As the self-declared “film expert” here at Sexy Secularist, I took it upon myself to watch the Ben Stein shit-fest eXpelled (which Ben Stein gave 4-stars, so how bad can it be?). It was available for free on Net-Flix’s pretty sweet Watch Instantly program so I figured I might as well check it out. After all, it featured some of my favorite people: Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, Michael Shermer, PZ Meyers, and Daniel Dennett. I hope I’m not leaving anybody out. But if you get these people together and ask them questions about evolution, you’re bound to come back with gold, right?
Well, not exactly.
The movie is glossy and put together well, but the stock footage really started to grate on me by about 10 minutes in. Every single quote is accompanied by a clip from Planet of the Apes or The Wizard of Oz or Leni Riefenstahl footage. In a way, this movie is the epitome of Einsenstein’s Soviet Montage (please forgive me for referencing this) which states that movies are made by the juxtaposition of images. In other words, if you cut from a picture of a guy to a picture of a sandwich, he’ll look hungry, but if you take the same picture of a man and cut to a cross, he’ll look like he’s praying or something.
Using this technique, Stein and his director, Nathan Frankowski, suggest that the scientific establishment is communistic. There’s enough Russia propaganda interspersed amongst the stock footage to make me curious about whether Stein & Co. even understand what Communism is all about. Aren’t they trying to make the point that the scientific community is fascist? Wouldn’t some Mussolini footage be more appropriate?
But aside from stylistic concerns, the movie is just flat-out confused. None of the Intelligent Design advocates interviewed seem to agree on what Intelligent Design or even Evolution are, and Stein seems to associate Evolution (an observed fact, as noted by Dawkins in the movie, though this is never followed up) with anything even remotely liberal, from abortion to euthanasia. Michael Shermer says that he spoke about his book The Mind of the Market, which relates Natural Selection with capitalism in a conservative fashion, to the crew, though none of this material ends up in the final product.
Stein uses all of Michael Moore’s famous tricks, though he’s even more prominent in this movie than Moore is in his. By the end, I imagine through some tough good-cop bad-cop interrogation, he eventually gets Dawkins to “admit” that he believes in Intelligent Design. Well, not exactly, but I’d hate to ruin the ending for those who haven’t seen it.
The movie tanked at the box-office, but did fairly well for a documentary, I guess. I mean, it didn’t make as much money as Sicko or Religulous, but it do a hell of a lot better than The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. To that movie’s credit, though, it didn’t need to resort to distorting the Holocaust in order to make its point.