Ancient Astronauts Visited Earth?

Chariots of the Gods is a curious relic from the 1970s which continues to resonate with audiences. In the wake of American astronauts walking the moon, pop culture was ripe for author Erich von Daniken’s books pushing the Ancient Astronaut hypothesis. The theory says ancient cultures and many of the ancient world’s great wonders were influenced by aliens visiting Earth in the distant past. The controversial film was banned in certain countries upon release, though today’s more skeptical audiences will find it interesting for reasons beyond the filmmakers’ original intentions.

The deceptive but well-made documentary became quite the fad in its day. Chariots of the Gods is an influential piece of movie history, even if the ideas have long since been debunked. The grandfather of such entertainment as the X-Files and History Channel’s long-running Ancient Aliens series, Chariots of the Gods made Hollywood’s list of the 100 most important documentaries.

Chariots of the Gods relies on badly outdated information but its compelling style and intriguing format works as a kitschy reminder of the Seventies

Based on Erich von Daniken’s book of the same name, Chariots of the Gods serves as a broad survey of marvels like the ancient pyramids in Egypt and the imposing statues found on Easter Island. A liberal reading of Biblical scripture is interpreted as evidence for aliens riding in spaceships. Ancient Aliens on television has covered these theories in far more detail but there is something to be said for Chariots of the Gods’ dated and reserved approach to the same material.

The documentary’s structure is fascinating. Fine aerial footage of sites in Mexico, Egypt, and other exotic locations are shown as the narrator soberly discusses visitors from outer space influencing humanity in the distant past. Academics and experts are brought in for interviews bolstering these assertions. Presented in an educational format common to documentaries made for schools in the 1960s. The presentation is undeniably persuasive if you aren’t well-versed in history and other disciplines.

Chariots of the Gods relies on badly outdated information but its compelling style and intriguing format works as a kitschy reminder of the Seventies. Many have compared it to a travelogue with some wild alien theories thrown in for good measure.

Video

VCI credits the new film transfer to Blair and Associates for the 1970 documentary. It’s a brand-new 2K restoration from the original 35mm negative and looks it for the most part. Aside from a bit of unseemly telecine wobble and minor AVC compression problems, this is a quality presentation in 1080p video with film-like characteristics. The intended 1.66:1 aspect ratio is closely followed, honoring the documentary’s European roots.

The unfiltered scan oozes excellent clarity, often booming with definition when not hampered by the source material and raw footage. Filmed on location across different continents, the footage from Mexico has less sharpness and hotter colors. A touch of wear is evident but on the whole little damage beyond tiny speckling is plainly visible in the elements.

The main feature runs the full, uncut 92 minutes on a BD-50. The AVC encode has a small problem with the documentary’s grain structure in rougher scenes. Otherwise this is a crisp, healthy transfer of decent-looking footage from across the globe. VCI doesn’t have the best reputation among videophiles but fans should be happy how this 50th Anniversary edition’s video quality has turned out. It’s a huge improvement over DVD with far more detail and definition.

Audio

The original monaural soundtrack is heard in 2.0 PCM. An electronic music score fills the background while the clean narration smoothly plays. There’s nothing wrong with the steady and consistent audio. Fidelity is fairly nice with decent dynamics and extension. The recording quality is impressive for the German production.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

Chariots of the Gods makes its Blu-ray debut from VCI. VCI has quietly made this 50th Anniversary edition a double-feature. The only bonus feature included on the disc is the documentary’s sequel from 1976. Far less effective than Chariots of the Gods, it recycles many of the same talking points while introducing two narrators that don’t hold a candle to the original film.

Mysteries of the Gods (83:06 in HD; 1.33:1) – The follow-up documentary takes a step back in terms of quality, both visually and in narration. Worse, there aren’t a great deal of “new” ideas for consumption. This film is for hardcore fans only.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Chariots of the Gods
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The controversial but entertaining documentary from the 1970s introduced audiences to the Ancient Astronaut theory.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 41 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: