Scientist-turned-filmmaker Randy Olson deploys a wide range of humorous teaching aids in "A Flock of Dodos" to fabricate an illustrated wake-up call to the scientific community to abandon its obsessive search for truth and start inventing catchy slogans before it loses control of education to the religious right.

Scientist-turned-filmmaker Randy Olson deploys a wide range of humorous teaching aids in “A Flock of Dodos” to fabricate an illustrated wake-up call to the scientific community to abandon its obsessive search for truth and start inventing catchy slogans before it loses control of education to the religious right. A Michael Moore-type populist without the anger or the edge, Olson’s message, as befits an environmentalist, is not to change but to adapt. Intelligently designed for popular appeal, docu seems poised for instant success.

Like Moore’s debut “Roger and Me,” Olson’s jocular first-person voice identifies him as a homeboy of the very community at the heart of the debate: the beleaguered state of Kansas. Here, notorious school board battles raged, first pitting science-based evolution against faith-based Creationism, and next pitting it against the reconfigured notion of Intelligent Design.

Olson’s eccentric, redheaded 82-year-old mother Muffy Olson, aka Muffy Moose (who figures prominently here), first triggered Olson’s interest by sending him local newspaper clippings.

Olson begins by giving the floor to proponents of Intelligent Design, including Dr. Michael Behe, a leading scientific spokesperson; John Calvert, a lawyer and director of the “ID” Web site, and Jack Cahill, a conservative author, columnist and film producer. He finds their arguments less than convincing but finds them articulate and likeable.

Olson discovers the opposite to be true with the evolutionists. Their ideas may be rock-solid but the scientists themselves come off as arrogant, elitist and tongue-tied. He fears they will go the way of the dodo.

Pic then moves into the political sphere, interviewing members of the Kansas School Board. Here, too, he judges the right-wing hardliners to be friendlier and folksier than their more moderate, serious-minded colleagues.

But the same personality-versus-truth dichotomy, which Olson previously set up with some success in the section involving the scientists, seems forced in the case of the school board members. Similarly, his unflagging joviality and visual puns start to pall after a while.

Yet perhaps it is Olson’s generosity toward the acolytes of Intelligent Design that grants him the aesthetic license to question their integrity. The big fish turns out to be the Discovery Institute, a well-funded West Coast organization with an annual budget of $5 million, aided by CRC, the PR firm responsible for the “Swift Boat Vets for Truth” smear campaign against presidential hopeful John Kerry.

Tom Sito’s animated dodos are fun and never overused. Lensing by Shane Seley and all other tech credits are pro.

A Flock of Dodos: The Evolutionary Intelligent Design Circus

Production

A Prairie Starfish/G-7 presentation of a Prairie Starfish film. Produced by Ty Carlisle. Executive producer, Seven Miller. Co-producers, Tom Chan, Ed Leydecker, Peter Logreco. Directed, written by Randy Olson.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Shane Seley; editor. Pascal Leister; music, Amotz Plessner; music supervisor, Robin Urdang; sound, Tom Chan, Jillinda Palmer; director of animation, Tom Sito. Reviewed at Tribeca Cinemas, New York, April 14, 2006. (In Tribeca Film Festival -- Discovery.) Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Randy Olson, Muffy Olson, Dr. Michael Behe, Sue Gamble, Kathy Martin, John Calvert, Jack Cahill, Dr. David Bottjer, Dr. Steve Case.
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