05 December 2005

Making a monkey out of me

I was betrayed as a young boy by Charles Berlitz.

No, I didn't blow my allowance on a failed attempt to learn an exotic language, although I strongly suspect others have been disappointed down that particularly avenue. In my case, it was the language-guru's other claim to fame, his 1974 bestseller, The Bermuda Triangle, that did the damage.

When you're 13, you'll believe anything set in type. At least, I did. And among the most intriguing tales from the paranormal genre on which I wasted countless hours was what happened to all those aircraft and boats that allegedly disappeared without explanation in a patch of the Atlantic roughly bounded by an imaginary triangle running from Miami to Bermuda to Puerto Rico.

Only years later did I learn that the word "non-fiction" doesn't necessarily mean what the dictionary says it does. Turns out Berlitz exaggerated, twisted or invented just about everything in his book. As one honest researcher put it, "If Berlitz were to report that a boat were red, the chance of it being some other color is almost a certainty."

Berlitz died two years ago. His lies are now out of print. And it's been years since anyone paid attention to the idea that anything out of the ordinary is afoot in "the triangle," which, as an unusually busy patch of ocean, is bound to produce a large number of sea-faring mysteries. (I'm also annoyed with Steven Spielberg for beginning "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" with the spooky reappearance of Flight 19, which vanished without the proverbial trace in the triangle 50 years ago today.)

But tonight the Sci-Fi channel is reviving the nonsense with a three-part, six-hour, Sam Neill-starring mini-series, "The Triangle." I've been exposed to repeating showings of the promo for the series, thanks to my penchant for another fantasy series, "The West Wing," which runs on a network owned by the same mythmakers responsible for the Sci-Fi channel.

The premise of this latest treatment appears to involve a billionaire, a scientist, a journalist, a psychic and the usual gang of unwitting adventurers and misguided black-ops government agents. There are references to "automatic writing" and a non-reflecting mirror. That's enough for me.

I can only hope that this silliness doesn't presage a revival of interest in Berlitz's fantasies. I wouldn't want his estate to benefit from a reprinting of his book.

Not all the fantastical news is bad, though. The Toronto Globe and Mail's Simon Houpt writes favorably today in his New York Diary column (subscription only) of the latest "King Kong" remake, which hits cinemas next week.

Houpt compares the educational value of a new Darwin exhibit at the Big Apple's American Museum of Natural History with Peter Jackson's version of Kong:
It's undeniably touching to see his enormous beastly face crinkle up with sadness... Kong laughs, he cries, he pouts, he is shamed, he is proud, he has childish temper tantrums, he takes his date skating in Central Park. He's us, and we are him.... Audiences may not realize it, but the movie is a forceful argument for shared traits, Darwin's notion -- the one that so disturbs creationists -- that we've evolved from other primates. Which means that, as good as the efforts are of the American Museum of Natural History, in the end that big monkey may do more to crush the creationists than a thousand intelligently designed Darwin exhibits ever could.
Houpt says evolution needs all the help it can get from the entertainment sector, what with neo-Kabbalist Madonna having "thrilling discussions about creationism with her husband, Guy Ritchie." Maybe. But wouldn't it be nice if scriptwriters could come up with way to humanize the lower primates without violating just about every known law of physics along the way?

If I had to choose between an unwanted revisiting of the Bermuda Triangle and an unnecessary remake of King Kong, I'd go with the monkey. Good thing I don't have to choose. I'm happy waiting until January for the return of Battlestar Galactica.


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