Expelled: No Intelligence Involved

By now you’ve all heard about Ben Stein’s new movie, “Expelled,” which makes the case that “Darwinism” leads inevitably to atheism and the Holocaust and the horrors of Nazism and Stalinism. In addition to this, it claims that professors and teachers are being fired and having their careers sabotaged because of their belief in Intelligent Design.

And, like most of the claims of the ID crowd, it’s all totally unfounded. “Darwinism” didn’t lead to Nazism; there’s nothing Darwinian about Eugenics. Darwin theorized natural selection, Eugenics is artificial selection, the kind of thing that’s been done in animal husbandry and agriculture since the dawn of civilization.

But no one ever said Creationists were honest; quite the opposite in fact. Now it looks like they’ve been plagiarizing their work as well, and they’re complaining that the Googlebomb of “Expelled” is part of some plot to silence them. Silence? Hay you guys, I’m promotering you! After all, you were crowing from the rooftops when PZ’s post about being expelled from “Expelled” was at the top of the Internets! If that’s a victory, then isn’t having the whole scientific blogoverse linking to a post about “Expelled” a good thing? Sure, it’s to a page exposing your lies, bad reviews, and general cock-ups, but any publicity is good publicity, right?

You know, I’ve seen a lot of bad movies in my time. It’s a hobby of mine, and I’ve been doing it for years. I’ve gotten to the point where I can pretty reliably guess when a movie is going to suck. There’s the signs that everyone knows, like if you don’t screen your movie for critics, it’s a good sign that it probably sucks (the new “Prom Night” kept it quiet, and I can’t wait to see that suck-fest!). Then there are other, more subtle signs: like, when you only start running TV ads for your film the week before it opens, it’s probably going to suck (I think “I Know Who Killed Me” followed that model). There’s a corollary to that last one, that when you start running TV and movie ads an excessively long time before the movie is released, it’s probably going to suck (“Godzilla” and “Hulk” stick out in my memory).

Expelled” hits both: they haven’t screened the film for critics, instead going for private screenings packed with friendly, utterly uncritical audiences, and I’ve only seen off-Internet ads for the film in the last three days (one on the USA Network, one in the Chicago Tribune). Purely from the perspective of a connoisseur of terrible films, these are not the signs of a good movie.

Unfortunately, “good movies” and “successful movies” are not always overlapping quantities; garbage like “Meet the Spartans” can look for all the world like a celluloid turd, advertise for a total of eight days, and open without critical inspection, and still make millions of dollars in its opening weekend. “Expelled” has the fact that it’s a documentary going against it; the documentary-going populace and the groups being targeted by this film don’t have a whole lot of overlap–there’s a reason the films responding to Al Gore and Michael Moore go straight to video. If even “The Case for Christ” and “The Secret” went direct-to-DVD, what chance does “Expelled” have?

The people who normally view documentaries recreationally will be watching Morgan Spurlock’s new flick (also debuting this weekend). “Expelled” is trying to tap into the guilt market that “Passion of the Christ” played well to, and “The Nativity Story” didn’t. It’s really a toss-up whether or not that will be successful; do the crowds of churchgoers really care about learning the problems with evolutionists and unemployed academics? Enough to see this opening weekend, rather than on a church basement projector when it comes to DVD?

I’m not going to make any substantive predictions about the financial fate of this factless flop; naturally I hope it bombs like no film has ever bombed before, but I’m cynical enough to realize that that probably won’t happen. I will recommend that no one here actually pay to see this dreck. Despite propagandist claims to the contrary, the ID crowd gets more money than they earn, and there’s no reason to add to it. Instead, why not send a small donation to the NCSE? In the meantime, read all about “Expelled” at the NCSE’s website. I guarantee it’s more informative, more entertaining, and more factual than anything narrated by Ben Stein.

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