“Sizzle” tries, but fizzles

So, as you’ve probably heard and read around here on Scienceblogs and elsewhere, filmmaker Randy Olson has made a new film about climate change. It’s billed as a “mockumentary,” and it’s certainly a mock…something. There are several nuggets of good stuff in the movie, but they unfortunately get lost in the distractions. More after the jump…


In the early portion of the movie, Randy’s wealthy gay benefactors, Mitch and Brian (think “Jack” from Will and Grace times two), say they’re upset about global warming–but “they don’t know why they’re upset.” Why didn’t Randy explain to them why they should be upset about global warming? That would have been a great introduction to the movie, because as it stands, the first half of the film is confusing and simply unfunny.

Randy takes Mitch and Brian along to interview a leading climate scientist at the Scripps Institute–and what comes up but a Hummer carrying his two black cameramen: late, lacking camera gear and unapologetic, talking about call girls and saying “what’s up homie.” One of them, Marion, then interrupted the interview, spewing climate denial talking points. What?

Unfortunately this is the bulk of the first half of the picture–promoting stereotypes as above (and, of course, of scientists as well–transitional “humor” segments pound into our skulls how bad at communicating Randy-the-scientist, who’s all about the data and wants to present it via Powerpoint and figures–is). Olson sets up the evidence for global warming, presented by scientists speaking as, well, scientists, interspersed with interviewers with global warming “skeptics” going on about the “religion” of climate change and the persecution of those who contradict the status quo.

Randy then interviews an environmental spokesperson in DC, and laments that she had “no facts and figures.” Another transitional piece with Brian and Mitch then highlights what happens when people just throw out random facts and figures–but this point is lost in the distracting threat on their part to take away Randy’s funding for the picture.

Finally, at this point in the film it starts to get somewhat better. Randy says he’s making this movie because it’s about the truth. He notes that both sides of the “debate” have people looking at same data but interpreting it in different directions–what is the truth, and how does one get to it? Olson notes in a wrapup summary of the scientists’ and deniers’ positions, showing how the “skeptics” disagree on many of the basic points, and only agree in that they don’t agree with the consensus! This is a theme of “how does one determine who to believe” that is present early on, but never really addressed –another lost opportunity.

And just when it starts to improve, Randy brings in his mother and largely goes backward. Olson could have cut out about 95% of her material, but she does have one important point: even people unaware of the debate know that “winter isn’t winter anymore,” and something is “radically wrong.” She also says that she’s confused about what Olson is trying to do in his film–a concern that is sure to be echoed by the audience at this point in the game, halfway through and still meandering without much of a point.

The scene ends by reinforcing the stereotype that scientists aren’t fun, and with Olson’s mom encouraging him to listen to the people he works with. Finally, improvement. The other cameraman, Antoine, meanwhile has been examining the interviews they’ve done to date, and points out to Randy the difference between scientists’ responses when Randy asks the questions versus when Marion does–they answer in plainer language to Marion, and speak to Randy as a fellow scientist. Ding ding ding, and back to familiar “Dodos” material for Olson.

And at last, we get to the meat. Global warming to scientists are facts, records, models–abstract ideas for most people. What Randy needs to do is make the Average Joe understand what impact climate change can have on their everyday life. To do this, they take a trip to New Orleans in order to examine the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Here, it gets good. Olson has learned the lesson of listening to those who he works with, and listens more than he asks “science-y” questions. We hear the stories of those who experienced, first-hand, the devastation of the hurricane, and who still live with the empty houses as day-to-day reminders of what happened there. The interviews are touching and tragic, but I think for most people it will be too little, too late by this point in the movie.

There are a number of good kernels here–how do you get down to the truth of a scientific controversy? How should scientists communicate effectively? How do you know who to trust? Does science need a celebrity spokesperson to get any attention from the general public? And the final part about Katrina (and a few questions from Marion regarding poverty and climate change earlier in the film–but largely glossed over) does put a human toll on climate change that is often lost in these types of science-based discussions. However, many of these points are lost in the kitsch of Olson’s presentation, in the stereotypes he sets up in the beginning of the film, and in the obvious and annoying gimmicks (such as his 83-year-old mother dressed as a rapper bouncing around a club while “everybody in the club getting tipsy” plays in the background).

What’s still left unexplained is the audience for this “mockumentary.” Scientists–to show us again how to communicate? I don’t know that it really fits this bill. The general public, to teach about global warming? It misses this mark as well–I highly doubt the average person is going to wade through the first hour-plus to get to the good stuff at the end. So what we’re left with is a bit of a disjointed film without an obvious audience. I appreciate what Olson’s trying to do–inject a bit of humor into the global warming conversation, I think–but I just don’t think that the film, as presented currently, quite gets there.

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    July 15, 2008

    Tara – You have a true gift for movie reviews! I’m glad you saw it – so I don’t have to.

    It looks like Randy Olson is a one-trick pony – in search of clowns at the circus – and we discover that the biggest clown is Randy Olson.

  2. #2 cooler
    July 15, 2008

    Global warming is another fraud. The temprature was much hotter in the past and everything was fine, only 2% of CO2 is manmade, the temp dropped from 1940-1970 at the height of CO2 production, and that “smoking gun graph” that Idiot Gore showed, the CO2 increase came after the Temp changes, not before, thats why real scientists dont confuse correlation with causation, something they teach in high school.

    The great global warming swindle is a great film that debunks these lies. Enjoy it!

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4328210425755723540&q=great+global+warming+swindle&ei=QOB8SPHQM4PCqgP8itybCw

  3. #3 Ian
    July 15, 2008

    I’m not sure why you’d expect anything different. I wasn’t very impressed with Olson’s “Flock of Dodos” either. The flock of dodos in the Brit TV series “Primeval” was more entertaining.

    It seems to me that Olson’s earlier movie technique really presaged what he did in the present one, but bloggers here were more lenient with that one because they’ve faced considerably more evolution denialism than they have the climate equivalent.

    And you’re right: Olson needs to properly determine where it is he wants to go and then actually go there. Meandering is only interesting when it applies to the movement of bodies of water!

  4. #4 Scott R
    July 15, 2008

    I too wasn’t terribly impressed with Flock of Dodos, and after this review, I’ll pass on this. It’s a shame, because the goal of getting past problems of style to effectively deliver content is admirable.

  5. #5 Nix
    July 15, 2008

    And by comment #2 the denialists are out, throwing around their long-discredited talking points as if we’d think them new.

    Is there any kind of denialist that *doesn’t* inhabit the comment threads of this blog? (And is there some way we can use them to generate power? It’d solve the energy crisis instantly.)

  6. #6 cooler
    July 15, 2008

    You are so funny. NOT! Labeling anyone who doesn’t support the Governments or UN’s propaganda a “Denialist” is pretty pathetic. You guys remind me of the ID crowd or the people in the trailer parks that still beileive Iraq was going to nuke us, nothing will faslify your views. Only a Zealot would use the term denialist so often.

    I mean if I went to a trailer park and said there were no WMD’s in Iraq they would react the same way you people do, with pathetic ad hominem attacks.

    It’s pretty striking the what you guys have in common with the people that dwell in the trailer park. Both groups are extraordinarily obsequious to authority, while their authority is the Bush Administration, yours is the CDC etc.

  7. #7 Seth Manapio
    July 15, 2008

    Actually, cooler is just a general purpose denialist. My favorite bits are when he decides to support the guys who deny germ theory. Priceless.

    And of course, we have the typical misuse of logical fallacies.. pretending that pointing out that his argument is old, tired, bullshit is an “ad hominem” attack.

    There must be a manual somewhere. These guys have the originality of a school of goldfish.

  8. #8 Gary
    July 15, 2008

    It is one thing to not believe in something, and quite another to go to the lengths of Cooler et. al. In my opinion, their behavior is caused by a desperate need for attention. I think they are all a very immature lot. They prefer derision over being ignored. Kind of sad, really.

  9. #9 cooler
    July 15, 2008

    Dd y ppl vn wtch th vd &qt;Th Grt Glbl Wrmng Swndl&qt; prbbly nt, jst lk y cldn’t gt smbdy n th trlr prk t wtch Fhrnht 9/11 r smlr typ f flm. mzng wht ppl lk Gry t l hv n cmmn wth thr frnds t th trlr prk. Chrs Rck hd grt qt bt y gys nd yr trlr prk frnds. &qt;nyn tht mks p thr mnd bfr thy hr th ss s fckng fl………..b fckng prsn, lstn, lt t swrl rnd yr hd thn frm n pnn&qt; Chrs Rck H’s tlkng bt y gys! Thy vry fct nthng wll flsfy yr vws n Glbl wrmng, vccns HV tc, t th pnt y wn’t vn clck n th vd, nd vn f y dd y wld wtch t wth sch drsn y wldn’t blv t n mttr wht vdnc ws prsntd, prvs tht thr s pthlgclly wrng wth y ppl. Y nvr thnk &qt;thrty&qt; r mnfctrd &qt;cnsnss&qt; cn b wrng. Chrs rck pts y gys n yr plc. http://www.ytb.cm/wtch?v=msykVLzvY

  10. #10 truth machine
    July 16, 2008

    If you’re going to say anything useful about communication, you have to say something about the vast resources that the corporations have put into disinformation and how the Bush administration has hidden information rather than play the sort of role that a government of/by/for the people would. To pin the problem on the supposed inability of scientists to communicate is stupid. But that’s Randy Olson for you.

  11. #11 SLC
    July 16, 2008

    It should be pointed out that the Bobbsey twins of framing, Mooney and Kirschenbaum think the movie is great. I haven’t bothered to go to Prof. Nisbets’ blog but it wouldn’t surprise me if he thinks likewise.

    http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2008/07/sizzle_the_funniest_global_war.php

    http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2008/07/randy_olsons_sizzle.php

  12. #12 Tara C. Smith
    July 16, 2008

    I’ll note for cooler and any other global warming “skeptics” lurking that even the critics interviewed for the film don’t deny that global warming has happened. What they disagree with the mainstream has to do with 1) if it was caused by humans or is part of a natural cycle; 2) if it’s actually important or “exaggerated;” and 3) if we can or should do anything about it. I don’t think there was a single one who denied that the earth had warmed over the last 100 or 150 years.

  13. #13 cooler
    July 16, 2008

    Yes, the skeptics claim the sun is driving the warming, and the recent warming is insignificant, for while it might have risen in the last 100 years, if you look at the last 1000’s of years its gotten much hotter before.

    The link I posted above doesnt work anymore here is the new link.
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5397728631629262815&q=great+global+warming+swindle&ei=JVp-SK-BEYGEqAOHqo3aAg

    Excerpts from Paul Joseph Watsons review of the movie.
    – Earth’s 4.5 billion year history is one long story of climate change. There were several periods in history, notably the Medieval Warm Period and the Holocene Maximum, which were much warmer than today. In the 17th century, Europe experienced the Little Ice Age, where temperatures were so consistently chilly that ice skaters revelled on the completely frozen London Thames.

    – From the 1940’s until the 1980’s, the Earth experienced a significant cooling period, despite the fact that industrial production and release of CO2 vastly accelerated during this time. This led to political and media scaremongering about global cooling, the threat that the earth was in the midst of a new ice age. The documentary featured telling clips from alarmist documentaries at the time that implored us to try and reverse the trend of worldwide temparature decrease or face meterological apocalypse.

    – Antarctic ice core samples show that the rise in carbon dioxide levels lags behind temperature rise by 800 years, therefore cannot be the cause of it. The documentary exposes how Al Gore, in his film Inconvenient Truth, deliberately reverses these figures to claim CO2 causes temperature change, when in fact the opposite is the case.

    – If the Earth was laboring under an accelerated greenhouse effect caused by human produced CO2, the troposphere (the layer of the earth’s atmosphere roughly 10-15km above us) should heat up faster than the surface of the planet, but data collected from satellites and weather balloons doesn’t support this fundamental presumption.

    – The human contribution to carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is minimal in comparison to other natural means, including volcanic emmission and CO2 produced by animals, bacteria, decaying vegetation and the ocean. The human “carbon footprint” is vastly outweighed by all of these factors.

    – Sun spot and solar radiation activity almost exactly parralel temperature change on the Earth. “Solar activity very precisely matches the plot of temperature change over the last 100 years. It correlates well with the anomalous post-war temperature dip, when global carbon dioxide levels were rising.” The increase of cosmic rays produced by the Sun prevents the formation of clouds, which have a cooling effect on the planet, therefore the temperature rises.

    – The UN’s much vaunted IPCC report was heralded as closing the case on the argument of man-made global warming. But as the show explains, the IPCC’s conclusion was politically driven and they deliberately censored any dissenting scientists while still listing them as participants, leading many to threaten legal action against the IPCC to have their names removed from the report. Scientists who were invited to participate in the IPCC report expose the fundamental flaws contained throughout the document.

    – In the 1980’s a strange alliance between Margaret Thatcher’s right wing government and the environmental left was formed to promote the idea of man-made global warming. Thatcher’s agenda was to force the country to adopt nuclear power because she trusted neither the oil-rich Middle Eastern powers nor her own country’s rebellious coal mining unions, therefore a propaganda war against fossil fuels was initiated.

    – The documentary also highlights how elements of the scientific community exploit global warming hysteria in order to receive fast-track funding by simply tagging on a global warming aspect to their area of study. Scientists who attempt to obtain grants for research that could contradict the man-made explanation are shunned by the political establishment and further villified as akin to Holocaust deniers by the radical environmental left and elements of the media.

    The hypocrisy of the environmental left in framing the global warming issue as big business against the people and their romanticisation of poverty was supremely exposed in making the case that the man-made global warming bandwagon has devastated Africa’s development and is directly contributing to third world famine, illness and disease.

    “There is somebody keen to kill the African dream, and the African dream is to develop. We are being told don’t touch your resources, don’t touch your oil, don’t touch your coal; that is suicide,” says a Kenyan development expert who is featured in the program.

    Another segment shows an African hospital struggling to cope with such stringent restrictions, being forced to choose between running one refrigerator or turning the lights on because their only power source comes from solar panels that are unable to provide anywhere near the required energy.

    The establishment left has already attempted to savage the documentary, but the Guardian’s Zoe Williams cannot address the evidence, instead attacking the messenger by discrediting one participant from Winnipeg University, and selectively ignroing the roster of other experts which included MIT and Princeton professors.

    We expect the full documentary to be posted to Google Video in the next day or so and will make it widely available to our readers so that they can enjoy the opportunity to view this powerful presentation which provides a breath of fresh air in a world driven mad by belliose and flawed global warming hysteria.

  14. #14 ildi
    July 17, 2008

    I’m in awe! Is there any topic on which cooler is not an expert? What a renaissance person! (So many left-wing conspiracies, so little time…)

  15. #15 cooler
    July 18, 2008

    I love it when people resort to 5 second soundbytes and demagougery to avoid an evidence based debate.

    Ildi,
    Why did the temprature drop from 1940-1980 when Man made CO2 was being produced at record amounts during the post WW2 industrial boom?

    Why was it much hotter in the past and society was just fine and dandy? (Medieval warm period and Holocene Maximum)

    Why focus so much on man made CO2 when the vast majority of Co2 is natural?

    Why did a top expert in the film actually examine the ice core record and show that the temprature rises come and then the Co2 rises 800 years later? Proving CO2 as an effect of high tempratures, not a cause.

  16. #16 idlemind
    July 20, 2008

    Finally we understand the motivation behind the moniker “cooler.” I can’t say I’m surprised.

  17. #17 pat
    July 23, 2008

    why sitting on our asses about global warming is a bad idea…hint: “risk management”

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