Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Particle Fever (2013)

Director: Mark Levinson. Cast: David Kaplan, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Savas Dimopoulos. 99 min. Documentary.

So what was the "God particle" hype all about two years ago?  A documentary has finally come along, through engaging animation and stylized editing (by 3-time Oscar winner Walter Murch, nonetheless), touching only the surface of complex theoretical physics concepts such as supersymmetry and multiverse, and elevating experimental physicists to rock-star status. But at the end of the day, it's mainly a documentation of the events that lead up to the first artificial particle collisions at the CERN super-collider in Switzerland, and the discovery of the Higgs boson - without much artistic yield. Actually, the film almost undermines its purpose:

"Wow, this movie is a poster child for what's wrong with big budget science. At the beginning they show clips of conservative members of congress, who are arguing that the American version of CERN should be defunded. I'm sure this was intended to be a hit/slam, but I found myself agreeing with the politicians. For the record, I'm a science geek, with a degree in engineering, who reads books about quantum mechanics for fun. 

"The female lead, well, she was super-impressed by a 5 story structure. Kaplan, one of the male leads, comes off as very unlikable, although I warmed up to him by the end of the movie. Then there's the guy who won't collaborate with more than 2 colleagues, but Nobel prizes can only be given to a most 3 people. Great, this guy's ego is so big that he'll sacrifice science to protect his reputation.   

"There's very little science here beyond what's in the headlines. Basically, all this money was spent on CERN, they were expecting the Higgs to be in one of two places, but they found something (it must be the Higgs!) in a different place, therefore it's pretty much back to the drawing board. Perhaps science is at its limits - but you know what, Einstein didn't need an expensive CERN to know that general relativity was true. Yes, something is WAY off here, and this movie just solidifies that for me.  

"I'd give this movie more stars if it could actually tell me WHY a Higgs imparts mass to other particles (or anything interesting!) because the personalities of the people they interviewed were simply not interesting to me."

- from IMDb

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