Monday, July 22, 2013

Bio-Art: Mermaids: The Body Found.

A while back, there was a huge controversy about how Animal Planet had gone from being an educational channel to more of an entertainment channel. This sentiment reached its peak with Mermaids: The Body Found, a pseudo-documentary (2012) that worked around making mermaids as realistic as possible. They did such a good job that people were fooled into believing it was real. So just how do you make such a realistic pseudo-documentary, anyways?

Here's a hint: start with facts. The documentary opens with mention of conspiracy theories, and how even conspiracy theories need evidence. In particular, it mentions two events: the "bloop," a mysterious noise heard on sonar, and whale beachings brought about by sonar testing. These are both real.Pseudo-science, you're doing it right.

Throughout the film, the narrator details how mermaids could have evolved from a humanlike ancestor, taking to the sea instead of staying on land. Now, marine mammals are not my forte, but in spite of much of the documentary being fake, I'm going to give Animal Planet the benefit of the doubt when it talks about marine mammal evolution. The stuff about whales coming from wolflike (!UNGULATE) ancestors is definitely true. Point is, I didn't see any obvious flaws like I did in Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real. If mermaids did indeed wind up being real, this is some pretty solid reasoning of how they could have evolved.

The documentary also mentions the Aquatic Ape Theory. This is a thing, not something made by Animal Planet. Due to having little hair, a certain balance of body fat, and requirements like iodine for healthy brain function, the theory posits that part of mankind's evolutionary history happened in a marine environment. Unfortunately, even a mere glance at the linked site will tell one that a lot of this stuff has been discredited. It was still used well in the documentary, so I'll give it the paragraph it deserves.

Suffice it to say, the mermaids look amazing. As if the tail was not enough, the creators also factored in brain composition, communication (with dolphins!), sensory adaptations for life in the deep sea, and other features that one would usually not think of on the average mermaid. The transition stages are also pretty believable, with ancestors sporting tails like pinniped fins at one point. Neat.

Granted, there is one huge flaw almost unrelated to the content: the pacing of this thing is awful. It's one thing if you're trying the "American Godzilla" approach of not letting us see the monster without us seeing the movie. It's another when you advertise "Mermaids: The Body Found" and the first hour or so of the 1 hour and 21 minutes deals with bits and pieces and random, apelike creatures that are not the body promised. The word "mermaid" does not even come up until like 50 minutes in. In my personal opinion, that's a little bit too late for something advertising mermaids. This is in-character for science, which would indeed be in denial about such a subject. At least Dragons showed us the body right out of the gate; the mermaid "body" is a mess when we see it. Talk about beating around the bush.

That said, it's still a great documentary, and I'd advise anyone interested in pseudo-science or mermaids to give it a look. It's not quite as good as Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real (which still has flaws), but in the same vein and an enjoyable, if uncanny, watch. The mermaids themselves look believable.  The people making it did a darn good job.  Check it out, and do as the documentary advises: continue to treat mermaids as mythical creatures, even if they are out there.

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