Any movie buff will tell you that when a studio refuses to make a film available for advance screening by professional critics, chances are you're dealing with a dog.
Meet the latest dog to stumble into the nation's multiplexes: Ben Stein's "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." The film, which promotes the neo-creationist concept of "intelligent design" (ID) opens tomorrow – but the nation's film critics won't be getting a sneak peek.
As Stephen P. Means, a Salt Lake Tribune film critic, notes, this is not a good sign.
"'Not screened for critics'" means a movie is so terrible that the studio will take its chances, deprive itself of free publicity, and go without release-date reviews," wrote Means recently. "Considering the garbage the studios will show us critics ahead of time (such as the gruesomely lurid 'Street Kings' or the laughably stupid '10,000 B.C.'), to keep a movie away from critics is usually a sign that things are really, really bad."
"Really, really bad" seems like a good description of "Expelled." I'll admit I haven't seen it, but I trust the judgment of my AU colleague, Lauren Smith, who saw excerpts at a Religious Right event. She was not impressed.
Another sign that we have a problem here is that the producers of "Expelled" are trying to keep real scientists from seeing the film. In Bloomington, Minn., biology professor P.Z. Myers of the University of Minnesota was refused admittance to a pre-screening of "Expelled" at the Mall of America. The film's producers spotted him in line and sicced security guards on him.
This is especially odd, since Myers is actually interviewed in the film. In Tempe, Ariz., a biology professor signed up to see the film but then received an e-mail saying the screening had been canceled. He later learned that this was a lie; the film aired as planned.
The deceptions continue to mount: Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, points out that the film opens with a scene of Stein lecturing students at Pepperdine University. The students appear rapt, blown away by Stein's argument for intelligent design. The problem is that those weren't Pepperdine students. They were extras bused in by the producers of "Expelled" to fill the auditorium.
Shermer writes, "According to Lee Kats, Associate Provost for Research and Chair of Natural Science at Pepperdine, 'the production company paid for the use of the facility just as all other companies do that film on our campus' but that 'the company was nervous that they would not have enough people in the audience so they brought in extras. Members of the audience had to sign in and the staff member reports that no more than two to three Pepperdine students were in attendance. Mr. Stein's lecture on that topic was not an event sponsored by the university.'"
Stein and his allies have been promoting "Expelled" to Religious Right groups for months now, hoping to create a buzz about the film. But whether they like it or not, the film is coming under critical scrutiny.
Our friends at the National Center for Science Education have put together an excellent Web site titled "'Expelled' Exposed." Here you will find a wealth of resources debunking the claims of "Expelled." The site also contains several critical reviews of the film. (Despite the producers' best efforts, critics did manage to slip in to some of the pre-screenings.)
"Expelled" highlights several college professors who say they were fired or denied tenure for advocating ID. "Expelled Exposed" examines each case and does a great job of debunking these claims.
Most Americans understand that religion and science need not fight. The former is based on faith; the latter never can be. It is certainly possible to accept evolution and be a believing Christian. But just in case you have any friends or family members who are in danger of being hoodwinked by the deceptions and propaganda of "Expelled," keep the "Expelled Exposed" site bookmarked.