I went to see Expelled yesterday. I am happy to report it was a private screening. Had the theater to myself. Last time that happened was when I saw Snakes on a Plane (a far more scientifically accurate film, by the way).
Granted, it was a Monday night. Indeed, when I go to see movies I nearly always do so on Mondays or Tuesdays specifically to avoid the crowds. The fact remains that for a new release I can typically count on about a dozen people watching the film with me. And let’s not forget that I am living in a town that is — how shall I put this? — somewhat right of center politically. Should have been a ready-made audience for this dreck. Indeed, the low turnout even made me scotch my plans to write a letter to the editor of the local paper urging people to check out the Expelled Exposed website. Why call attention to the film if no one else seems to care?
Short review: The best part was the trailer for Get Smart that ran before the movie. (No, Steve Carrell does not do the voice.)
Long review below the fold.
Folks, this movie is seriously boring. Granted, I am not an unbiased source. But I can honestly say this is one criticism I did not expect to be making. I was expecting to be laughing at the funny parts, getting angry at the getting angry parts, and hating myself all the while for getting sucked into the sick little Spock-with-a-goatee world the creationists and ID folks have created for themselves. It didn’t happen. This movie is capital-B boring. I find this subject enthralling and still couldn’t manage to pay attention.
The movie is, of course, a pack of lies from start to finish. How bad is it? The opening scene shows Ben Stein at a podium lecturing about freedom and America’s greatness to an auditorium filled with Pepperdine University students, several of whom are seen stroking their chins thoughtfully while Stein does his thing. Only they are not Pepperdine students, who it turns out are too savvy to have anything to do with this. Turns out they are extras.
From here we get a whirlwind tour through the annals of Darwinian oppression. The most pathetic here was Discovery Institue flak Michael Egnor. It seems that after he started expressing his creationist sympathies at the Discovery Institute blog he faced the full wrath of the Darwinian establishment. As he tells the story, and if you are not already doing so I recomment sitting down, some bloggers wrote nasty things about him! Also pathetic was journalist Pamela Winnick. Apparently when she started turning her news articles into platforms for adovcating ID, the Darwinan steamroller of doom revved up and — wait for it — people criticzed her!
Folks, oppression just ain’t what it used to be.
Of course, the usual martyrs were also trotted out. Rick Sternberg, Caroline Crocker, Guillermo Gonzalez. Yawn, Yawn, and Yawn. In each case the film either relied on outright distortions of the facts or pretensions that ordinary hardball criticism now consitutes oppression.
But here’s the thing. This portion of the film, which did at least have some interesting human drama, goes by very quickly. It seems that Stein couldn’t wait to persuade us all that ID is good solid science, and toward that end he trotted out the usual flunkies to tell us that it was. So here comes Paul Nelson, Steve Meyer, William Dembski and a motley crew of other bitter, hapless, creationist superstars. And they run through the usual talking points, careful to be as boring as possible so as to convince their witless fans that they are, indeed, serious scientists. The cell is really complex! Design is scientific! We should follow the evidence wherever it leads! We just want to be heard! It’s a battle of worldviews! Waaaaaaaa!
Cry me a river folks.
It is difficult for me to convey in words precisely how unintersting this portion of the film was. There’s little hope of understanding anything these folks are saying unless you were already well-versed in the subject, and if you were then you were certainly not in the film’s target demographic. Yet it goes on and on and on. And on.
Of course, this was public face ID that was on parade, so everyone was quick to remind us that the designer may not be God and that all of this had nothing to do with religion. Stein, I am happy to report, was having none of it. Oh, he nodded at all the right moments and pretended to go along with it, but then spent a good chunk of the movie getting various scientists (Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, Peter Atkins and others) to make snide remarks about religion. The whole movie is so God suffused it feels like a revival. Stein certainly leaves no doubt that God is the designer he has in mind, rather undercutting the intended message of ID’s leading spokesflaks.
The final scene in the film is a Stephen Colbert-like interview between Stein and Dawkins. As far as I can tell the point of this segment was for Stein to ask Dawkins the very dumbest questions he could think of, and then chuckle as Dawkins struggled to reply intelligently to them. It’s funny when Colbert does it. The strange thing here is that Dawkins comes off looking pretty good. The set-up to the scene is a voice-over by Stein boasting of how he is unafraid of the Darwinian horde and that he was going to confront Dawkins. But the main question he wnated answered was, “So you don’t believe in any God, anywhere?” or something like that. He kept repeating it over and over again, even after Dawkins replied that he did not, in fact, believe in any Gods. Then Stein started listing specific gods. How about the Hindu gods, do you believe in any of them? And then he was back to the any God, anywhere nonsense.
There was, of course, another segment to the film. That was where Stein, after assuring us that he wasn’t blaming the holocaust on Darwinism, proceeds to blame the holocaust on Darwinism. Just in case you were worried that this segment was insufficiently offensive and tasteless (not to mention historically misinformed), Stein is quick to remind us that the spirit of the holocaust lives on in the form of Planned Parenthood, abortion and stem-cell research. He trots out a rogue’s gallery of cranks for hire (David Berlinski, Richard Weikart, Steve Fuller) to help him make his case. Berlinski, for example, assured us that while Darwinism was not sufficient to lead to the holocaust, it was necessary for it. Ahem. I’m pretty sure attemps to exterminate the Jews long predate Charles Darwin, but why bother with such details.
I won’t waste your time fulminating about the tawdriness of all this. I’ll just remark that for anyone with any interest at all in facts or logic this film simply confirms that the ID folks and the right-wing propaganda machine that supports them are just about the most odious, soulless, conscience-free, dishonest, lying, political hacks on the planet.
We should mention the sheer ineptitude of the filmmakers as well. Frequently there are people braying at you from the screen with no identifying tag to tell us who these people are. Every few seconds the action is interrupted to show us some stock, black and white footage meant to reinforce the message being spouted by whoever was talking. (For example, some ID flak would tell us of the Gestapo like tactics of the evil Darwinian stormtroopers, and then there would be a cut to some black and white footage of a policeman writing a ticket for some hapless driver.) The interviews with the good guys are so clumsily edited that even the most die hard right-winger has to start wondering what got left on the cutting room floor. The film has so many false endings, where a suitably dramatic line is uttered followed by a fade to black, that I had my jaacket on a full fifteen minutes before the film mercifully ended.
That’s about it. It seems the movie grossed under three million dollars on its opening weekend. This despite opening on a thousand screens. (For comparison, Michael Moore’s Sicko raked in 23 milion opening on fewer than half that number of screens.) Considering that prior to the opening the producers themselves offered fifteen million dollars as the threshold for what constitutes success, and figuring that they surely lowballed that figure as part of the expectations game, I’d say the film’s performance has been pretty embarrassing.