Film: Bill Nye: Science Guy (2017)

November 23, 2017 | By

Film: Good

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label:  n/a

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Documentary

Synopsis: Examination of Bill Nye’s transition from PBS’s beloved Science Guy to defender of climate change as detractors gain more followers through mainstream media outlets.

Special Features:  n/a




According to Bill Nye, when the young engineer met astrophysicist Carl Sagan in 1987, he got the bug for science, and within a few years became Bill Nye, the Science Guy (1993-1998) the titular hero / educator of the popular PBS show.

As the show went into reruns, Nye’s accessible lessons influenced myriad schoolchildren, and the wacky science man became a pop culture icon and beloved hero to many kids inspired to seek knowledge and careers in assorted sciences, but Nye dropped out of sight for a while, only to re-emerge as a science consultant for assorted news shows when climate deniers began to preach what he terms “anti-science” and were influencing new generations of kids to ignore decades of evidence that humans were on a path to wreck the planet.

Perhaps due to the specific scope chosen by directors David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg, Nye is presented as an icon to American rather than global kids, and the bio material of his childhood, close relationship with brother and sister, early years in comedy and move to TV do slow down the doc’s momentum and its main focus: Nye’s mission to debunk climate change detractors in very public forums that resemble civil but tense grudge matches.

His first nemesis is Ken Ham, a wealthy Christian motivational speaker, creationist philosopher, and ‘anti-science’ museum impresario whose two main institutions – the Creation Museum and Noah’s Ark – are visited by Nye in a challenge to see / experience an alternate approach to human history.

The second is meteorologist / body builder Joe Bastardi, who’s seen in archival clips regularly debunking Nye’s decrees of modern humanity’s mismanagement of the Earth as nonsense. Bastardi’s favoured position with Fox and CNN producers place him as the right’s chief rebuttal against the left’s Nye, and even some of Nye’s supporters & colleagues believe his debates with Ham and Bastardi give the right’s supporters ammunition and motivation to use their wallets to denounce climate change in highly vocal public forums.

These may represent key contemporary conflicts that gave given the educator a new mission, but with everyone remaining relatively civil, profanity-free, and agreeing to disagree, the doc only gains momentum and elicits strong emotions when the final third deals with Sagan’s attempt to launch a solar sail around the Earth to prove niche monitoring of Earth’s climate and space travel is possible without nuclear and oil-based fuels.

The solar sail’s first attempted launch flopped, and it took 10 years before a more compact design proved practical, and was successfully nestled itself around the Earth. Intercut with these montages are vignettes in which we follow Nye to Greenland where ice cores are brought back up to the surface and examined, and his visit to rapidly melting glaciers.

The sequences benefit from strong visuals and Nye interacting with specialized scientists rather than fans, but his enjoyment of fan popularity are also addressed in a curious vignette with a neuroscientist specializing in the effects of media attention may cause changes in cognitive behaviour. Anyone so adept and comfortable juggling dialogues and public appearances in front of large crowds, classrooms, and TV cameras may have some narcissism, but his younger supporters are represented by a rainbow of genders and ethnicities, and he makes it clear he’s not anti-religion: science is the best tool we have to test ideas and theories and find truth to better our lives.

Alvarado and Sussberg manage to balance footage of Nye’s media ventures with his current quest and responsibilities, but fans may have wanted greater samples of his work in front of the camera from past and more recent shows. Nye’s genial and wondrous, but the distance he admits to maintaining between himself and people is also present between himself and audiences, making the film a little cool.

As a modest portrait of a hero to millions of former and current kids, Bill Nye: Science Guy works, but it also feels a little too carefully orchestrated. Bill Nye: The Science Guy screens this week at the Hot Doc Ted Rogers Cinema.



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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