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Peter T Chattaway

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

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I will say, in my experience, conservative propaganda films usually suck more than liberal ones.

Right, but strictly speaking that wasn't the exact question before us. The exact question was whether the chasm between the two films' critical receptions was accounted for "simply" by the relative merits of the films.

Maybe I'm expounding on the obvious, but my guess is that non-religious people in the United States, who make up a large portion of the media, regard both George W. Bush and Intelligent Design as threats to their way of life in some way or form. Thus they'd be more tolerant of something aimed at one of the threats than of something promoting one of them.

This is not right, though. Propaganda should be treated as propaganda regardless of whether you like/dislike the topic. Assuming both movies are of similar factual quality (I've seen neither so wouldn't be able to say), then no one should get to oppose one more harshly than the other on those grounds without getting called on it. Artistic criticism is a completely different matter, though.

I raised this issue somewhere else because the Christian media, in general, is really really happy about Expelled. These are some of the same people who were really really unhappy about Fahrenheit 9/11. If they criticized F9/11 harshly for being propaganda, it's a breach of integrity (in my mind) to give Expelled a free pass on those grounds simply because they dislike "Darwinism". All of this is assuming that Expelled and F 9/11 are equally propaganda-ish.

Edited by theoddone33

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The tongue-in-cheek Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden (Weinstein) from Morgan Spurlock, the Oscar nominated filmmaker behind the hit doc Super Size Me. The poorly-reviewed pseudo-doc generated a dismal $363 Per Theatre Average on Friday in its 102 engagements,

Some of the same people delivering a poor review to this film gave a poor review to Expelled. This suggests that Expelled is being treated no less fairly than Morgan Spurlock. Morgan Spurlock's film clearly would appeal to the liberal elite critic (at least one assumes). And when I see that pretty much the only people that praise it are the same people who see it as validating their persecution complexes (Donald Wildmon, Ted Baehr, etc)? I think the film got a fair shake. All the Christians that I respect when it comes to judging movies seem to be critical of the film. All the people who praise it are people I would never go to for a movie recommendation.


"You know...not EVERY story has to be interesting." -Gibby

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Some of the same people delivering a poor review to this film gave a poor review to Expelled. This suggests that Expelled is being treated no less fairly than Morgan Spurlock.

Reasonable conclusion -- if you haven't seen both films. I have, and Spurlock's is the inferior film of the two, though not by a great deal -- a complete bait and switch that isn't even about what it purports to be about, entertaining only for about its first fifteen minutes or so. True, Spurlock's not getting a free pass on this one, and he shouldn't; but he's getting better reviews than Expelled is, even from those same reviewers.

Compare my reviews for the two films.

By contrast, read Moore and Means on the two films.

Edited by Greg Wright

Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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Reasonable conclusion -- if you haven't seen both films. I have, and Spurlock's is the inferior film of the two, though not by a great deal -- a complete bait and switch that isn't even about what it purports to be about, entertaining only for about its first fifteen minutes or so.

While Where in the World... isn't anywhere near as good as Super Size Me was, I have to say that it is far better than Expelled. It may be bait and switch, but only if you were to give the title question serious weight. It's shortcoming is not the information it gives, but that it's nothing new. It is at least believable, something Expelled is not. Besides, I probably would buy a used car from Morgan Spurlock. :D


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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It may be bait and switch, but only if you were to give the title question serious weight. It's shortcoming is not the information it gives, but that it's nothing new. It is at least believable, something Expelled is not.

Expectations definitely come into play. Folks who read reviews of Spurlock's film before seeing it are far more likely to be pleased with it than critics, who went in cold.

What I don't understand, Darrel, is the knock on Expelled that it's not "believable." What documentary of that sort is, particularly? (Spurlock's latest doesn't count, because it makes no claims of any sort -- a documentary that documents nothing, really, and isn't very entertaining.) None of Moore's films have been what I consider "believable," though many have been highly entertaining. To my mind, believability is simply not a valid criteria for this type of documentary. If the filmmakers were worried about iron-clad arguments, they'd make a film for PBS or bore theatrical audiences out of their minds.

Should Expelled have at least done a better job of arguing its case? Certainly, and it could have without sacrificing too much entertainment value. Should it have avoided emotion-baiting red herrings like the holocaust and Planned Parenthood? Probably.

I can only think of two reasons that believability can be a knock on Expelled: either Expelled is somehow more underhanded than its peers (which is pretty hard to argue) or its "protagonists" must be inherently untrustworthy or suspect. Is there another factor I'm missing?

I can understand 2 or 3 star ratings for Expelled (out of 4). It's certainly no four-star film, but neither is it a one-star effort (or a zero!). It seems to me that the vast bulk of the critical response to Expelled is of the Baehr or Nicolosi variety: entirely motivated by ideology, not by an objective assessment of the art itself.


Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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I can only think of two reasons that believability can be a knock on Expelled: either Expelled is somehow more underhanded than its peers (which is pretty hard to argue) or its "protagonists" must be inherently untrustworthy or suspect. Is there another factor I'm missing?

I don't think it's at all difficult to argue that Expelled is more underhanded than its alleged "peers."

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I don't think it's at all difficult to argue that Expelled is more underhanded than its alleged "peers."

I haven't seen anyone yet attempt that argument, and I've read a ton of reviews. I'm all ears.

Here's what I had to say in my review:

Frankowski and primary screenwriter Kevin Miller don


Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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What I don't understand, Darrel, is the knock on Expelled that it's not "believable." What documentary of that sort is, particularly? (Spurlock's latest doesn't count, because it makes no claims of any sort -- a documentary that documents nothing, really, and isn't very entertaining.) None of Moore's films have been what I consider "believable," though many have been highly entertaining. To my mind, believability is simply not a valid criteria for this type of documentary. If the filmmakers were worried about iron-clad arguments, they'd make a film for PBS or bore theatrical audiences out of their minds.

Should Expelled have at least done a better job of arguing its case? Certainly, and it could have without sacrificing too much entertainment value. Should it have avoided emotion-baiting red herrings like the holocaust and Planned Parenthood? Probably.

I can only think of two reasons that believability can be a knock on Expelled: either Expelled is somehow more underhanded than its peers (which is pretty hard to argue) or its "protagonists" must be inherently untrustworthy or suspect. Is there another factor I'm missing?

I think Moore's films have a certain level of credibility. Trustworthiness may be a different matter, but there is some credibility in most of his work. Much of what he does is staged in various ways, but I figure most viewers can see through that and see the (for lack of a better word) truth that underlies that. I never felt that with Expelled. It's not just that it's one-sided, that I could live with, but I often had the feeling that people in the film were talking about something other than they appear to be talking about within the context of the film. That's not staging; it's deception.

It offered lots of slight of hand. Stein mentions early on that he wants to make sure this isn't about teaching something that shouldn't be taught, e.g., that the Holocaust didn't happen. But he gives no evidence that ID is qualitatively different from that. But by that mention, he seems to be telling us that it's not in that league of scholarship.

You also seem to see more entertainment in the film than I do. I think it wanted to be, but it wasn't. The final "anyone? anyone?" was probably the highlight of the film.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Greg Wright wrote:

: . . . they don


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I think Moore's films have a certain level of credibility. Trustworthiness may be a different matter, but there is some credibility in most of his work.

Kinda back to the used car thing, eh? Sure, there's no doubt that Moore does his homework and knows his subject -- like most used car salesmen. But he puts that knowledge to work for his own agenda, not for anyone else's. I think your assessment of F9/11 was pretty accurate:

There are certainly some cheap shots. There is some questionable interpretation. There is some tugging on heart strings. I think it also offers an effective indictment of the Administration as well as some charges against Congress and the Press.

Indictment is a key word. What Moore is doing here is much like a prosecutor presenting a case to a grand jury. In a grand jury, there is only one side of the case presented. The prosecutor is not required to present all the evidence - only what (s)he needs to show there is cause to say that charges are justified. The prosecutor only brings forth the witnesses that (s)he thinks will bolster the case.

Much of Moore's case is circumstantial. But circumstantial evidence can be very powerful, especially if one connects the dots as Moore suggests. There are some dots that probably really don't belong, but overall, I think there are some connections to be made. (Of course, it's easy for me to do, I've opposed the war from the beginning, so I start out in agreement with him.)

But that's what I don't like about this style of documentary; these things pander to their target audience way too much. They don't persuade; they pummel. But given that these sorts of films have become a staple in our cinematic diet, fair is fair. And your description of F9/11 seems just as accurate an assessment of Expelled. Neither are to be believed at face value.

Much of what he does is staged in various ways, but I figure most viewers can see through that and see the (for lack of a better word) truth that underlies that.

Sure; but one of the truths we're living with is that the guy feeding our facts to us is playing awfully fast and loose with them. If we don't go out and fact-check him on every point after the flick, we're being snookered or naive. And my gosh, that turns entertainment into a lot of work.

I never felt that with Expelled. It's not just that it's one-sided, that I could live with, but I often had the feeling that people in the film were talking about something other than they appear to be talking about within the context of the film. That's not staging; it's deception.

That's odd; I never got that feeling at all. In fact, I was pretty impressed first: that they actually went and talked to these people directly, rather than just talk about them and what they believe third-hand; second: that they never resorted to clips from other sources (press conferences, interviews, news reels), which could be easily taken out of context and twisted; third: that the the length of clips were pretty substantial; and fourth: that the clips almost never misrepresented what these folks say outside the film (the one notable exception being that final Dawkins bit about aliens; but gosh, he knew the camera was running). And that's a lot more charitable than Moore ever gets. From there, the stock footage insertion stuff is pretty par for the course.

It offered lots of slight of hand.

No argument there; but again, par for the course.

You also seem to see more entertainment in the film than I do.

Probably; but I'd bet that has a lot to do with the fact that I went in with no prior opinion about the topic. As you mentioned in your review: "I knew the film was going to be presenting something I didn


Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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Greg Wright wrote:

: . . . second: that they never resorted to clips from other sources (press conferences, interviews, news reels), which could be easily taken out of context and twisted; third: that the the length of clips were pretty substantial; and fourth: that the clips almost never misrepresented what these folks say outside the film (the one notable exception being that final Dawkins bit about aliens; but gosh, he knew the camera was running).

I dunno. That may be true of how they "used" the Dawkins types. But I wonder about some of the other stuff. When Alister McGrath or John Polkinghorne are quoted -- very briefly -- talking about the compatibility of faith and science, it sounds, in the context of this film, like they are arguing in favour of giving religiously-motivated concepts like ID a place at the scientific table; yet McGrath and Polkinghorne are both subscribers to evolutionary theory and critics of ID who, in actuality, for all we know, might have been arguing in favour of giving evolution a place at the Christian table. Like I say, some ID theorists are actually sensitive to the possibility that McGrath and/or Polkinghorne might not like how they were "used" in this film, and I am curious to hear what McGrath and Polkinghorne themselves would have to say about it.

As for that Dawkins-aliens bit, man oh man, I still think it is profoundly dishonest the way that that scene was constructed. ID proponents like Phillip Johnson have been saying for years that ID is not a theological field of study because ID officially remains agnostic about the nature of the Designer -- might be natural, might be supernatural -- so when Dawkins takes them at their word and runs with the premise and says that IF there were such a Designer it would have to be natural, it's disingenuous in the extreme for ID advocates to suddenly say, "Whoa, how silly! how absurd! he thinks aliens made us?" That just betrays the fact that ID really IS nothing more than religion trying to weasel its way into the science classroom, or whatever. And the way Ben Stein pooh-poohs the idea about "crystals" being part of our evolution isn't very helpful, either; crystals are an excellent example of order coming out of chaos, the very thing that many creationists say never happens naturally.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Hey, that's not fair quoting my own stuff to me. Did you learn that from Stein?

But yeah, I was biased going in and felt duty bound to own up to that bias before I even started my review. The part you quote from my F911 review is I think exactly what I have in mind about the difference between that and Expelled. If I'm on a grand jury (which only hears the prosecutions side of the case) I'd indict on Moore's evidence, even though I know much of it is questionable. I wouldn't on Expelled's; it just fails to make the case of academic censorship in large part because it never makes a case of ID's credibility as theory. Because I knew going in that I was presupposed against the subject, I had in mind try to judge the film on whether it could be seen as a mirror image of Moore's kind of work. If it had been I'd have credited the film as such. I'd have been willing to say "Moore does it on the left, Expelled does it on the right. Goose/gander." But it simply doesn't make the grade.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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it just fails to make the case of academic censorship in large part because it never makes a case of ID's credibility as theory.

No particular argument there; but by comparison, I though F9/11 failed equally. It tried to make the case that Bush was a genius evil mastermind of the likes this country has never seen, and yet cut him out to be so stupid that he can't think his way out of a paper bag. He can't be both; and the latter is a lot easier to believe, given the evidence. And given the nature of the indictment -- that a sitting president conspired with foreign powers to kill his own people for financial profit -- you've got to do a hell of a lot better than what Moore did, and with far more scrupulous honesty.

If were sitting on a grand jury, I wouldn't have indicted in either case.


Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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As for that Dawkins-aliens bit, man oh man, I still think it is profoundly dishonest the way that that scene was constructed. ID proponents like Phillip Johnson have been saying for years that ID is not a theological field of study because ID officially remains agnostic about the nature of the Designer -- might be natural, might be supernatural -- so when Dawkins takes them at their word and runs with the premise and says that IF there were such a Designer it would have to be natural, it's disingenuous in the extreme for ID advocates to suddenly say, "Whoa, how silly! how absurd! he thinks aliens made us?"

Well, fwiw, I came away from that scene taking it exactly the way Dawkins intended it, and it seemed plain to me that the narration responding to it was pure sarcasm. (When I read reviews from friendlies, though, it was plain they weren't taking it that way. And there are lot of ID folks upset with the film on that score, too.) But sure -- arguably dishonest.

But compare to the main narrative thread of F9/11, the woman whose son died in Iraq. Moore's film is constructed to make us think that she was a flag-waving war supporter up until her son died... and then she changed her tune and became a bitter anti-war activist. In reality, she already knew her son had died, and was still a war supporter. She didn't change her mind because her son died; it was other factors. Like, perhaps, having Michael Moore follow her around with a camera crew. That's one of the most disingenuous documentary inventions that I've ever seen, and far more egregious than anything in Expelled. She's free to change her mind, of course, even right to do so; but the way Moore presented it was outright deceit. Very similar to the way he manufactures scenes with Heston in Columbine.


Greg Wright

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Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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But compare to the main narrative thread of F9/11, the woman whose son died in Iraq. Moore's film is constructed to make us think that she was a flag-waving war supporter up until her son died... and then she changed her tune and became a bitter anti-war activist. In reality, she already knew her son had died, and was still a war supporter. She didn't change her mind because her son died; it was other factors. Like, perhaps, having Michael Moore follow her around with a camera crew.

This doesn't seem right. My sense is that yes, Ms. Lipscomb's son was already dead when we first meet her--but while she talks patriotically, she never says she supports the war- so she is recounting her loss of her son; the point is to illustrate the human costs of the war. This is not an act of deceit, but just a gradual reveal. Ira Glass, describing his approach to storytelling, likes to talk about a This American Life episode about a disadvantaged youth, where they let you hear the kid's voice and relate to her first on a human level, before revealing her ethnicity and troubled background, and it subtly allows you connect to her on a human level before putting her in an ideological box.

Compare this to Expelled's account of Sternberg, for example, which is factually wrong on nearly every count. The only way Moore's treatment of Lila Lipscomb could be analagous in terms of the level of deceit would be if Lipscomb's son was actually alive and Moore claimed he had been killed.

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but while she talks patriotically, she never says she supports the war- so she is recounting her loss of her son; the point is to illustrate the human costs of the war.

I only saw the film once, so I don't recall actual words; I do recall the impressions conveyed, and I recall researching the facts after seeing the movie. But yes -- that is Moore's point.

This is not an act of deceit, but just a gradual reveal.

Well, that's certainly one way to look at it -- purely narratively. But the fact is -- and Lipscomb herself confirms this -- that Moore helped shape her thinking about the whole thing well after her involvement began; and not a second of footage of her was filmed from before her involvement with Moore. So Moore doesn't merely document; he manufactures the narrative. And, in essence, uses this voluntary participant as a tool of propaganda. So he doesn't "subtly allows you connect to her on a human level before putting her in an ideological box"; he shapes the box and puts her into it.

Compare this to Expelled's account of Sternberg, for example, which is factually wrong on nearly every count.

I guess that depends on whose version of the events one listens to. I've read through Expelled Exposed's account, and at the worst the Sternberg segment comes off as exaggeration; I've read through Shermer's version, and he makes a stronger case of deception; then you have Sternberg himself -- and what do we do with him, just discount him entirely?; and then there's the Congressional report itself, which naturally I haven't read; and then there's Luskin's version of the account, which makes the movie's version seem like a Sesame Street version of the tale.

So I don't think the film makes its case strongly, as I've said many times now; but I find EE's account pretty much a whitewash, too.

Again -- I'm not defending Expelled. I'm asking for someone to argue convincingly that F9/11 is more objective, and more trustworthy -- enough to warrant the disparity in the critical reception. And still don't see a convincing argument.


Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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Quick thought: You know how this film was originally supposed to come out on Charles Darwin's birthday in February? In the end, it came out two days ago ... two days before Adolf Hitler's birthday. Kind of gives a whole new meaning to "From Darwin to Hitler" (the name of the only book that Ben Stein read all the way through as part of his research for this film; he interviews the author within the film itself).


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Karina calls the first-weekend gross a box-office victory:

The tactic of opening Expelled wide in rural and suburban communities paid off, as the doc made $3.1 million (and almost double per screen what Morgan Spurlock


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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That's the first positive spin I've seen on the numbers.

I do recall some articles proclaiming it was the second biggest open for a Christian movie or something like that.


"You know...not EVERY story has to be interesting." -Gibby

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Christian wrote:

: That's the first positive spin I've seen on the numbers.

Really? What about that Fantasy Moguls "surprise success" evaluation I posted here Friday night? Since then, David Poland (who basically repeats the stats I posted here a few days ago) and Entertainment Weekly ("solid contender") have also posted their basically positive evaluation of the numbers.

Nezpop wrote:

: I do recall some articles proclaiming it was the second biggest open for a Christian movie or something like that.

Eh? It's fifth by my calculations, behind One Night with the King, End of the Spear and the two VeggieTales movies.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Christian wrote:

: That's the first positive spin I've seen on the numbers.

Really? What about that Fantasy Moguls "surprise success" evaluation I posted here Friday night? Since then, David Poland (who basically repeats the stats I posted here a few days ago) and Entertainment Weekly ("solid contender") have also posted their basically positive evaluation of the numbers.

I missed your earlier post. I was thinking of Jeff Wells declaring it "dead" Saturday, after guessing that the per-screen would be around $2,400, if memory serves. I see that Variety has the per-screen at $2,997 -- still not great but an OK number this year for a documentary. Do you think the people behind "Expelled" are happy with that figure?


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Christian wrote:

: Do you think the people behind "Expelled" are happy with that figure?

Kevin Miller seems to be. Don't know about the others.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Nezpop wrote:

: I do recall some articles proclaiming it was the second biggest open for a Christian movie or something like that.

Eh? It's fifth by my calculations, behind One Night with the King, End of the Spear and the two VeggieTales movies.

My memory on that was sketchy...I just remembered you commenting about it being in the all time five or somethin'. :)


"You know...not EVERY story has to be interesting." -Gibby

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FWIW, the totals are in, and Expelled actually came in #10 (not #9) with $2.97 million, for a per-screen average of $2,824. I guess the estimates were off because this movie's target audience is more inclined to do other things on Sunday besides going to movies. :)


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Entertainment Weekly concludes its review: "By the time the camera zooms in on the word 'Creator' in the Declaration of Independence, the whole debate seems less urgent than getting out of the theater." I'd forgotten about that, but the critic is right: One of the big problems with this film is the way it thinks scientific matters can be settled by invoking political rhetoric ("freedom") and political standards (appeals to historic documents, speeches by Ronald Reagan), etc.

Everyone keeps talking about how this movie raises the issue of "academic freedom", but no one ever asks what the LIMITS of that freedom should be. There are limits on all our other freedoms -- the freedom of expression does not allow for libel or slander or yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theatre when there isn't actually a fire there -- and there is no reason why there shouldn't be limits on academic freedom, too. G.K. Chesterton once said that art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere; the same holds true for the sciences, as well. There is a fascinating line in the film, in which self-professed "crank" David Berlinski says, in exasperation, "We don't even know what a species is!" (Ironically, taken literally, this line would undermine creationists more than evolutionists, since it is creationists who insist on a hard-and-fast barrier between the different species such that one could not have evolved from another.) That's a fascinating line, and if this were a better film, it would get us to think about how science "draws the lines" and defines its terms, and what sorts of conversations are possible WITHIN science once we agree on our terms, and what sorts of conservations are NOT possible, etc., etc. Why is it that we study astronomy and not astrology? What makes one hypothesis scientific and not the other? Why do we appeal to the theory of gravity and the like rather than the beating of angels' wings when discussing the forces that keep the planets moving? And so on, and so on.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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