On the subject of Homo erectus reconstructions, here's a famous clip:
The movie Django Unchained includes a scene in which the antagonist (a rich, white, plantation owner) expounds on phrenology as a justification of slavery. James Poskett in The Guardian gives the historical context behind racist phrenology. The interesting part is the existence of anti-racist phrenology:
[I]t wasn't just the slavers. My research revealed that some of the most vocal anti-slavery campaigners of the 19th century were also advocates of phrenology, and used it to justify their stance.
Lucretia Mott, a particularly uncompromising American abolitionist, sent her children to phrenological lectures and spoke of the "truth of phrenology" in letters to friends. When she visited Britain she stayed with the renowned Scottish phrenologist George Combe, himself an anti-slavery campaigner. Horace Mann, another major figure in abolitionist politics, was so keen on phrenology that he subscribed to the official journal. After becoming president of Antioch College in Ohio, he even boasted in the same sentence that the professors he employed were both "anti-slavery men" and "avowed phrenologists".
The relation between science, pseudoscience, and highbrow morality in the nineteenth century was counterintuitive. Phrenologists were steampunk witchdoctors.
In a world, lost before time, lived an ancient race of tiny people... "'Hobbit' Lawyers Threaten 'Age of the Hobbits' Movie (Exclusive)".
The word “Hobbits” has referred only to Bilbo Baggins and his bretheren since the Tolkien novel was first published in 1937, right? Not so, argues Asylum, whose lawyers have told New Line that the word is fair game because the Hobbits featured in Age of the Hobbits refer instead to an early hominid species.
"Age of the Hobbits is about the real-life human subspecies, Homo Floresiensis, discovered in 2003 in Indonesia which have been uniformly referred to as 'Hobbits' in the scientific community," a rep for The Asylum tells THR in a statement. "As such, the use of the term 'Hobbits' is protected under the legal doctrines of nominal and traditional fair use. Indeed, a simple Google search of Hobbits and archaeology reveals dozens of articles containing the term "Hobbit(s)" in the title."
Yes, that's what paleoanthropology is really for: Making the world safe for B movie producers.
The headline of this Guardian story really says it all: "Priceless Tibetan Buddha statue looted by Nazis was carved from meteorite".
The 1,000-year-old carving, which is 24cm high and weighs 10kg, depicts the god Vaisravana, the Buddhist King of the North, and is known as the Iron Man statue.
It was stolen before the second world war during a pillage of Tibet by Hitler's SS, who were searching for the origins of the Aryan race.
I can have only one reaction to that, really: "It is something that man was not meant to disturb. Death has always surrounded it. It is not of this earth."
David Swindle, writing at PJ Media about George Lucas' revelation that Han Solo would never have shot first.
Here’s the medicine we all need to swallow: as children we were more grown up than George Lucas is now as an adult. Han Solo’s entire character rested on what we saw in that early scene in the film. In shooting first Han Solo was a role model doing what any Real Man was supposed to do. Now we know that character only existed in our imaginations, not his creator’s. And that George Lucas regards most of his fans as amoral neanderthals.
Han shooting first has appeared previously here. It's quite obvious that any moral Neandertal would have shot first, too. No one who brought us midichlorians can be trusted on matters of morality.
I've been unusually busy this holiday week, and haven't had much time to sit down and write. A reader sent me this death notice for the longest-lived chimpanzee on record:
The chimp was unusually long-lived, surviving beyond both Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan, who played Tarzan’s mate Jane in many of the early films. Chimpanzees live an average of 35 to 45 years in captivity. Guinness World Records cited Cheetah as the world’s oldest non-human primate.
There is some confusion over which films this particular chimpanzee acted the part.
Many chimpanzees have played Tarzan’s simian sidekick over the franchise’s long run in both films and television. The Cheetah who died Dec. 24 is not the one who appeared in the first two Weissmuller films, “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932) and “Tarzan and His Mate” (1934), but is thought to have played the role in the 1930s and ’40s.
The day has come when you can raise money for a movie by subscription, and here's an interesting article profiling a project that's trying to put old-style FX back to work: "Filmmakers Reviving Sci-fi With Lights, Miniatures, and Imagination". I like their attitude.
“Advanced civilizations have descended into dark ages before, it’s not outside the realm of possibility. So keeping that in mind, I think if you make science-fiction films today, you have an obligation to inspire people to think about exploration and progress and the beauty of scientific pursuits,” they said.
The problem with many science-fiction films today, according to Van Gorder and Stockmeier, is they fail to address mankind regaining control of its technology when technology reaches highly-advanced levels.
As they say, almost all the sci-fi plots these days are about humans losing control of technology, or unintended consequences. I like the idea of the unintended consequence being someone taking control of her potential.
One of the people responsible for the Blair Witch Project is now making a movie about Sasquatch:
Titled Exists, the movie is described as following “a group of twentysomethings who take a trip to a cabin deep in the wooded wilderness and are methodically hunted by a Bigfoot-like beast.” Produced by Amber films and written by Sanchez and frequent collaborator Jamie Nash, he said that this is the first movie in a trilogy “exploring and reinventing the Bigfoot myth.”
A trilogy! Like in the second one, the people could find the video from the first one? Or maybe, it's like "Bride of Bigfoot"?
Personally, I'd like to see something more along the lines of that Animal Planet show gone horribly wrong. You know, Finding Bigfoot:
From small towns in the South to remote areas of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, four eccentric but passionate members of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) embark on one single-minded mission: to find the elusive "creature" known as Bigfoot or the Sasquatch.
It would be awesomely bad television if Finding Bigfoot just turned out to be a setup for a fictional ending where the principals get smashed up by Sasquatch in a Blair Witch-like way.
Because as it is, Finding Bigfoot is just plain bad television. Last week, the show informed us that "skunk apes" (a southern U.S. term for Sasquatch) get their smell by absorbing methane as they hide in underground alligator dens.
I kid you not. It's not even good camp. It's rotten, absorbing-methane-from-the-alligator-dens camp.
Pseudoscience TV programs like Ghost Hunters and movies like Paranormal Activity are basically using the same cinematic vocabulary to tell fictional stories. All of them draw on Blair Witch as a forerunner of the genre. I remember before Blair Witch was being shown in theaters, parts of it were actually run on local-access cable channels. I think it was some kind of viral marketing scheme. Like, "Who are these scared kids running around in the woods?" Today's shows are just capitalizing on the same approach.
There's more to it than playing on the assumption that shaky and grainy video are "raw" and "unedited." That's not enough in today's reality-infused TV spectrum. The pseudoscience programs draw from the timing and visual angles from horror movies, much of it grifted from classic Hitchcock. There's humor -- another Hitchcock element. Every one of these shows has a cocky "team leader" who might be a casting double for one of Steven Spielberg's casting doubles of the classic Hitchcock characters. Especially the perfect archetype of the genre: Jimmy Stewart's droll photojournalist from Rear Window. Several pseudoscience programs have a cast of young "apprentice" hunters, whose fumbling with the equipment helps explain the imperfect nature of the "evidence", and whose portrayal of fear allows the program to portray suspense while maintaining the apparent authority of the "experienced" hunters.
What freedom they've unleashed! They've trashed the usual conceit that some "rogue scientists" are going against the mainstream consensus.
I think that tells us quite a lot about the media environment. Ten years ago, the pseudoscience TV scene was dominated by programs that used a traditional documentary approach. Talk to "experts", go on at great length about "mysterious evidence" such as grainy photographs, bring in document analysts and authors of "investigative books". Above all, no main character, only a disembodied narrator holding the story together.
That kind of storytelling is intrinsically dull. I write that with some sadness, because this boring "high documentary" model is what passes for mainstream science documentary filmmaking. The style was designed to sell Polident and Depends to an aging audience who tuned in to the History Channel for Hitler documentaries. Probably the style was at apex when NBC was doing Noah's Ark documentaries on prime time broadcast TV in the mid-1990's. Today, the "high documentary" can still get ratings in the pseudoscience TV world -- History Channel's Ancient Aliens is one prominent example, National Geographic's recent Bigfoot film is another.
But beginning in the early 2000's, a more reality-TV-influenced style of pseudoscience programming started to show up, first in late night syndication and later as regular prime-time cable network offerings. Now it's dominant: Get a crew of nobodies together, call one of them the "leader" to uphold some Ghostbusters-derived evidentiary standard, and shoot video in a dark place. Don't run cheap ads for Polident and commemorative coins, instead run expensive ads for movies and internet dating services.
I still think it would be genius if one of these shows actually followed through by becoming a scripted horror program. Mainly, I'd like to see Sasquatch smashing these punks like the evil gorillas from Congo.Synopsis:Why can't they make a Bigfoot program where the "investigators" are in real jeopardy?
Some folks have asked me if I would write a review of Werner Herzog's new Cave of Forgotten Dreams movie. Now that I'm back from Europe I would love to do it, but it's not showing anywhere remotely near Madison. That's odd because we usually get first-run art movies when they're released. I don't know when we'll be able to see it but I hope it comes soon!