Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 14th, 2007
As I freely admitted before here, I haven’t had much time to see and take in “Destination Truth.” I mostly have been withholding judgement until I could see it, as the reviewers writing into Cryptomundo have been mixed in their reactions. Some people like it, some loathe it. A few people are distracted by the level of evidence presented by the program, but I think that’s another type of critique altogether.
So here is what I discovered: Bottomline, this show is very good for cryptozoology.
The show has as its tent pole person, Joshua Gates. He is a strong personality, aggressive in that American sort of way that makes him “work” and “attractive” on camera. Believe it or not, it makes for good television, and Gates’ personality truly carries the program along, with his devil-may-care, bossy, mildly sarcastic and yet pleasantly humorous sense of himself on screen.
Gates’ protégé along for the ride is mostly visible as Neil Mandt, a Mutt to his Jeff, away with the vehicle or trying to reach out and help out in ways that seem important to the survival of the mission. Mandt is actually the executive producer for the series, so to see him out there as a field producer too is rather incredible. Mandt may be the boss, but that doesn’t get in the way of some good interactions between the two as equals.
“Destination Truth” premiered on June 6, 2007, on the Sci Fi Channel and called itself from the beginning “a weekly adventure series.” But we have all known from the start that these guys and gals are out there looking for cryptids. Recorded by using the contemporary motifs of The Blair Witch Horror-kind of nightvision and nostril shoots (luckily none of those actually of Mr. Gates), you get the sense the director/producers do live in the 21st century. That’s fine.
But what I really like about the program is that it treats the subject with the respect and skepticism that most cryptozoologists also actually show for the topics and cryptids under study. Yes, you sometimes have eyewitnesses you’ve just interviewed whom you walk away from, mumbling under your breath, “cuckoo.” Gates verbalizes those interactions quite well, and yet retains the spirit and hope of the quest as he goes on to the next eyewitness or next piece of evidence.
Not finding results in a half-hour segment is nothing new. What is becoming more important is what you do getting there. Gates is shown doing it quite well.
The show has a nitty-gritty feel to it (while not lowering any of its high production values). They make it entirely believable. I think Gates, Mandt, and the camera crew got really very wet in New Guinea and had a miserable time out in the field and mud. Many of us who have been in similar situations know that feeling, and those who haven’t get some of the texture of it through this program. That’s the reality of the chase, and Gates and friends have served it up to the television screens without any smoothing of the edges. The hunt for cryptids is difficult, not much fun, and, except for a few “expedition leaders” who tend to stay in fine colonist hotels and sip martinis, most of our adventures are without any Victorian frills. It is hard work. “Destination Truth” demonstrates this excellently.
The other thing, and I’ve mentioned this before where I’ve analyzed the history of documentaries, the sources of funding for finding new animals or mounting cryptid expeditions are no longer zoos and museums, as in past centuries. The new foundation of monies is from television and media outlets. I must reflect on the fact that, darn it, we should be praising the Mandt Brothers daily for coming up with a package that actually gets a film crew out there to explore some of these cryptozoological mysteries. They did it, and in the end, these programs will be beneficial for pushing the envelope on some of these questions.
Lastly, I must apologize for mixing what I see now were publicity opportunities and outbursts that happened to Josh Gates in Malaysia versus the reality of this show. Photos of Gates and members of various Malaysian research groups gave us all the sense that Gates was surrounded with women all the time. The program itself shows us that this was more a product of the media frenzy when he brought the footprint cast back into civilization. Attractive young women are not used in this program to get increased viewship, and I was struck by how it was nearly impossible to pick out these oft-pictured women with Gates within the context of the final cut shown on television. It appears Gates merely experienced a bit of that Paris Hilton-style celebrity watching after he emerged from the rainforest, and the media set him up with all those photographs with the attractive seekers. They have little to do with the program.
“Destination Truth” is an on-target, serious, contemporary, fun, adventurous effort to show “living cryptozoology.” I sincerely hope we see a season two that stays on the same path they have shown us thusfar. It is a successful one that is on the track of cryptids! Congratulations to Sci-Fi Channel, the Mandt Brothers, Joshua Gates, and the crew for a successful first year that will be viewed with more appreciation upon each screening of past reruns.
Neil Mandt (above), the executive producer for “Destination Truth.”