Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009

Monsterquest

By David Luhrssen
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Science has uncovered some strange creatures, especially in the depths of the sea where sunlight never reaches. But from the dark corners of the world’s surface come reports of creatures science refuses to admit to its zoology. The History Channel series “Monsterquest” exploits and investigates the legends of everything from Sasquatch to giant squids. Season two has been released on DVD.

The word exploit fits because of the heart-pounding drumbeat of sensationalism permeating the production; investigate is apt because “Monsterquest”—unlike many similar shows—actually submits the evidence to outside scrutiny and engages the commentary of skeptical scientists.

But some of those scientists, in keeping with their training in radical empiricism, are unable to entertain plausibility. In the episodes on the so-called “Mega Hog” and “Vampire Beast” that roam the Southern states, the reasonable suggestion by some commentators that the “monsters” are actually wild hogs groan unaccountably huge and cougars reclaiming their ancestral range are dismissed by the representatives of Science. If it’s not in front of their faces, it’s not admissible.

“Monsterquest” treads into murkier country in such episodes as “Ohio Grassman” (a Midwest rural Big Foot) and “Ghosts,” where the evidence is less tangible. Despite its breathless tone of awe, “Monsterquest” admits that the alleged footage of the simian-like Grassman reveals nothing but an indistinct upright creature at the edge of a distant woods; a video of ghosts at Gettysburg is deemed fraudulent by a video expert. At the same time, it shows anomalies that can neither be proven nor disproven, including a transparent blue light flickering around a gas station caught on a surveillance camera.

As the narrator keeps repeating, investigators “are left with more questions than answers.”

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