There is an irresistible allure to the notion of a conspiracy. Whether the sinister plot in question surrounds the John Kennedy assassination or the 1969 moon landing, conspiracies have the paradoxical ability to promise explanation while simultaneously suggesting deeper mysteries afoot. The documentary New World Order doesn't really probe the psychology that drives conspiratorialists, nor does it pay much more than lip service to the murky fears of one-world government. But it's a fascinating picture, nevertheless, offering viewers a window on the suspicion-filled world of those who dare call it conspiracy.
Resisting what must have been a mighty temptation to editorialize, documentary makers Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel let the conspiratorialists speak for themselves in New World Order. It is easy to imagine the smugness or righteousness that would have spilled from the doc had it been made by the likes of Morgan Spurlock or another Michael Moore wannabe. Instead, Meyer and Neel take a relatively hands-off approach in this modest, even-handed examination.
The filmmakers follow a handful of the conspiracy-minded as they take their message -- 9/11 was an inside job! the Federal Emergency Management Agency is building secret concentration camps! America is going down the tubes! -- to the streets and airwaves of America. There is Jack McLamb, a retired police officer who now lives in a single-wide trailer in Idaho and is a leading voice of the citizens' militia movement. There is Luke Rudowski, a twentysomething New Yorker who spends his weekends at Ground Zero, proclaiming that the World Trade Center attacks were designed to pave the way for one-world government. The star of the show, however, is Austin, Texas-based radio show host and filmmaker Alex Jones. A sort of Pied Piper of the conspiracy minded, the charismatic Jones is seen in hot pursuit of the Bilderburg Group, a consortium of global elites at the crux of NWO fears.
Even if you scoff at some of the conspiratorialists' shadowy suspicions, you've got to admire the moxie and doggedness of Jones and his fellow believers. Most spend their own money cranking out the DVDs and literature that they hand out to passersby, many of whom consequently respond with taunts and ridicule. And the conspiracy enthusiasts are beyond tenacious in their monitoring -- or harassment? -- of the Bilberburg Group, Council of Foreign Relations and other alleged bogeymen.
But the film's no-frills, straightforward approach is as much a weakness as it is a strength. A documentary still has a responsibility to interpret and explain the ideas and actions on screen. We get fleeting glimpses of the touchstones in modern-day conspiracy theory -- the JFK assassination; the siege on Ruby Ridge, Idaho; the Branch Davidian standoff and fire; 9/11, Hurricane Katrina -- but little about how such events galvanized fear and loathing.
New World Order doesn't assail its subjects, nor should it, but it does ignore some of the more noxious aspects of conspiracy mongering, from anti-Semitism to the government-hating fervor that inevitably spurred the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. Only in the DVD's deleted scenes, for instance, do we learn that one of those profiled in the movie, investigative journalist Jim Tucker, is a Holocaust revisionist who has long been associated with an anti-Semitic magazine titled The Spotlight. That is not to suggest all conspiracy theorists are madmen, of course, but whipping up paranoia and rage occasionally racks up a very real cost.
Presented in 1.85:1 and enhanced for 16x9 screens, the picture quality is generally good: strong lines, reasonable details and well-saturated colors. The shoot is down-and-dirty documentary making, however, and so it is subject to slight grain in some scenes relying on natural light.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 isn't showy, but it gets the job done in this largely talky picture.
The sole extras are seven deleted scenes - clocking in at nearly 33 minutes -- that, annoyingly, cannot be viewed consecutively. Most of the footage is worth seeing, especially lengthier interview segments with Jones, Tucker and Rudowski.
New World Order scratches the surface of its compelling subject matter, but it is nevertheless solidly crafted documentary making. There's still a lot more to be said about the world of conspiracy, but this isn't a bad primer.