Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kate: Some Sizzle, some fizzle

When it comes to passion, Randy Olson is the Michael Moore of science. Like Moore or Morgan Spurlock, Randy is due for a movie that truly showcases his fervor and sharp tongue. Sizzle doesn't quite hit that mark, in large part because Randy is hugely upstaged by co-stars Ifeanyi Njoku and Alex Thomas.

Sizzle takes on not just global warming and how to talk about science, but also the difficulties of funding and filming a documentary in Hollywood. With so many satirical targets and a mix of actors and real interviews, the movie spreads itself a bit thin. It's not clear what audience Sizzle is looking for -- scientists who want to be better speakers? Environmentalists worried about sounding 'hysterical'? Moms from Kansas looking for crackin' joints on Belmont St.?

While any of those groups will gain something from Sizzle, Njoku and Thomas are the reasons to see the film. Whether they're authentically conflicted about global warming or just acting the part well, it's their story that draws you in, which is, of course, part of the point of the film. As the cameraman and sound guy, Njoku and Thomas ask the real questions that a regular person asks about science and global warming: why should I care? The answer is less about polar bears than about the impacts on your daily life, and not in a theoretical way.

The Randy in Sizzle kept saying lines I know he doesn't believe and he could barely say straight-faced, like "use what always works, which is data." Sizzle succeeds when it delivers real people and stories, from determined and abandoned New Orleans residents to the sparkling Dr. Naomi Oreskes, who deserves her own show. We're a story-hungry nation; Sizzle reminds us that it's not who controls the data that determines policy, it's who tells the best stories.

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