Adam Welz's Weblog

“Sizzle” – movie review

Posted in ALL BLOG POSTS, random bits by adamwelz on July 15, 2008

Hi All

Randy Olsen asked me and a few dozen other bloggers to review his latest movie, “Sizzle”, which is being launched into the world more-or-less now.

Here goes:

The film opens with Randy Olsen, or, more precisely, Randy Olsen playing a simulacrum of something like himself, on a mission. As a scientist-turned-filmmaker, he’s really worried about climate change, and really impressed by the impact that Al Gore’s famous film has made. One thing bothers him about “An Inconvenient Truth”, however — it’s all Al Gore and no scientists. He thinks that what we need now is a global warming film with real academics up front. One problem: The movie money men don’t agree with him. Penniless and desperate, he quickly lands up with worse than second best; a couple of entertainingly clueless producers (who can’t tell Scientologists from scientists) and an argumentative, tardy, low rent film crew (who drive a Hummer, no less).

Randy & Co. travel the USA, flipping between mockumentary and documentary mode, interviewing both mainstream global warming scientists and global warming skeptics in roughly equal measure. (One of the skeptics, a Dr Chillingarian, is so bizarre he can only be real; think shiny transvestite crossed with central American serial killer, weird sunglasses, a midday champagne habit, lots of peer-reviewed publications, military decorations, an Honduran honorary consulship and you’re somewhere close. The film is worth the ticket just to see him.) As their journey progresses things come unstuck. The film crew interrupt Randy’s interviews, the skeptics are more compelling than the ‘reality-based’ mainstream global warming scientists, and the spokesperson for a big environmental group that Randy hopes will save the day for his film is utterly, excruciatingly, hopeless with the facts and figures that matter.

Randy, down in the dumps, thinks the game is up. His film will never be finished – he simply does not have the material he needs. It’s up to one of his crew members to remind him that the story of global warming is a human story, not a science story. It’s about people, their feelings, and how their lives might be affected by rising sea levels, hurricanes, droughts and so on. The crew end up in New Orleans, still rather unrepaired years after Katrina, and find these human stories, real, poignant and compelling.

The message? Forget the simple recitation of facts and figures — they won’t change anyone’s mind. Ground the facts and figures in personal, powerful, emotional experience, and you might get somewhere.

At least, I think that’s what the message is. Olsen’s previous film, “A Flock of Dodos”, showed how mainstream evolutionary biologists were being blindsided by communication-savvy, characterful, ‘Intelligent Design’ propagandists, and “Sizzle” is another attempt to wake them up to their media mediocrity. But “Sizzle” is perhaps too complex a beast to convey the value of clear communication, unless it aims to make the point by itself failing to consistently put a well-framed and credible message across.

The movie is a poly-faceted genre intersexual; part-comedy, part-documentary, part-mockumentary, semi-ironic, sometimes-serious, fragmentarily-‘real’, segmentially-acted, and so on. I was somewhat cast adrift while watching, distracted between message and meta-message, bouncedĀ up and down aroundĀ in-jokes, in-your-face-jokes and seriously-not-jokes. Although where it ends up, with the real stories of New Orleans, certainly is compelling and believable, I am still unsure how Katrina actually is connected to global warming, or if what the mainstream scientists say is credible – the waters are so well-muddied by the skeptics. (And Dr Chill is so odd that he visited me in my dreams even before I went to sleep, scrambling my brain even further.)

What was missing for me was a strong thread to follow throughout the film, and as a result I found myself feeling a bit flat in between the ‘good bits’. Randy’s journey is clearly intended to be that thread, but I was not invested enough in him to want to follow him too closely through all his complex misadventures. I think the reason for this feeling was that the film doesn’t show very much of his initial struggle to get the film funded – one failed meeting with the suits is all it takes for him to fall in with his limp-wristed Tweedledum and Tweedledummer production crew, and from then on his character seems completely overwhelmed by events, tossed about on the seas of fate, rather than struggling valiantly to succeed against all odds.

Randy’s character, in other words, is not a hero but a bit of a nebbish who is saved by his crew. Heroes are so much easier to root for, vote for and go to war for.

The final verdict? Worth seeing. Worth, particularly, discussing, as it raises issues about climate change and environmental communication that are often avoided, and it has some really good laughs. Worth, also, another edit. Randy’s doing a very valuable thing by raising issues of communication in the scientific community, I want him to carry on, but this film could be sharpened somewhat.

You can see more at