Friday, August 8, 2014


One of the physicists featured in this film tells his lecture audience that there are two answers to the question of what he is doing: the easy answer and the right answer. The first is true but the second requires the working to be shown. This constantly diverting and pleasurable documentary is big on the first but lets the second slide. A good science documentary needs to make the second feel like the first.

The basic concepts are easy: it has taken decades for this gigantically proportioned machine and team to assemble and test a series of ideas about some very tiny things that concern the fabric of the universe (assuming there's one ... actually, no need to assume). The footage of the plant and diagramatic animations of the scale and operation are supberb and serve to keep us riding along.

These scientists are good communicators. That's why they were chosen to tell their parts of the tale on screen. What they have to say is fascinating but delivered with a toothsome serve of intimidation to amp up the excitement. This is a tale of breakthrough and discovery. The excitement felt by the scientists as the crucial moments is infectious and we enjoy the empathy as much as if we were watching effective fiction. In fiction, though, we would know why the excitement was so intense, why the various possibilities will either vindicate or disappoint according to the outcome. We need more of the first kind of answer.

That said, the narrative flow is firmly helmed with a good eye to the identification and release of tension. And when it remembers it's a documentary and can't push this too far (the taunting between theoretical and expermiental physicists is funny once) it can legitimately fall back on showing the epic-sized machinery for our wonder. While I never felt condescension I too often felt underattended.

There are a handful of concepts this film made new to me which I will now pursue out of interest. My problem with writing this review now is that those things that I wondered to see and smiled at hearing are memories rather than lingering moments. This is some of the most significant scientific endeavour in centuries but I still quite know why.

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