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Sizzle
A lot of people are going to not-like this film.

Some are going to not-like it because it is a lousy documentary about global warming. The fact that this is NOT a documentary (about global warming or anything) will be lost on those individuals, so they will have wasted their time and their ticket money. Some are going to not-like it because the film makes fun of glacks and bays. Or blacks and gays. Or whatever. Those will be the humorless keepers of what is correct vs. what is not correct. How boring that life must be….

Some are going to not-like it because they don’t get the jokes. Funny, that.

A small number will go ahead and not-like this film because they see it as an indictment of scientists and their ability to communicate. Those would be (some of) the scientists. But we will probably not understand what they are saying about the film. For obvious reasons….

What did I think about SIZZLE: A Global Warming Comedy?

Well, I thought it was a lousy documentary on the global warming issue, a little over the top on the gay and black humor, and was way too subtle in its overall humor level. Regarding the science communication part, I’ll say something about that later.

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The world premiere of Sizzle: A Global Warming Documentary is planned for July 19th at the Outfest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Hollywood. On the east coast, the film will open at the Woods Hole Film Festival.
In other words, I totally loved it!

It made me laugh again and again. The approach Olson took … the substrate on which he built the improv that makes this film unique … was interesting and provocative. Altmanesque, in a way. SIZZLE is An Inconvenient Truth meets Get Shorty.

I had a little argument with some people as to if this is a mocumentary or a documentary. I’m willing to concede that SIZZLE is neither. It is a film that involves the conversation about global warming. It mocks, and a good part of that mocking it of itself as a film, but it also mocks outwardly as a documentary might do.

Here’s the pitch. Randy Olson, a former marine biologist turned film maker, plays the role of Hapless Randy Olson, former marine biologist turned film maker. Hapless Randy is shunned by the Hollywood establishment but finds support from a wealthy and eccentric couple played by Mitch Silpa (David Blaine Steet Magic) and Brian Clark (currently working with the Jim Henson Company). Silpa and Clark’s characters collect oddities of all sorts. In SIZZLE, we see them collect Hapless Randy and his film project about an issue over which these two men feel very passionate … Global Warming.

The fact that the couple cannot identify why they feel passionately about Global Warming is a metaphor for Global Warming as a litmus test hot button liberal issue. The fact that in the middle of the film’s production they drop their interest in Global Warming because a much more relevant issue (a skin rash) comes along is a metaphor for the capricious nature of the Middle Class (like all those crypto-conservative middle class women who are flocking to McCain at the moment). Silpa and Clark’s main (failed) efforts in support of the film are to entice a big star to sign on. But their real contribution may be in supplying the camera and sound crew … two brothers from the hood to whom they owe some joss. The brothers turn out to be central to Hapless Randy’s eventual transformation (which, you are thinking as you watch the first half of this film, has gotta happen eventually….)

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Alex Thomas
Thusly, Hapless Randy’s camera man, played by Alex Thomas (In Living Color, Jamie Foxx Show, etc.), and Randy engage in an epic struggle of cultural conflict. Neither understands the other. Randy demands that Thomas’s character tows the line and simply does his job as a camera man, but Thomas cannot stop himself form interrupting Randy’s interviews with various climate scientists. Thomas bonds with the scientists more easily than Randy, and ultimately – and this is the key point – asks them better questions.

The degree of cultural disconnect between Hapless Randy and Brotha’s in the Hood camera crew is underscored when Randy’s mother arrives to help edit the film. Randy orders the production crew to make sure these two guys stay away from his mom, or who knows what sorts of bad things will happen to her! If you are familiar with Randy’s mom (from her role in Flock of Dodos, perhaps) you can easily imagine what happens next.

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Randy Olson
Eventually, it is the mild mannered sound man, played by Ifeanyi Njoku (producer of Straight Clownin, Who Knows the Band, etc.) who sends Hapless Randy in the best direction for the completion of his film … to New Orleans, where the rubber hits the road with respect to the Global Warming issue … to speak with the victims of Katrina who are still trying to get their lives together.

I haven’t yet said much about the scientists, or the issue of communication by scientist of their often very important messages. Randy pulls no punches on his position regarding Global Warming (he thinks it is real and is opposed to it). But he is totally fair, and perhaps even bends over backwards a bit, in giving a set of actual climate scientists (who ‘believe’ in Global Warming) and mainstream climate skeptics (who don’t, or at least don’t think it matters) roughly equal play. He also plays the climate and environmental scientists against themselves … showing them sometimes struggling with the communication process, then popping out of nowhere and suddenly making a lot of sense, making their point quite clearly.

Throughout the film, Randy asks the experts the same three questions about Global Warming: is it real, did we do it, can we fix it. The clear message of the film is: Yes, yes, hopefully yes.

I’m going to agree with some of the criticisms that I allude to in the beginning: This film does not teach us much, really, about Global Warming, and it may be a bit subtle in its humor.

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Muffy Moose Olson
This is a film that makes you work a little. You have to pay attention to what is running in the background. You, the viewer, will have to piece together some of the parts yourself, perhaps a little more than would be ideal. But overall I did like it quite a bit. SIZZLE: A Global Warming Comedy helps define a genre that may have opened up with Olson’s earlier film, Flock of Dodos: self-mockumentation. Make your point with the usual reference to balance, but make it clear where you stand (Randy’s three questions in the film constitute the entire message). At the same time, use some biting self criticism to serve up a nice juicy side of self reflective humble.

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Other write ups, reviews, and interviews:

New England Film: Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy to Heat Up Woods Hole Film Festival

Grist Interview: Reel Funny

Greg Laden’s Blog: An Interview with Randy Olson, Maker of Sizzle

L.A. Times Greenspace: Sizzle: A global warming mockumentary

Film Information:

Production Company:
Prairie Starfish Productions
Raleigh Studios
5254 Melrose Ave. Suite D-112
Hollywood, CA 90038
PH: (323) 960-4517
FAX: (323) 871-5600 Attn: D-112

Randy Olson’s synopsis:

What do you do when everyone feels they’ve heard enough of an important subject? This is the problem with two of the greatest issues facing the United States today — global warming, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The former may be the greatest future threat for Americans, the latter is arguably the saddest chapter in the history of the United States. Yet the general public feels saturated on both subjects. Part of this is due to the excellent films by Al Gore on global warming (“An Inconvenient Truth”) and Spike Lee on Hurricane Katrina (“When the Levees Broke”). Both films explored the issues in depth, but global warming is an on-going problem and the full impact of Hurricane Katrina still has not been grasped by the American public.

“Sizzle” is a movie that takes account of this situation and attempts to explore these two topics through something the public can never get enough of — entertainment. To lead the viewer back into this heavy, serious material we use a humorous mockumentary storyline as a device. Extra amusement is tossed in through the “reality” premise of a cameraman who is a global warming skeptic and genuinely interrupts the interviews with the experts. And eventually the film weaves in documentary elements in a manner to put the two issues into context.

The film also presents a new approach to the political side of global warming. Al Gore, with his film, chose to ignore the existence of global warming “skeptics,” and instead focused on the “consensus” of scientists who feel global warming is a crisis. But on June 6, 2008 the U.S. Senate rejected the largest current piece of legislation intended to address global warming. The bill did not even get a majority of votes, much less the sixty votes needed to pass (and head to the House before needing to be signed by the President). It was a significant failure for global warming politics.

“Sizzle” takes a different approach by introducing six prominent “skeptics” of global warming. They do not come off particularly well, and what is revealed is a great deal of disagreement among themselves over whether global warming is even happening, if it’s caused by humans, and whether humans can do anything to stop it. The Al Gore strategy of ignoring the opposition is similar to the failed strategy of John Kerry in ignoring the Swift Boat Veterans who attacked him. “Sizzle” suggests the time has come to take on the opposition directly, show the public they do not have a case, and seek a new pathway in getting the United States to provide world leadership in this crucial issue.

Comments

  1. #1 clinteas
    July 15, 2008

    Ahem,

    call me a conspiracy theorist,but can someone explain to me why Abbie,Greg Laden and PZ all apparently posted a review of this fling that only comes out in 4 days at the same time,and in the middle of the night at that?

  2. #2 Ian
    July 15, 2008

    They’re all around the same time – 5am – hardly the middle of the night! It looks like there was some sort of embargo on it and all the reviews were let loose at the same time.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    July 15, 2008

    Clinteas: If you would turn off your freak’n Ad Blocker you would know that we’ve been advertising this moment … and it is more like twenty different Sb bloggers … as a major event!!!! Ian, not an embargo, but simply, an event! Yea!!!

    Fifty bloggers across the blogosphere, I actually announced this several days back.

    By the way, I just installed adblocker in my firefox 3.0 and it works great.

  4. #4 MH
    July 15, 2008

    There is a facility on SB that allows you to auto-post articles at a certain time. The SBloggers all got previews of the movie (Olson is a ScienceBlogger), and I suspect that it was a condition that the earliest time they could post reviews was 5AM.

    Just my guess. No black helicopters required.

    ;-)

  5. #5 MH
    July 15, 2008

    LOL @ Greg.

    I’ve used AdblockPlus for years now, and it never occurs to me that I’m ever missing anything important. Thanks for the info.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    July 15, 2008

    Oh right, yes, most blogging software lets you post in advance. No, we were not all hanging around ’til 5AM eastern. That may have gotten ugly…

  7. #7 clinteas
    July 15, 2008

    Hey Greg,

    how is one meant to survive without adblock and flashblock mate?
    So dont blame me LOL…

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    July 15, 2008

    I need to investigate flashblock

  9. #9 themadlolscientist
    July 15, 2008

    Greg: Get Flashblock RITE NAO. =LOL=

    I know I said it on another thread, but it’s worth saying again: with Flashblock I can keep 30-40 tabs open at a time on an ancient G4-400 with a puny 384mb of RAM by not loading a flash unless I really, really want to. (Right now I’ve got 48 tabs open.) Without it, FF gets hung up on page loads and occasionally crashes completely.

    Try it, you’ll like it. kthxbai.

  10. #10 Michelle
    July 15, 2008

    Muffy Moose is clearly a star.

  11. #11 Jackie
    December 27, 2008

    Just let me vent for a bit…. I am watching “An Inconvenient Truth” for the 1st time. I have an environmental professor who contests the “science” Gore presents in the film, so I wanted to see for myself. I wanted to see the scientific info about global warming, which Gore does deliver on (even if one cannot be certain whether he is actually scientifically correct), but then he also mixes in all the political stuff about how he really won the popular vote in 2000 and other little digs regarding Bush, et al. Why?? It makes him sound like an inconvenient sore loser – Gore lost; he should get over it already. Making this film political really takes away from Gore’s purported goal of focusing the public on the global warming problem. I really wanted to find out more info on this issue, but Gore’s lecture comes off more like a self-serving diatribe by a holier-than-thou preacher. This is actually ironic, considering that Gore lives in a 16,000 sq ft house – how much energy does it take to heat that mansion??? I am very disappointed.

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