A Few Things Ill Considered

Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy

Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy is a new film from scientist turned filmmaker Randy Olsen (“Rediagnosing the Oceans”, “Flock of Dodos”) and rather than being a film about global warming, it is a film about the making of a film about global warming. Sizzle is also a self described “novel blend of three genres – mockumentary, documentary and reality.” Olsen, as well as directing, is the main character who sets out to emulate Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth but this time featuring the actual scientists.

The challenge of combining three genres is avoiding failure three times. The film needs to stand up when examined from very different angles. While overall I still found it worth watching, viewed from these three different angles Sizzle mostly fizzles.

As a scripted comedy I thought the dialogue was rather contrived and the acting that delivered it was weak. The flakey gay couple Olsen finds as his only financial backers are not witty or fresh enough to carry the cliche that they are, nor do they offer anything original. As for “straightman” Olsen, he was just not very convincing in his annoyed and/or angry outbursts. As a documentary, the film was frustratingly thin on facts and information. Where were the easy rebuttals of Olsen’s “sceptic” camera man’s frequent and amusingly inappropriate interjections during the interviews with the scientists? This was the time to show the audience just how fallacious and weak all of those standard talking points are, straight from the scientist’s mouths. And finally as a reality show, it lacked spontaneity, it was too scripted.

But that said, combining three genres also allows you to add up the good aspects you acheive from each. The comedic premise was funny enough to grab the viewers interest and there were enough chuckles throughout to keep it. I also found it very interesting and revealing to see “in person” the selection of sceptics Olsen featured. (He had on George Chilingar, Bill Gray, Pat Michaels, S Fred Singer and Marc Morano). The working scientists were compelling in their clarity and understated urgency and I think a lay audience would find what they had to say accessible. The “reality” aspect of the film did allow for quite a few entertaining and unpredictable situations.

I think the most compelling acheivement of the film was putting a very human face on the man-made aspects of Hurricane Katrina, an otherwise natural disaster. That calamity is an ominous analogy to the kind of events humanity faces with continued climate disruption.

All in all, I do recommend this film and enjoyed watching it, but given its weaknesses I would not show it to anyone you might be hoping to bring over to the reality side of the global warming debate.

(note: though I am late, this is a part of Science Blog’s “Sizzle Tuesday” where you can read 40+ other reviews)

Comments

  1. #1 llewelly
    July 30, 2008

    All in all, I do recommend this film and enjoyed watching it, but given its weaknesses I would not show it to anyone you might be hoping to bring over to the reality side of the global warming debate.

    Interesting. I will quote at you the take-away bit from the review in Daily Variety :

    Perhaps the most startling aspect for open-minded viewers is that rather than bringing the global-warming debate to a close, “Sizzle” reopens it, and only raises more questions.

  2. #2 coby
    July 30, 2008

    Yeah, the more I think about it, the more that is the most bugging criticism for me, that all the sceptics were left unanswered. Marion’s (the cameraman) objections should have been answered, that would have greatly improved the documentary aspect of the film. And he could have continued to disbelieve and deny, that could have added to the comedic aspects of the film.

    A missed opportunity!

  3. #3 Randy Olson
    July 31, 2008

    I’m hesitant to weigh in on these discussions because when I provide explanations of how the film works I get labeled as being defensive (the negativity in these blog discussions is splendidly relentless).

    But regardless, I’ll offer up one here because we went through this exact same process for “Flock of Dodos” two years ago. Beginning with my executive producer, many people looked at that movie and asked these same questions — why in the world are you allowing the anti-evolutionists to say things unchallenged. A lot of major evolutionists began watching the DVD expecting the movie, given the title, to be an all-out assault on the intelligent design movement. When they found themselves listening to Michael Behe tell his nonsense about Mt. Rushmore some of them shut the film off and sent me insulting emails. But if we had stopped the movie right then and switched into saying, “wrong, wrong, wrong,” we would have lost much of the mass audience.

    Film is not an informational medium. You may want it to be, but the mass audience doesn’t use it in that way. It’s a different language than giving a science lecture. Trust me on this. I spent 20 years giving science lectures, overlapping with 20 years of making films. They are not the same.

    As I said on the Shifting Baselines blog, let’s wait and see if any global warming skeptics organizations come out and endorse the film. It never happened with Dodos. Would be great for our ticket sales with Sizzle. But … it’s not gonna happen. And if you want to know the tell tale sign of a skeptics voice, it’s that they hate the New Orleans segment. Dr. Chill stormed out of the Outfest premiere at that point. That’s not a sign of endorsement.

  4. #4 coby
    July 31, 2008

    Hi Randy, thanks for popping in, I admire your courage in inviting so many people to puplically opine on your creative efforts! I will try not to be relentlessly negative, much less spelndidly so :)

    I agree with your choice to leave Micheals, Singer, Morano et al. unchallenged. And I loved the part where Singer, trying to dismiss IPCC projections was baosting about his consulting work predicting future trends, (what was it again, oil prices?) where he got well paid even though he was never correct! Very revealing!

    So I think I understand what you are aiming at and I never meant to suggest there should have been more lecturing. But I do think it could have added to both the comedic aspects and to the informational if the scientists had provided some kind of answers to Marion’s arguments. He would not have been convinced of course! Then again, if the sober and dry professors were completely unscripted then you can’t really control how they respond, I don’t know.

    How much of those interview segments were “reality show”? I am curious also about the discussions with Naomi Oereskes, was she speaking spontaneously?

    Anyway, all in all I did and do recommend it so I hope the criticisms that are there are constructive. Thanks for the film and you comments here.

  5. #5 Randy Olson
    July 31, 2008

    Your review is great and there are of course a thousand shortcomings with the film, most of which are the result of having a budget of less than 5% of the Al Gore movie. The dynamic with Marion was really fascinating and genuinely produced the interesting results we talk about in the movie of getting two different personalities out of interviewees.

    The entire movie was a strange interweaving of fact and fiction — some staged, some not. The scene of the two crewmen making fun of me was totally unscripted — just their own silliness which I didn’t see (I was out of the room) until a month later when the editor pointed it out to me and I thought it was priceless. And they’re not making fun of the fictitious version of me, they”re ridiculing the real me — Ifeanyi and I have been close friends for over a decade, worked on a number of projects together, clashed over our differing styles at times, but in the end have very similar sensibilities and genuinely took that trip to New Orleans together to see for ourselves how things were two years after Katrina. It’s a very unusual movie with a great deal to it, which we’re still learning from.