I know what a documentary film is. I know what fiction is. And I know what a mockumentary is: a fictional documentary. Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy attempts to combine these approaches within the framework of comedic fiction, and it left me really confused.
Director and narrator Randy Olson exists, I know that. But what about the scientists he interviews? Are all of them real? Some of them? None? There certainly are a few pretty outlandish characters there. Yet the only people in the movie I could be entirely sure must be played by actors were the in-movie camera man and sound guy, because they appear on screen as they couldn’t if they had actually been shooting and recording. But that in turn suggests that every scientist that interacts with the fictitious camera man is also acting, at least to some extent. And that guy is one of the film’s main characters, who talks to everybody. What am I supposed to do — Google everybody on my handheld to check their ontological status as I watch the movie?
I have to rate this film from two different perspectives: as a documentary and as comedic fiction. On one hand it’s a sitcom about in-movie Olson having to deal with cliché gay airhead producers, his camera man interrupting his interviews, and everybody being more interested in celebrities than scientists. And in this perspective the film’s mildly funny. Olson is a decent comedian.
On the other hand, Sizzle can’t escape comparison with An Inconvenient Truth. In some sense, this is marine biologist Dr. Randy Olson communicating about global warming. We learn that he thinks a) it’s a serious issue, b) we cause it, c) we need to do something about it. And we learn (if we didn’t already know) that global warming denialism is a tiny minority position among scientists. But Olson doesn’t offer any data or argument for the audience to mull over. In fact, he ridicules the idea of presenting data in a documentary. Instead it’s on from one talking head to another via comic relief scenes with the camera man. Denialists are given equal screen time. To the extent that Olson offers any constructive ideas to the issue, it seems mainly to be that if everybody got to see a polar bear they would care more about them, and if/when Hurricane Katrina repeats itself, everybody will start to take the issue seriously.
As far as I can see, the film doesn’t even try to deliver a serious message. It’s more like Olson secured funding to do a documentary but got bored and decided to put the money into a low-budget comedy starring himself instead. Then, as an afterthought, he tacked some criticism of the New Orleans rehabilitation efforts onto the end of the thing.
Even if it reaches a large audience, I can’t really see Sizzle influencing US public opinion — and thus policy decisions — on global warming. Indeed, I’m not sure if Randy Olson has any such hopes for it. If he does, I’d humbly advise him not to blur the distinction between fact and fiction next time.