Chariots of the Gods (1970)
By: Paul Ryan on April 3, 2009  | 
DVD
Beyond (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 93 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Harald Reinl
Screenplay: Wilhelm Rogersdorf
Country: Germany/USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
If you've ever wondered where the ideas behind Stargate, Battlestar Galactica and the first Alien vs Predator film originated, Erich Von Daniken is pretty much your man. The Swiss-born Von Daniken postulated that the god figures worshipped by certain ancient civilizations – Mayans, Incans, Aztecs, etc - were actually alien visitors. His 1968 "non-fiction" book Chariots of the Gods was a huge commercial success, despite a number of glaring factual errors (which even its author admitted to) and an impressively poor prose style.

This film version takes the book's pompous tone, lack of substantive evidence and contempt for scientific method and translates it to the screen. Directed by Harald Reinl (helmer of the post-Fritz Lang Dr Mabuse films), Chariots of the Gods is, in screen form, little more than a dull travelogue with extra nuttiness on top. Opening with the book's assertion that the scientific mainstream is closed-minded and resistive to new ideas - a common tactic used by purveyors of pseudoscience - the film explores numerous ancient landmarks. If they look too impressive (i.e. weren't made by Europeans with modern equipment), then they must have been built by aliens. If their cave paintings and inscriptions depict god figures with large heads or headdresses, it means they were actually depicting alien astronauts. If their god figures are written of as having ascended to the heavens, it means they were actually aliens.

And so on, ad nauseum.

There's very little in the way of supporting evidence presented here, just Von Daniken's belief that structures such as the pyramids of Giza were too sophisticated to have been built by humans so long ago. Everything is then shoehorned into pushing that theory. There's never a second given to the possibility that these civilizations had their own scientific and engineering achievements, some possibly lost to the ravages of time. It's here that a whiff of racism creeps into the proceedings. Every culture depicted is non-European, and while the film is quick to claim the architectural and scientific achievements of the Aztecs or the Egyptians as that of extra-terrestrials, no such claim is made about say, the Romans, or the Greeks, or the Celts. The implication comes across that these societies were too primitive and too intrinsically backward to have made any progress on their own, which is ignorant and deeply offensive.

Of course this film isn't interested in genuine historical or scientific enquiry. It's really all about making a buck off the gullible (which it most certainly did) and it says a lot about the reach of such crackpot theorizing that this film actually received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. It's this blatant, shameless cynicism that makes Chariots of the Gods genuinely difficult to sit through. Even as an example of the run of laughable paranormal docos that emerged during this era, it's just too dull to even make fun of.
Video
Dreadful. Taken from what looks like analogue tape (itself transferred from a damaged print) this NTSC transfer is just awful. Poor contrast, frequent wobbling on panning shots and faded, washed out colours make this even more of a trial to sit through than it already is. The picture is presented in pan and scan, which is all too obvious from the opening credits, which are cropped and missing parts of words. This is also the first commercially-produced DVD I have ever seen that abruptly cuts off the end credits.
Audio
Even worse than the video, with a Dolby 2.0 track that sounds like an old audio cassette that has been left in a hot car for too long. Music constantly has a distorted, somewhat garbled sound.
Extra Features
One theatrical trailer, running a whopping 46 seconds, is all you get here. Like the film, it's presented in pan and scan, but has even worse video quality, as it appears to have been taken from a VHS tape, complete with tracking faults.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Scenic, picturesque bunk is nonetheless still bunk. Like the writings on which it is based, Chariots of the Gods takes a fanciful theory and then completely fails to back it up with any persuasive evidence. Repetitive, dreary and undeniably racist, the film is a curio only if you're interested in the seventies phase of campy paranormal documentaries. A poor video transfer and dire audio only add to the pain.

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