Search for the Gods (1975) DVD Review: What, Another Failed TV Pilot? You Bet!

Pre-action star Kurt Russell highlights this amusing piece of '70s pseudoscience schlock.
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In the late '60s, a fellow named Erich von Däniken published a book entitled Chariots of the Gods?, which - among other things, highlighted the concept of ancient astronauts. Now, perhaps it was the seemingly-godless state of the world at the time or the fact that everyone was on drugs then, but it wasn't long until the public had a keen interest in all things pseudoscience shortly after the rather-controversial title's release. Soon after and well into the late '70s, movies and TV shows were popping up left and right that showed ordinary men looking for Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and/or UFOs - whether it was on a fictional basis or "factual" one.

Even in that faraway land of reality, television producers weren't entirely opposed to giving a potential TV series about the exploration of the unknown a chance. In fact, one shining example of such is the 1975 failed TV pilot Search for the Gods, which just happened to be produced and released around the same time by the very same company that brought us Death Among Friends, and which stars Kurt Russell, Stephen McHattie, Ralph Bellamy, and Victoria Racimo.

Clearly designed to cater to younger audiences and the then-whacked-out individuals who now run bizarre blogs and inevitably always sit next to me at coffee shops, Search for the Gods finds a second-billed Stephen McHattie (who, here, in his younger days, resembles an uncanny and appropriately-disturbing cross between Aiden Quinn, Nicolas Cage, and Tom Hiddleston) as a well-to-do son of an east coast federal judge who hitchhiking through that weird-ass world known as New Mexico. When he sees two thugs beating up an old Indian man, he runs to the rescue, and subsequently winds up in possession of a mysterious piece of unknown metal with foreign (or "ALIEN"?!) markings.

Sure enough, the oddity is in fact part of a 50,000-year-old medallion that was broken up into nine parts eons ago. And those thugs assaulting the old man were actually attempting to acquire it, and are secretly under the employ of a wealthy London-based man (veteran TV heavy Albert Paulsen, whose few scenes enshroud him in shadows) who himself has another piece of the medallion. And he intends to get the other one at any cost (read: DANGER!!), and promptly sends out his number one man (Raymond St. Jacques) and one single henchman (the great Carmen Argenziano, who has the most hair I've ever seen him with on film here, and it's a 'fro to boot!) to dreary ol' New Mexico to get it.

Former Disney actor Kurt Russell receives top-billing here in a supporting role that casts him as rather slimy, not-to-be-trusted, barely-old-enough-to-be-a-beer-guzzling "pal" who hooks up with McHattie at the beginning, but who is an essential character just because he seems to be one of the few people in New Mexico with a Jeep or a sense of direction. It's hard to believe when viewing this that just a few years later, Russell would become an action stars.

But of course nobody did view Search for the Gods when it was aired on ABC in 1975, which is probably one of the major reasons why the pilot never materialized into a series. That, or television audiences weren't as high as the ones saving up their money to see The Mysterious Monsters later that year when all of the normal people were watching something entirely more sensible, like a movie about a giant killer fish stalking a small New England community.

Speaking of people getting high, Search for the Gods has one of the most uninspired hallucination scenes ever committed to film, as hero McHattie is put to the test by a tribe of Indian elders. Additionally, the unsold television pilot sports one of the least-captivating (and poorly-edited) car chases I've seen in recent memory, and Kurt Russell's heavier, dark-haired, mullet-sporting stunt double stands out that much more in the Warner Archive Collection's debut of this seldom-seen sci-fi ditty, which presents the TV movie in a satisfactory standard definition transfer with no special features whatsoever. But of course, when you channel the essence of Erich von Däniken on prime time American airwaves, you're an entirely unique kind of special feature all unto yourself.

Naturally, that's why I liked it, and why you will too.

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