Here in California, there is one of the most powerful observatories in the world, which allows astronomers to look at galaxies millions of light years away; it is estimated that these galaxies contain around fifty million stars like our own Sun, and therefore could be the home to a great number of civilisations. These societies could be like our own - or they could be unimaginably advanced, yet the theorising on these extraterrestrial cultures goes further than that. What if these aliens travelled to our planet thousands of years ago? And what if our ancient civilisations knew far more about them than we ever did?
Erich von Daniken was on to a winner when he wrote his supposedly non-fiction book Chariots of the Gods, which became a bestseller across the globe and has influenced the culture for decades, from science fiction like Doctor Who and Stargate to the similarly conceived writings of Graham Hancock, which also sold well. The idea that the gods of ancient times were actually spacemen is a potent one, and von Daniken delighted in collecting his evidence from archeological sites and tourist attractions from every continent bar Antarctica.
What he didn't let on about was that these ideas were very much based on the interpretation of imagery that he tailored to suit his point of view: talk to an expert on archeology and while they might not have all the answers, they wouldn't go as far as making stuff up about space aliens to fill in the gaps. When it came to making the film, director Harald Reinl and his team certainly clocked up the air miles, travelling to just about every country mentioned in the books to gather footage of the proof, although perhaps for easier sale to countries outside of West Germany, there was very little that could not be dubbed over with narration in an alternative language.
Therefore this meme was disseminated across the planet, and people taking trips to the pyramids of Egypt were left musing over whether the hieroglyphics depicted visitors from distant worlds, and how exactly the blocks used to build the temples and structures were moved without help from antigravity devices or whatever. The film returns to this question again and again, and in truth begins to feel as if they are denigrating the ancient humans, as if to throw their ingenuity back in their faces, telling them that there's no way they could have possibly carried out all these feats of architecture by themselves.
There's little reason to think that they couldn't, of course, but that's not the only fish Reinl and company have to fry. Curiously, there are very few references to the filmmakers, as we occasionally see a lone figure, who we assume is one of the crew, wander into frame so we may judge the size of some monolith, or as happens once, they use "the last of our water" to reveal a carving in stone. Apart from that, this is a droning indoctrination of their lessons, and very repetitive at that, with shots of the wonderful scenery and ruins the main compensation for spending your time with this. Although there are those who find another reason to watch, or rather listen: Peter Thomas's nonstop music on the soundtrack has a cult of admirers too, and you may prefer to ignore the opinions dressed up as facts to appreciate the very seventies tunes instead.