DVD Release Date: 2011 (original screening date 1980)
BACKGROUNDI was reading through the archives of The Surfing Pizza a few months ago, and came across an old article where he spoke about compiling a shelf full of “Sunday reading” books. I knew almost exactly what he was talking about too -- I often found Sunday afternoons a bit of a downer as a child, and well into my teenage years. It was too late to start any new major projects, and though the evening would likely bring something watchable on TV, the hours between 12 and 6 were likely to be spent doing nothing better than clock-watching if you weren’t careful.
So to fill these Sunday afternoons, I often spent a lot of time at the local library. And I spent a lot of time reading about the paranormal, the unexplained and the mysterious. UFOs and aliens were of particular interest, though in a pinch I’d read about more general mysteries.So when I first heard about this show a few years ago, it sounded right up my alley, though the chances of getting hold of a legitimate copy seemed a little unlikely. I just assumed that it would be one of those things that wouldn’t be available at JB Hi-Fi – or if it was, it would be for an extortionate price – so I never really chased it up.
Flash forward to 2013 and I found this in a pile of old DVDs for sale at my work. I believe I paid around $3, which I was more than happy to part with. Those of you who want to view after reading will probably have more luck with Amazon or eBay, though.
The Show ItselfThough the program bears Arthur C. Clarke’s name, he is more of a facilitator, rather than the focal point of the show. He bookends the program, showing up to introduce the week’s topic, and adding some pertinent points at the end of proceedings. From time to time he’ll pop in midway through the show, sometimes to segue and other times just to make a remark.
Many of the subjects you’d expect to be covered in this sort of program make an appearance – UFOs, aliens, cryptozoology, crystal skulls and of course, Stonehenge. For anyone who’s picked up a book on the paranormal, it will be pretty familiar stuff. But Clarke is a reasonably charismatic presenter, Gordon Honeycomb’s narration is solid and it’s nice to see interviews with some of those involved, rather than simply reading about these individuals.Image quality is around VHS level. I’m not sure whether it’s been remastered or not, but this show was obviously filmed in the days before digital video and Blu-ray. But although it’s a bit crude by today’s visual standards, it certainly doesn’t look ugly. In fact, I think this relative crudeness adds to the overall mysterious vibe of the program. And some of the footage is undeniably beautiful, such as the sunrise as viewed from Newgrange.
The rest of the show is a mix of footage from around the world, presumably shot by the production staff. There’s a mix of interviews, on-location shooting and archive footage, all tied together by narration from Gordon Honeycomb (who Wikipedia tells me now lives in Perth).
The soundtrack is particularly good. It’s very dated, but I do enjoy that distinctly 1980s “mysterious” synth sound, so it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Composer Alan Hawkshaw is still alive these days, and still producing soundtracks.
The DVD has no extras, unfortunately. It would have been nice to get a director’s commentary or two, and perhaps a “now vs. then” retrospective on some of the featured mysteries. But this series did come as part of a boxset which compiles all three of Arthur C. Clarke’s TV series about the unexplained – Mysterious World, World of Strange Powers and Mysterious Universe, so I can’t really complain.
The VerdictAs might be expected, the show is never explicit about whether the mysteries it showcases have any strong basis in fact. Doubtless a number of the people interviewed have seen or experienced something – but what is that something? A genuine paranormal phenomenon, or just something ordinary that was taken out of context and misinterpreted?
Probably the closest the show to drawing a definite conclusion is in the episode featuring the Rude Man of Cerne, which – based on reconstructions carried out over the course of the episode – they suggest probably depicts Hercules, rather than a Celtic fertility deity, as has been commonplace to assume. In other cases, interviewees and experts explain their viewpoint, but for the most part, it’s difficult to draw a solid conclusion based solely on what you see on screen.
It is partially this reticence that makes reviewing a show like this somewhat difficult. Many people of a more sceptical bent will sneer and ridicule the program for looking at many of these “mysteries” with any level of seriousness at all. To the dedicated believer, the show will not have drawn enough conclusions from the “evidence” it presents. As for myself? As much as these subjects interest and entertain me, the more I have looked into them, the more sceptical I am inclined to be. Yet I don’t think the whole thing can be written off as easily as some people would like -- and it certainly made for entertaining viewing.
I did quite a bit of Googling while watching to see if any of the cases depicted had been solved, shown to be fraud, etc. However, most of the time there didn’t appear to be a whole lot of additional information -- save, perhaps for the Crystal Skulls.
As the program was filmed more than 30 years ago, quite a number of people mentioned have died – including Mr Clarke himself. But it was interesting to see that more than 30 years after first screening, many of these mysteries still remain just that – mysteries.