Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chasing UFOs - The Review

UPDATE: Dr. Ben McGee has shown up in the comments below, directing you to a series of blog posts he has begun, explaining more about each episode and musing on some of the topics touched on the episode. They are worth reading, and I'd advise you to check them out. At the same time, my criticisms of the final product still stand.

Dr. McGee's followup 1
Dr. McGee's followup 2

The new National Geographic show (oh, how the mighty have fallen) Chasing UFOs can be boiled down to one word: Childish.

It isn't even unintentionally amusing (a justification I've heard for watching Finding Bigfoot), it is embarrassing and awkward. The core of the show is three adults play-acting out spooky adventures in a manner similar to how children might play cops and robbers, or at best like teenagers legend-tripping (with the payoff being getting paid to work on television and building a promotional base, rather than stumbling around in the dark with your freshman high school crush).

You see the trailer at the top of this post? Where our heroes chase a UFO on foot? It makes more sense than the actual show does. Our team goes searching for soil samples and bits of residue or debris or radiation - at night.

Again, I want you think about it. Searching for small geological or metal fragments. In the dark. When you don't have to. That's the plan. Here, let me illustrate.

There really isn't much more to say about it (in the first two episodes, the team stumbled around Texas searching for the Stephenville UFO that was there four years ago, and then go to California to look for triangular UFOs and underground bases).Our heroes alternate between boring conversations with witnesses and UFO enthusiasts they don't really listen to or critically assess, and boring "scared" dialogue as they sneak around various properties in the dark. And they use lots of gear (so much so that National Geographic has a list for you, I'm amazed the link didn't take me to an online store).

The two male investigators are supposed to be the opposite ends of the belief spectrum, the documentary-making ufologist James Fox, and radiation expert and xenoarchaeologist Ben McGee (while this concept can exist in a hypothetical sense, its presence here seems to have more to do with the continuing issue of how easy it is for anyone to claim to be an archaeologist EDIT: I'll leave this link up as it is related, but this particular blog post does not really cover that topic, I'm confusing it with a recent presentation I co-wrote). But from what I can vaguely remember (honestly, if you gave this show your undivided attention, especially both episodes, please for the sake of humanity find ways to motivate yourself to become a better person), in practice they were virtually indistinguishable in behavior. McGee is the skeptic, and in an interview talks about this as a form of education outreach. I can't really see how running around in the dark poorly imitating the idea of geological or archaeological research is public educational outreach. This leaves Erin Ryder, the tech expert, who from what I can gather is the star of the show not just by being female for what I'm guessing is an expected majority male audience, but also as a veteran of another "run around in the dark and make a mockery of the idea of investigation" show, Destination Truth.

That said, if you are a fancier of tactical vests (apparently an integral part of scientific investigation), this show may be relevant to your interests.


Anonymous said...

Nat'l Geo, following in the steps of the Syfy channel, has a reached a whole new low. I always believed that the Nat'l Geo channel put on high quality shows that educated us. I watched the two episodes and now I want to know whom do I need to see to get my two hours of my life back. James Fox, you lost credibility, Ryder you are not Tech/Recon, you were just a half attempt at T&A. And, who was the third guy? Running reruns of Stargate is lightyears ahead of this dribble.

Anonymous said...

Very disappointed with this show. I thought that they might actually treat the subject seriously & intelligently..
Stupid & childish with no substance whatever...

Anonymous said...

The nonstop Deliberate Dumbing Down of amerika.......... again

watch the video on ytube

Anonymous said...

This show sponsored by Nat Geo is like Jerry Springer being endorsed by the BBC.

Anonymous said...

I watched this to make my eleven year old happy. I must say staged and lame in the same sentence because that is what it was. Especially the part were she is "investigating" the airport. Must have been a couple of deaf and blind guards she saw. The show is a joke and diminishes NatGeo's credibility.

tish said...

I am so disappointed. I too thought this subject would be treated intelligently and with respect. James'get out now while you still have a smidgen of credibility left and please get rid of the frontal face cameras or whatever those ridiculous things are called. Any credibility Ufology has gained in recent years' Nat Geo managed to knock back down in 2 hours.

Anonymous said...

its owned by Fox News!!!

ThomasT said...

Open, read The Pleiadian Mission by Randolph Winters and google his uTubes. Move light years ahead of the misinfo of controlled Ufologists and the mainstream press.

Anonymous said...

Ugh! More mindless drivel cooked up by a production company looking to make a quick buck. Doesn't NatGeo have a quality assurance department? Did they pre-screen this show to an audience of junior high school kids? I shutter to think that this is a sign of things to come with National Geographic.

Anonymous said...

We actually performed quite a bit more science than what ultimately made the show. The ratio of footage shot-to-used was greater than 120-to-1.

Should any readers/commenters be interested, I'm writing a blog series on the NatGeoTV website to run concurrently with the show that captures some of this lost content, entitled, "The Science of Chasing UFOs"

(If this stuff didn't make the air, then by gantry I'm ensuring it'll at least make a blog.)

Oh, and the "xenoarchaeology" tag was assigned to me because I had an article published in the journal Space Policy in 2010 seriously considering the topic. (It's actually how the project found me and approached me to be on the show.)

Ben McGee

ahtzib said...

Dr. McGee,

I do appreciate your posting the links to your longer write-ups. And they do cover some interesting topics. But I feel I must ask:

- You state regarding Episode 1 that the filming of the UFO crash site (aka, area where a newspaper claimed a meteor landed, which as you note was a topic which was much lied about in newspapers at the end of the 19th century, I've been working on a project on these lines), was undertaken after dark for logistical reasons. But in Episode 2, field searches and investigations, including of permanent architecture are done, once again, in the dark save for the night vision cameras trained on you and your colleagues. Surely at some point the old Ian Fleming quote "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action." is going to kick in at some point, no? If each episode represents something more like 80 hours of work, surely there would be some way to schedule at least some of the fieldwork during the daytime?

I don't know if you have read the book The Roswell Dig Diaries, the accounting of the 2002 Sci-Fi Channel (when it was spelled that way) funded archaeological investigation of a site alleged to be the Corona flying disc crash spot discovered by Mac Brazel (aka, the Roswell Crash). Given your current activities, it might be worth it, not so much for anything specifically related to UFOs, but for some of the lessons on display (arguably unintentionally) through the publication of both participant "diaries" and the final report. The discrepancy between the two is massive, and it is very illustrative of the dangers of working with television. I discuss this in my review of the book, link below (note: this afternoon I have learned that a second excavation has been conducted by some of the members of the first project, this is not reflected in my review)

Anonymous said...

I agree with most every response above. What a totally boring and stupid program. I use to respect NatGeo...totally lost my vote with this CRAP.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous postings, this is the WORST ever...James Fox should get out of this soon and go back to making credible UFO documentaries...hopefully the ratings will tank and he will have no choice, first time I ever turned off a UFO show halfway through..

Anonymous said...

It is sad to see Nat Geo going that direction. It is so very reminiscent to demise of The History Channel and Discovery Channel. I remember the days when those channels actually aired true documentaries. Chasing UFO's was painful to watch, that's the only way to put it. This goes against the initial intent of the National Geographic Society.
You can use some HTML tags, such as
As others have posted before, the show had potential, too bad Nat Geo cares more about pleasing the uneducated masses (make more money) than to produce quality material.

Heather Turner said...

Well, Nat Geo is owned by Murdoch's News Corporation, which is no excuse. This show truly is horrible.

On another note, just found this site! It's great. Will definitely be checking out more. Added your blog to my links at

hope can get you a bit more like minded readers who haven't yet found this blog! :)

ahtzib said...

Your blog on woo tv looks good, something I couldn't bring myself to do. That said you might want to check out some of other posts I've tagged with media. This one in particular may be of interest

Don't know how much I'll update, have been slacking off blogging as of late, especially as the semester begins and I try to get some research done in between now and then. Maybe as I get close to giving my pseudoarchaeology paper later this year I might be back to writing more re: woo.

Anonymous said...

Omg, I love natgeo but this is horrible. I cant even finish the episode.

Anonymous said...

So, this high tech team just walked into a cave, with camera equipment, after whitewater rafting, then getting changed into the clothes they wore on thr previous day. They light up sticks with some fuel and walk in holding ancient torches and an HD camera... Then freak out over a tiny spider before evacuating due ti decreasing oxygen. An LED torch next time maybe ( instead of a can of parraffin) . Or just show a 7 minute abs... The episode ends with a guy crying after speaking to other ufo believers who just don't have a voice in this world. The mockup alien with 3 horns and red eyes was quite scary.

ahtzib said...

From your description of the alien, I'm guessing they went to Brazil to investigate the Varginha case. Oh boy.

Anonymous said...


I just noticed your reply to my (much) earlier comment. Regarding the "twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action," sentiment, how right you are. However, it was all decided after the fact. In the final analysis, we shot enough material that editors could stitch together any show they liked - serious or "entertaining," which also means we were plausibly conducting the docu-reality project James and I were under the impression we were creating. The implied point of many of my NatGeo blog posts (keeping in mind that these episodes were all filmed at once) is that nearly all of our investigations were conducted in the afternoon (after morning interviews) and went into the night. --And only the night content was ultimately used by the editors, making it appear like we intentionally waited until dark to do work, which is ridiculous, but "exciting." -Again, that old blog series may shed some light.

And yes, we actually went down to Brazil to stomp around the jungle to look into Varginha. Again, some of the most interesting content was not included (cultural adoption of the idea of extraterrestrial life "walking amongst us" that far predates Roswell, etc.) ... And much of what we did that seems patently ridiculous (e.g., torches) we were assured would be really fun/compelling on television. Not being a TV person, I gave the benefit of the doubt. Live and learn.