "Zombies, the Living Dead." This one may give you a nightmare or two as it tells of people who have been poisoned into a state of apparent death, buried, and then exhumed to be revived and enslaved as mind-addled zombies.
Other subjects in this grab-bag of weird tales include "Snake Charmers, Wolf Children and Holy Men", more "Mysteries of the Sea", the Bermuda Triangle, the fate of the dinosaurs, big cats loose in rural England, psychic detectives, spontaneous human combustion, crop circles, near-death experiences, phantom buildings, curses, alien abductions, ancient codes, runes, and riddles, visions of the Virgin Mary, more spirits and spectres, and much more.
The only drawback to all of this interesting stuff is that, at times, the show tends to get a little too non-sensationalistic, with some episodes becoming downright dull as we watch scientists impassively studying specimens or droning on about things that are, despite their historical or scientific significance, dry as dust from an entertainment standpoint. Fortunately, this doesn't occur too often.
The 8-disc DVD set from Visual Entertainment Incorporated is in 4:3 full screen with Dolby 2.0 sound. English only. No subtitles or extras.
With a knowing smile and a subtle sense of fun, the venerable Clarke leads us through the funhouse of mystery and magic that is our own weird world. "I don't pretend to have all the answers," he tells us, "but the questions are certainly worth thinking about." And with ARTHUR C. CLARKE: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION, he does so in a way that should please both the Mulder and Scully in all of us.
Buy it at Amazon.com
Posted by porfle at 11:46 PM