Monday, November 3, 2008

Ben Stein's "Expelled"

I decided it wouldn't feel right bashing Ben Stein's Expelled and turning Blockbuster customers away from this brainless dreck without watching it myself, so I gave it a shot. My verdict? It's dull. It's dishonest. And it's shameless.

Any rational movie watcher should get a little suspicious as soon as they look at the box. The only positive quotes the filmmakers could advertise are Ben Stein's own words ("I love this film!") and praise from that re-fried turd burrito Glenn Beck.

Really quickly, the whole movie (I hesitate to call it a documentary as that suggests at least some sense of journalistic integrity) is basically based on the fallacious appeal to pity. The filmmakers argue that Intelligent Design is a viable scientific theory because their proponents are silenced and abused by a conspiracy of "Darwinists," aka biologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, geologists, physicists, anatomists, etc. In other words, "Those guys are bullies, therefore we are right."

Ignoring the fact that the charge is absolutely ridiculous, the filmmakers do a great job of encapsulating the problem with the whole ID movement. Namely, that the "theory" is an unsubstantial negative argument. Rather than presenting actual evidence to support a positive claim, they instead focus on how bad they are treated and how wrong the other side is.

There are many inexcusably dishonest moments in this movie, but worst of all, I think, is the quote mining of Charles Darwin to make him out as an insensitive proponent of cleansing society's undesirables. If they'd only continued the very same quote a little further, they would have had to admit that Darwin saw the human instinct to care for the sick and malformed as the "noblest" of all human endeavors! Shame on you, Ben Stein.

Now, I have to admit, I thought the production values were actually impressive. And the scary thing is, if I try to imagine that I am an uninformed audience member watching Expelled for the first time, then I think there is something emotionally convincing about the movie's conceit. Compare it to its recent polar opposite, Bill Maher's Religulous, and there is something disturbingly similar in the editing, general structure and appeal to sympathy. That worries me because I loved Religious. Perhaps this just proves that these sorts of films have to be taken with a huge ol' grain of salt.

I award Expelled 1 Pope hat of a possible 5, for making me reflect on my own biases.