“A Sea Change” reviewed; or, HALP! Iz I stuck in the ivory science tower?

May 12, 2009

After seeing “A Sea Change,” a documentary about ocean acidification, I felt really, really guilty. Not because of my carbon footprint, but because I did not like this earnest, passionate movie.

“A Sea Change,” which made its southern California debut at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography last week, is essentially one big appeal to emotion. Everyman Sven Huseby embarks on a quest to save the oceans for his overly adorable grandson, seeking answers in scientific meetings, subarctic labs, and even artist Maya Lin’s studio. The narrative is frequently interspersed with Mr. Huseby writing heartfelt letters to and frolicking with his grandson, as well as multiple scenes on his computer googling away for “pteropods” and “ocean acidification.” Since the filmmakers said that they were determined to avoid graphs, information is conveyed in voiceovers while the audience listens to Phillip Glass music (Battlestar Galactica fans will feel like they’re in the Opera House) and gazes at pretty ocean scenes.

I was bothered by the lack of informative content. I understand that oceanic carbon chemistry and acidification is extremely difficult to explain and understand, but there is almost no mention of what ocean acidification actually is. There was an interesting demonstration of the effects of carbonated soda water on human teeth (they dissolve!), but since soda water is far more acidic than even the worst seawater, will people find this convincing? At another point Mr. Huseby mentions “a world without fish” but we have no idea how this is linked to ocean acidification, except for that it has to do with CO2 somehow.

I did like that the last third of the movie focused on climate change solutions. Mr. Huseby visits Google’s solar panels, a wind farm, and a hotel that runs on ocean geothermic energy. He makes the excellent point that clean energy technology exists! It exists right now! We should use it! I was also shocked and intrigued at a statistic casually bandied about by climate scientist Ken Caldeira. Caldeira said that fixing the climate change problem would cost less than 2% annual GDP. I would love to know more about that figure. Whose GDP? And what does 2% actually mean in terms of predicted economic impact?

As a nascent scientist who took an entire seminar on the scientific ocean acidification literature,  I’m not the target audience for “A Sea Change.” But I’m not sure who their audience might be. In my opinion, the movie is not informative enough to show in science classes, and I don’t know if young people will emotionally connect with a grandfather’s quest. (It doesn’t help that nearly every single person in the movie is white.)  I could see the movie resonating with older, non-scientific audiences, but as a young science person it’s hard for me to tell.

I would love to hear from others who have seen “A Sea Change.” Am I a sterotypical scientist addicted to facts and graphs? A grinch who hates sea lions and blond moppets? Or do non-scientists also want more content from their science documentaries?

But I want Capt. Aubrey vs. Jaws!

February 23, 2009

Though “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” might be the best book EVAH, I have to say that I’m not so sure about the movie “Pride and Predator.”

Will Clark is set to direct “Pride and Predator,” which veers from the traditional period costume drama when an alien crash lands and begins to butcher the mannered protags, who suddenly have more than marriage and inheritance to worry about.

“It felt like a fresh and funny way to blow apart the done-to-death Jane Austen genre by literally dropping this alien into the middle of a costume drama, where he stalks and slashes to horrific effect,” Furnish said.

Thanks, Mary!

Overfishing movie at Sundance

January 21, 2009

My officemate Marco alerted me to The End of the Line, a documentary about overfishing screening right now at Sundance.

The End of the Line, the first major feature documentary film revealing the impact of overfishing on our oceans, will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary Competition. Sundance takes place in Park City, Utah, January 15-25, 2009.

In the film we see firsthand the effects of our global love affair with fish as food.

It examines the imminent extinction of bluefin tuna, brought on by increasing western demand for sushi; the impact on marine life resulting in huge overpopulation of jellyfish; and the profound implications of a future world with no fish that would bring certain mass starvation.

Because I’m a terrible person, I find it hilarious that they have the exact same tagline  (“Imagine a World Without Fish”) as A Sea Change, the ocean acidification movie.  Here’s the trailer:

My holiday present to you

December 25, 2008

My collection of marine invertebrate videos, proven to wow high school students, is now online! It’s organized by phylum, common name, action, feeding type, and location. Please enjoy, spineless brethren!

It’s a bit incomplete since I only teach half the phyla, but I’m going to keep on adding videos as I come across them. Suggestions for must-have videos or for better organization are most welcome.

Repo! The Genetic Opera

December 17, 2008

Repo! The Genetic Opera is a kind of wannabe Rocky Horror Picture Show for the 21st century. They might be trying too hard, but I can’t resist a futuristic Goth musical starring Anthony Stewart Head! (And Sarah Brightman? Ulp.) I’ll be first in line at the next midnight showing decked out in my finest Goth-mad-scientist wear.

What can I say? The man can WEAR those fishnets.

Watchmen movie eliminates giant squid!

November 11, 2008

The director of the upcoming Watchmen movie confirms that he has eliminated the giant squid. If Watchmen is both risking the wrath of the deep and being released in March, I’m increasingly afraid that it will suck. And after I drooled all over the Owl Ship at Comic Con, too!

“The squid was not in the movie when I got the script, the squid was never in any draft that I saw,” continued Snyder. “My point is only that there was this elegant solution to the squid problem that I kind of embraced. I’m a fan of the thing as much as anyone, I was saying what are we going to do about this before I even read the script.”

The director remained ambiguous on whether he had ever done squid work in pre-production, as was rumored, and he remained tight-lipped on what has replaced Ozymandias’ psychic creature.

Ocean acidification movie in early 2009

September 25, 2008

Ocean acidification is a terrifying but little-known effect of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, kind of like the Shelob to climate change’s Nazgul. Essentially, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolves into seawater and raises lowers the pH, making the water more acidic. This makes it hard for critters with a calcium carbonate shell or skeleton to live and grow. Who has a calcium carbonate shell? Corals, mussels, oysters, clams, bryozoans, some worms, snails, red algae, some kinds of plankton…almost everything in the ocean either has a calcium carbonate part or lives on or eats something that does. If the ocean gets too acid, entire ecosystems could crash and burn.

That’s why Sven Huseby and the crew behind a new documentary are working to raise awareness of this nasty, nasty problem.

A Sea Change will focus public attention on this urgent but little-known crisis. It follows retired educator and concerned grandfather Sven Huseby back to stunning ancestral sites (Norway, Alaska the Pacific Northwest) where he finds cutting-edge ocean research underway. His journey of self-discovery brings adventure, surprise and revelation to the hard science of acidification.

Check out the preview here. A Sea Change is planning release in early 2009.

(Thanks to A Sea Change for linking to us! That’s how I found out about them.)

The Rise of the Bechdel Test

September 4, 2008

NPR did a segment on the Bechdel Test a couple days ago. It was created by awesome cartoonist Alison Bechdel  (“Dykes to Watch Out For”, “Fun Home,”) in this comic, where one of the characters says that she only watches a movie if:

1) The movie contains more than one female character;

2) Who talk to each other;

3) About something besides a man.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Nope. The Bechdel Test is surprisingly hard to satisfy. Pixar movies mostly fail, with the exception of the Incredibles and A Bug’s Life. Pretty much any big mainstream popcorn-action movie (The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Spiderman, Hellboy, Transformers, Indiana Jones, James Bond) – fail.

The Bechdel Test has spawned other tests:

From NPR:

  • The Deggans Rule – 1. At least two nonwhite characters in the main cast…2. in a show that’s not about race.
  • The Morales Rule – 1. Nobody calls anybody Papi. 2. No dancing to salsa music. 3. No gratuitous Spanish.


  • The Frank Miller Test – Is the proportion of female sex workers to neutrally presented female people in his story greater than 1:1?
  • Does your story contain only one prominent female character? If so, please check the reasons that you included that character and made her female…

After seeing the last episode (warning: spoiler) of the Wire (Season 5) last night, I hereby propose another test:

The Goldensilverblattcohenstein test: If there is only one explicitly Jewish character (Jewish name, use of Yiddish, mention of brisket), is he a greedy dishonest lawyer with a big nose? Yes? FAIL.

For more, The Hathor Legacy has a series of posts explaining why film schools teach screenwriters to fail the Bechdel Test. And Karen Healey explains how to write a female character that doesn’t drive her crazy.

Thanks to Chaos Theory and Metafilter for the links.

Evil mastermind sings: best thing ever

July 2, 2008

All the other drooling Joss Whedon disciples have probably already heard about Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, but just in case, I needed to post about it. Because when Joss Whedon gets bored during the writers strike, writes a superhero musical, recruits Neil Patrick Harris to play a noble supervillain and Nathan Fillion to play Capt. Tightpants a villanous superhero, and they SING…well, it might simply be the BEST THING EVER.

WordPress won’t let me embed, but
Teaser from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.

In Joss’ peculiar words:

Once upon a time, all the writers in the forest got very mad with the Forest Kings and declared a work-stoppage. The forest creatures were all sad; the mushrooms did not dance, the elderberries gave no juice for the festival wines, and the Teamsters were kinda pissed. (They were very polite about it, though.) During this work-stoppage, many writers tried to form partnerships for outside funding to create new work that circumvented the Forest King system.

Frustrated with the lack of movement on that front, I finally decided to do something very ambitious, very exciting, very mid-life-crisisy. Aided only by everyone I had worked with, was related to or had ever met, I single-handedly created this unique little epic. A supervillain musical, of which, as we all know, there are far too few.

And it will be streamed free! Part 1 will be available Tuesday, July 15, with the following segments (each roughly 14 minutes) available July 17 and 19. Don’t miss them, because they’ll only be up until July 20th. But fear not – there are plans for a DVD with a musical commentary track to go with the musical musical.

Pixar stardom leads to DOOM

June 30, 2008

Apparently “Finding Nemo” has led to such a demand for clownfish as pets that wild Australian clownfish are now endangered. Wasn’t Nemo lost in the first place because he was captured to be a pet to an evil kid? I believe this can only be described as a conservation EPIC FAIL.


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