Methodically analyzing the Scientific Method
With the release of An Inconvenient Sequel (2017), the sequel to the pivotal climate change film An Inconvenient Truth (2006), and the release of the Leonardo DiCaprio produced documentary Before the Flood last year, climate change documentaries are beginning to flood the documentary genre yet again. While many of these documentaries are sound in their production and do a great job in explaining to their viewers the effects of climate change, the Bill Nye centered documentary, Bill Nye: Science Guy (2017), separates itself from the pack by focusing on how society engages with science. However, at the same time, the film often struggles with how to properly balance Nye’s story and the story of science.
Filmed over the course of 2014 and 2015, Science Guy revolves around Bill Nye, the world’s most famous scientist and star of the hit show Bill Nye the Science Guy (1993-1998), as he debates creationists and climate change deniers on his quest to spread science throughout America. During the documentary’s 101-minute run time, the narrative explores several story arcs such as Nye’s television work in the nineties, his debates with Creationist museum owner Ken Ham, interactions with climate change denier Joe Bastardi, and Nye’s personal life. Throughout the science centered arcs in the documentary, special attention is not made to the scientific concepts that Nye is trying to promote, but to how the scientific process is being ignored in favor to bending science to fit personal agendas. This is best observed in the Ken Ham and Joe Bastardi arcs where Nye publicly debates with the two figures. However, Nye is the only one who gives hard evidence that supports his beliefs while the others backup their claims with faith. In going this route, the documentary explores thoroughly discussed issues such as climate change and evolution, but the side that you fall on is not the central point of contention. By looking at the larger issue, the documentary makes the audience see the issue of climate change in a different light than other documentaries have previously. Instead of trying to force climate change deniers into accepting the issue is real, the documentary asserts that the problem lies in the fact that society has abandoned science. Once the audience gathers that this is the central theme of the documentary, when it draws to a close the audience members realize they need to reengage with the scientific method. However, though the documentary has long sequences where it plays with this theme perfectly, there are blips in the narrative that ruin the film’s momentum and detract from the overall story.
Interlaced with the science filled sequences, there are several sequences in Science Guy that examine Nye’s personal life and call into question whether or not he has become obsessed with being a celebrity. While the notion that these segments put forth is interesting and deserves to be discussed, they do not possess anywhere near the same level of depth as the other portions. This is because there is either not a lot of truth to them, or they have been censored and edited down so that only small inserts is all that remains. Regardless, they only serve as distractions to the longer narrative, causing audiences who are already experiencing fatigue from the massive amounts of information the narrative explores to zone out and miss vital information when the story shifts back to science.
In conclusion, Science Guy understands what is being ignored in most climate change documentaries allowing the documentary to pull into question American society’s understanding of the scientific method versus trying to convince the audience that climate change is bad. As a result, those who typically turn away from climate change documentaries because they are too political will find that Science Guy is only using climate change as the lens to look at the larger issue of America not understanding science. Ultimately, when Science Guy is released later this year, the emotions and thoughts it leaves the audience with will fuel further discussions among viewers, but with more edits the themes could have been more concentrated in the film. As a result, Celluloid Cinema gives Bill Nye: Science Guy 3 out of 5 Reels.
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