Since the human thought process is subjective in nature, it's practically impossible to create, watch or review a film in an objective manner. Yes, even a documentary. The best examples of the genre present their material while standing in the middle: feeding the viewer as much information as possible from both sides, these documentaries let us draw our own conclusions. Sometimes, we can still see the big picture when a filmmaker leans toward either direction...but the concept of "fair and balanced" is thrown out the window, resulting in a skewed perspective that's more entertainment than education.
Such is the case with Randy Olson's Flock of Dodos, a quasi-humorous look at what the packaging calls "The Evolution & Intelligent Design Circus". Olson admits up front that he sides with evolution and scientific fact rather than faith---and as one interviewee puts it, "That's the neat thing about this country. We can agree to disagree." Unfortunately, the bulk of this 85-minute "documentary" proves to be a condescending attack directed towards those who side with Intelligent Design. To be fair, Olson and company often employ self-deprecating humor to soften the blows, but it's obvious that he has very little respect for those who disagree with him. Again, there's nothing illegal or sneaky about most of his tactics, but it's impossible to call Flock of Dodos anything but a cleverly disguised soapbox piece.
Had Olson removed himself from more of the proceedings, Flock of Dodos would be far more successful in getting its message across. His film is obviously meant to persuade Intelligent Design supporters to re-think their conclusions, though Olson doesn't realize that an agenda loaded with potshots will most likely push opponents further away. The film's most obnoxious moments occur during a poker game with a group of highly-educated evolution backers, who only succeed in making themselves look as loony as the folks they're smarter than. On the whole, we're reminded that both sides are capable of such nutty behavior (truly a circus, if ever there was one)---but if that's actually what Flock of Dodos is trying to convey, I've got one word for the Harvard educated: duh.
Despite the film's obvious bias and slightly mean-spirited attitude, Flock of Dodos still manages to be fairly entertaining. The 85-minute film rarely drags, presenting a long list of colorful characters (from conservative school board members to Olson's own hyper-spiritual mother) who make no attempts to hide their personal opinions. Docurama's DVD presentation is fairly solid in most departments, serving up at least one meaty bonus feature that's certainly worth watching. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Flock of Dodos has not been anamorphically enhanced...which is surprising for any 2007 release. With that being said, the picture is generally clean and clear; most of the older material is obviously limited to its source material quality, some of which has been cropped to fit the widescreen frame. The film still loses a point for its lack of 16x9 enhancement, but most documentary fans won't find much to complain about here.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is relatively straightforward, boasting clear dialogue and music cues that don't fight for attention. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or Closed Captions have been included anywhere, though forced subs are occasionally presented during scenes with muffled dialogue.
"Pulled Punches" (7:00) is a series of deleted scenes spoiled by defensive and arrogant remarks from the director. Essentially, these include comments from Intelligent Design supporters that Olson took particular offense to; eventually, he explains that they were cut so the people wouldn't look even more ridiculous. Though I admire the director's restraint for leaving these on the cutting room floor, the fact that they're here at all reminds us just how skewed the film can be at times.
"Vetoed Comedy" (2:00) shows more restraint by the director, who apparently eased up on the comedy for the final cut. Clips from a satirical "Evolution vs. Intelligent Design" debate are included here, though the deleted sequence is presented in its entirety as " Shared Visions: Evolution and Intelligent Design Unite?" (3:00).
Also here is a brief Panel Discussion (8:00) from several of the film's screenings, a Filmmaker Bio and a pair of evolution-centric Animated Shorts from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (6:00 total). Closing things out are a few Previews for other Docurama releases, including Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back and A Crude Awakening.
All bonus features are presented in 1.33:1 and non-anamorphic widescreen format; like the main feature, optional subtitles or Closed Captions are nowhere to be found. Despite the lackluster presentation, the actual content here is fairly satisfying from top to bottom.
Colorful but condescending, Randy Olson's Flock of Dodos takes plenty of cheap shots at Intelligent Design supporters...and whether or not they all deserve it, passing such material off in this context just doesn't seem right. Even so, the film manages to be entertaining and mildly informative at times---so as long as viewers who disagree with the director are thick-skinned, they should make it out OK. Docurama's DVD package proves to be halfway decent, boasting a passable technical presentation and at least one worthwhile, hour-long supplement. It's hardly recommended as blind buy material, but there's enough here to give Flock of Dodos a weekend spin. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.