William Shatner's Mysteries of the Gods (1976) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

William Shatner’s Mysteries of the Gods (1976)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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Danny INDIFFERENTWilliam Shatner's Mysteries of the Gods is the best kind of documentary: the kind that can and should be a drinking game.

Filmed during that dead period in Shatner's career after he's become typecast as Captain Kirk but before the series made its return to the big screen, he narrates and hosts this film's peek into controversial Danish author Erich von Däniken's theories on primitive man's contact with alien civilizations.

Yes, seriously. Däniken's book was a big seller in 1970, and it was filled to the brim with pseudo science and presuppositions that archeological artifacts, passages of the Bible, and myths and stories passed down are actually about space aliens rather than anything else. Däniken's book Chariots of the Gods, which was previously made into an Academy Award nominated documentary. That's italicized for a reason.

This is a pseudo sequel (ironic!) that seems to touch on a lot of the same subjects but with a substantial additional amount of Shatner. And, sometimes, that's enough.

This isn't actually Shatner, but the depiction of an ancient ritual THAT PROVES THAT ALIENS VISITED THE EARTH.

Now, presuming that the premise is absolute crap (which isn't hard), that doesn't necessarily make a documentary bad. In fact, this documentary does a couple of smart things. Lots of incredibly dumb things, but a couple of smart things, which I'll mention quickly before returning to the gleeful mockery.

First, the film has a focus in the inquisitive nature of Shatner; though he's obviously reading cue cards for his opening monologue, he seems generally interested in the topics discussed. On a similar note, a few of the interview subjects are actually notable, particularly Jesco von Puttkamer, one of those higher ups at NASA who speaks to a lot of far-out theories about intelligent life probabilities that at least speak to the ideas of a then-vibrant and eager space agency.

All of that said, every other aspect of this film is hilariously cheesy and dumb. The first forty minutes of the film, besides Shatner's opening monologue that takes place under a large replica of the starship Enterprise (in case you'd forgotten who William-Freaking-Shatner is), is nothing but him listing and discussing obscure or strange phenomena that can't be explained.

Well, they can be, but that's so mundane.

Over footage of things like the Pyramids, Easter Island, and other ancient places that were obviously assembled by people with too much time on their hands, we get to listen to Shatner ask rhetorical question after rhetorical question. Taking a shot after you hear each one would probably result in alcohol poisoning within a few minutes.

Here are a few choice excerpts:

Why? What is the truth? What is a legend? What did they look like?

Mysteries that baffle us... could they be evidence?

History says they are altars of the gods... but nobody says what gods!

Okay, that last one wasn't a question,but representative of the crap attempts to pique curiosity. Asserting something unknown is obviously the work of space aliens is an incalculably lazy way to draw conclusions-- it's akin to encountering a light bulb and shouting "It's magic!"

Much like Shatner's bilious toupee seen throughout the film.

None of the evidence is compelling, since none of it actually is evidence. Take this quote, for instance:

These photos are said to be genuine by those who believe in UFOs.

Oh, come on!

To save myself some time, and hopefully explain just why I watched this movie, here is its poster:

Let's go point by point, eh? Starting from the top left:

  • The crystal skull that no human hands could have carved. That human skull was carved both by human hands and by modern hands, though it's apparent that the makers of this documentary didn't know it at the time. Here's all about it.
  • Giant antennas that talk to distant planets. They're talking about SETI. Yep.
  • Jeane Dixon predicting the arrival of aliens from outer space. To establish this woman's credentials, they use a cover story about her from the National Enquirer. Jeane Dixon made a number of almost accurate predictions and a lot of bad ones (World War III was to start in 1958, apparently), leading some to coin the Jeane Dixon Effect. She also makes the claim in this film that aliens will be landing in August. We apparently missed that one.
  • The Prehistoric Indians who knew open heart surgery. They found some stones that seemed to depict it. Of course, they have detailed drawings of the human heart, they show a doctor putting a patient under (or what we'd at least assume that is), and they show a doctor removing a heart... but they don't really show him putting it back in. That stone is probably necessary for this to be a bit more probable.
  • A primitive tribe's squadron of aerodynamically correct spacecraft! Christ, they're little figures of birds that are stylized a bit, so the filmmakers interchange shots of them with modern aircraft. How come no ancient people figured out helicopters then?
  • NASA scientists agreeing on space visitors past and future! There's one, and he says it's a possibility, sure. You can read more about him and some of the other clowns in this movie in this excellent review.
  • The priest-king's tomb with a carving of a space module and his instrument panel. Jeez, even the movie says that it's a stretch.
  • The three thousand year old jungle dance that simulates Neil Armstrong's moon walk. Well, they dress a guy in a wicker basket (see above) and dance around, reenacting an ancient myth about a man who could blow crap up with his fingers. I'd say that it's slightly more likely that the man was Captain Marvel, but what do I know.
  • The prehistoric weapon that had to be invented by a space technology! IT'S A BOOMERANG, THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT A BOOMERANG.
  • The mammoth world-wide landing fields for men from beyond our galaxy. In some places, you can see long strips of land that look like landing fields. no way that that could be a coincidence or made for non-aliens.
  • The birdmen of Mesopotamia with rockets on their backs. Yeah, I'm going to label those drawings as inconclusive. I'd say it's more likely that they saw some birds and tried lighting their farts on fire rather than depicted dudes running around with rocket packs, but that's just me.
  • Platinum on Earth 3,000 years before we could purify it. I think they actually show how they purified it in the movie. Another good call, poster.
  • Pocket UFO detectors. I have this things with switches and meters and a battery inside... IT CAN DETECT UFOS, I TELL YOU!
  • Extraordinary NASA photos showing UFO's, never before released! UFOs or lens flares, you decide.
  • The flying Biblical wheel that is aerodynamically perfect! I don't actually remember seeing that, ironically, and I'm pretty sure it was mentioned in passing, taking a Bible story out of context while doing so.
  • Ancient Indian dolls and primeval ritual headmasks with space helmets. This is an even stupider claim. Basically, old headmasks of Indian tribes look strange, therefore they are actually representative of aliens visiting said tribes. That leap of logic alone is completely indicative of the reasoning intelligence of this movie, and it's peculiar Euro-centric thought process; Indians couldn't have thought any of these things up, they're too stupid. ALIENS DID IT.
  • And dozens more. All stupid.

Seriously. You want to know the really goofy part? People in the 70's actually seemed to buy this load of crap. Däniken's books sold millions of copies, and the documentary on Chariots of the Gods was nominated for an Oscar (I say this again out of disbelief) and was shown in schools throughout the 70's. Imagine that said disbelief as well.

As a serious inquiry into the possibility of extraterrestrial life, William Shatner's Mysteries of the Gods is an absorbing array of horseshit, and as a gateway to hilarity, it's recommended.

Otherwise, no. Not in a million years.

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Posted by Danny

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