As part of my Megalist project, I have a goal to eventually watch every feature-length documentary ever nominated for an Oscar.
Now, this part of the Megalist project is a little problematic. Most people, even folks in the film industry, don’t really know what makes a good documentary. The Academy folks have long been accused of having suspect methods of judging documentary films. Outside of Oscarland, IMDB long had to fudge their top film ranking statistics so that documentary films didn’t completely tip the statistics surrounding other film sites, and their Top 50 Documentaries list is nearly unusable because every brand new documentary is instantly seen as the best one ever made.
Even keeping all that in mind… Chariots of the Gods is downright baffling.
Is it interesting? Oh yes. Chariots of the Gods is vastly entertaining, though definitely not in the way the film intended.
See, Chariots of the Gods is a 1970 documentary based on a book of the same name (though the book features a “?” at the end of the title). If you don’t immediately recognize the title, I will tell you this: the gist of Chariots of the Gods is that all religions and all great engineering feats of the ancient world are the product of aliens visiting the human race.
That’s right. This thing is the origin story for this dude:
Now, before I plunge into talking about the film itself, let me take a stance. While alien visitations of Earth could be possible in the million-monkeys-typing-Hamlet-on-a-million-typewriters sort of way, I’m pretty sure that’s not what happened. Just because we don’t know exactly how some ancient feats of engineering were achieved, it doesn’t mean ancient peoples couldn’t possibly have done it. If you’re sitting around in a desert and don’t have Twitter to distract you and you have several tons of rock to move, you can get pretty damned clever with fulcrums and levers. I find clever people to be a much more reasonable explanation for the Pyramids than aliens visiting Earth. Occam’s Razor and all that.
In fact, I think the ancient aliens hypothesis is mostly racist and classist. “I don’t know how to move a big rock, so these brown island people couldn’t possibly be cleverer than me!”
Given that I was already against Chariots of the Gods’ central hypothesis, it certainly had an uphill climb to impress me. However, I was determined to watch it, so I gave it my time and…
Well, let’s just say that the film fails spectacularly in terms of presenting an argument. By spectacular, I mean hilariously so. I honestly want a transcript of the entire film, so I can go through line by line and comment on everything. It would be a shooting fish in a barrel project about a 43-year-old movie, but wow.
90% of the film’s arguments are predicated upon either a) ancient people couldn’t have possibly been that clever, or b) doesn’t this bit of ancient art look like a spaceman? (My response to B is simply two terms: pareidolia and confirmation bias.)
I want to create a Chariots of the Gods drinking game. Rule #1: drink at every breathtakingly unsupported claim. There is no rule #2. Liver damage is ensured.
Beyond the astounding content of the film, the construction of the film itself is a lot of fun. I particularly loved the “National Geographic B team” type visuals and the 1970s funk / hippie music soundtrack. If you have any memory of the 1970s whatsoever, there’s something deeply nostalgic about it.
So, in a weird way, I enjoyed the Chariots of the Gods experience. If you’re the sort of person who like exercising your brain by unraveling pseudoscience, you’ll find this film to be a hoot. It’s currently available on Netflix Streaming and YouTube.