They Should Have Called It “Darwin: The Revengination”

A producer of Creation, the film about Charles Darwin and his wife Emma, starring Paul Bettany and his real-life wife Jennifer Connelly, is griping that the film has no distributor in the US, apparently because so many Americans are evolution-hating mouth-breathers that no one wants the touch the thing; it’s just too darn controversial.

Well, it may be that. Alternately, and leaving aside any discussion of the actual quality of the film, it may be that a quiet story about the difficult relationship between an increasingly agnostic 19th Century British scientist and his increasingly devout wife, thrown into sharp relief by the death of their beloved 10-year-old daughter, performed by mid-list stars, is not exactly the sort of film that’s going to draw in a huge winter holiday crowd, regardless of whether that scientist happens to be Darwin or not, and that these facts are rather more pertinent, from a potential distributor’s point of view.

The major US studios are no longer really tuned to distribute films like this in any event. Maybe if Charles Darwin were played by Will Smith, was a gun-toting robot sent back from the future to learn how to love, and to kill the crap out of the alien baby eaters cleverly disguised as Galapagos tortoises, and then some way were contrived for Jennifer Connelly to expose her breasts to RoboDarwin two-thirds of the way through the film, and there were explosions and lasers and stunt men flying 150 feet into the air, then we might be talking wide-release from a modern major studio. Otherwise, you know, not so much. The “oh, it’s too controversial for Americans” comment is, I suspect, a bit of face-saving rationalization from a producer flummoxed that such an obvious bit of Oscar-trollery such as this film has been to date widely ignored by the people he assumed would fall over themselves to have such a thing.

Or, if the producer is actually smart rather than whiny, it could also be a clever spot of positioning. A bit of controversy would actually be lovely for this film; it’ll get it talked about, which means lots of press and so on, and more awareness of the film in the movie industry. The film was the opening film of the Toronto Film Festival, which is not an insignificant thing to be. It almost certainly will find a distributor in the US, probably one that focuses on smaller films, who won’t actually give a crap about whether creationist mouth breathers will go see the film since it’ll focus on an Oscar-qualifying release in LA and New York in December, with a platformed limited release on the Pacific coast and Northeast in the early part of 2010, i.e., nowhere near the throngs of the Darwin-hating anyway.

Some savvy tweaking of Oscar marketing materials (“see the controversial film about Darwin that almost didn’t show in the US, aren’t we brave in bringing it to you!”) will appeal to the reflexively progressive elements of the Academy, and perhaps the screener DVD of Creation for Academy members will go out in a handsome facsimile first edition of On the Origin of Species. In the end, and in a year where there will be ten Best Picture nomination slots instead of five, Creation could easily grab one of those slots — and because this is a less-than-spectacular year for women in Hollywood, Jennifer Connelly could easily nab a Best Actress slot too. And maybe it gets Best Costume Design as well, because, hell, everyone loves their 19th Century British garb, don’t they. So: Three Academy Award nominations for Creation, including Best Picture. Thank you, evolution-hating straw men!

So, yes: Creationists will undoubtedly hate this film, just on principle. But I rather highly doubt they’re actually the reason the film hasn’t found a distributor yet. They may become the reason it gets on the Oscar ballot, however. We’ll see. It’s a funny world.

143 Comments on “They Should Have Called It “Darwin: The Revengination””

  1. /idyllic countryside
    “Darwin … Emma … Cage Match … GOD!”
    “The death of their child ripped them apart. Can the love of God and the Theory of Evolution bring them back together? See the epic moral and emotional battle joined in the quiet of the English countryside!”
    /blank screen
    /cue special effects which have nothing to do with movie
    /green MPAA form
    “This movie has been rated G”

    Now that’s marketing.

    Jack Tingle

  2. I rather imagine here in “the fly-over” section of the country, there will be two theatres showing the film..”The Neon” in Dayton and “The Little Art Theatre” in Yellow Springs. We got some culcha ya know

  3. Oh, there are lots of places in the middle of the US which would show the film, especially if it were Oscar-nominated. But it’s a good bet it’ll not be a “wide-release” film here at any point.

  4. I got distracted by the “griping film” in paragraph 1. I thought that was a typo until the snark of the rest of the piece filtered in. Garcon! More coffee over here, stat!

  5. Give me $150 million and we’ll talk.

    Man, the price of movie tickets keeps going up and up!

  6. Oh, William. You’re adorable.

    That said, we’re certainly at a point where the movie studios are decided they will never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the average moviegoer. I mean, even more than usual.

  7. Honestly, I think that at this point the most controversial element of the film would be the fact that Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood were first cousins. I doubt this would have been controversial at the time, but I think it’s more likely to squick contemporary audiences than “ZOMG! TORTOISES!” Not that this entirely explains the lack of a North American distributor, but that’s what TIFF is for. That’s why many films debut there — so they can find distribution. So I really don’t understand calling the waaambulance because this film doesn’t have distribution, when so many other films premiering at the festival have none and are looking.

    (I also expect an Academy nomination for art direction on prop-making grounds; if the film isn’t populated by Wedgwood reproduction porcelain circa 1838 it’s just not doing its job.)

  8. Scalzi – “such an obvious bit of Oscar-trollery” – Yes, the US market and the Oscars are important in the marketing success of a small English-language film, but I’m sure the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s death and the 150th anniversary of The Origin of Species, which have been reasonably high-profile in the UK in terms of TV and books and other cultural phenomena*, were just as or even more important in deciding to greenlight this film than any potential impact at some foreign film academy’s annual shindig. After all, a portrait of Darwin even features on our famous ten pound (£10) note, and it would have been a bit rude not to make a biopic about him in this year of all years.

    *I’m about to shell out for the 17-track CD of the Darwin Song Project, a folk-musician collective new-song effort, having been reminded by seeing Stu Hanna, performer and mixer on the project, and his wife Debbie (collectively Megson) live in a small village hall gig here in rural Somerset last week.

  9. Nicholas:

    As you can imagine, I’m aware of the Darwin Bi- and sesqui- centennials, nor do I think concern about Oscars was on the mind of the BBC when it greenlit the film, although you may agree that British period films seem to do well in Oscar nominations. I’m talking about distribution here in the US, which is an entirely separate thing.

  10. If you want your movie to have a good showing in the U.S. is “you can’t handle this movie because of your backward religious views” really the approach to take?

  11. this is a less-than-spectacular year for women in Hollywood

    This may well be true – I see few films – but Streep was awesome as Julia Child this year. Not, of course, that Streep being awesome is anything new.

  12. If only he could find some church leader to denounce it. Worked wonders for Life of Brian, Dogma and The Passion of St. Tibulus.

  13. Hyping up the “controversy” would have been a smart marketing move, and for once, not injurious to the film story. Too bad.

    But maybe we should be grateful that the producers didn’t try to do a Captain Darwin vs The Revenge of Living Fossils kind of catastrophe…

  14. PZed notes over on Pharyngula that anti-evolutionism is only part of the story and that it’s just not very “commercial”.

    I suspect it’s falling into the valley of the dead movies, where it’s got just enough negative vibe to turn away a segment (a small, stupid segment, of course, but theaters don’t care about the IQ of the people buying popcorn) of the population, but not enough shock value to make it a must-see movie for the controversy alone.

  15. I wouldn’t be too sure about the political angle not playing a significant role here. Last year, when the Israeli animated film “Waltz with Bashir” made a big splash in Cannes, distributors from all over the world stood in line to buy it – except for American distributors, who stayed away from the film. When Sony Pictures finally expressed an interest, they told the director that they are afraid of the reaction from the American Jewish community to a film that presents Israel in a negative light (never mind that the film was at least partly made with the support of Israeli film funds – i.e., official Israeli institutes), and insisted on showing the film to representatives of the Jewish community in both New York and Los Angeles before they agreed to buy the film. According to Ari Folman, the film’s director, the New York representative had a lukewarm reaction to the film, but at the end he approved of it – so, that representative was everything that stood between Sony Pictures and a film that got them nominated to the Oscar (in the Foreign Language Film category).

  16. I haven’t seen the film (and I won’t because I can’t deal with the death of the 10 year old), but it sounds like it could be very widely successful. Seems like it might appeal to the Jane Austen crowd. Militant anti-evolutionists are still a minority in America.

    Re #13 Squeamishness about first cousin marriages is really a modern thing. Historically, this wasn’t unusual and even thought by many to be ideal. Scientifically, children of first-cousin pairings are no more at risk for genetic abnormality than a child of completely unrelated parents. Many people feel that the laws against first cousin marriage are unfair. I agree with them.

    Your trivia for the day.

  17. Militant anti-evolutionists are still a minority in America.

    Catherine@25: They might be, but they are a noisy noisy minority. I live in Seattle, home to the Discovery Institute, and this is a pretty liberal area for the most part. Yet the DI makes appeals to groups like the Mars Hill megachurch and does a lot of outreach and publicity for things like Ben Stein’s crapfest, Expelled. (Which I tried watching for free on Netflix and had to watch it in ten minute chunks, because I kept getting so disgusted with Stein’s rhetorical tricks and logical loopholes.)

  18. “because I kept getting so disgusted with Stein’s rhetorical tricks and logical loopholes….”

    You mean that Charles Darwin was not directly and primarily responsible for the Holocaust? Quick, tell Quentin Tarantino that he needs to rewrite the screenplay so that The Basterds go after Hitler, and not Darwin as Ben Stein suggested.

  19. Catherine @25:

    I addressed historical and cultural context earlier, without making any reference whatsoever to any genetic consequences of first cousins marrying:

    I doubt this would have been controversial at the time, but I think it’s more likely to squick contemporary audiences than “ZOMG! TORTOISES!”

    Perhaps it was unclear, but when I wrote “contemporary,” I meant “contemporary to our times,” ie “modern.” I meant no criticism of Darwin’s marriage or the products thereof.

    Jim @19:

    Go and spread the ZOMG.

  20. John Scalzi’s post: A long bla ba bla, aka John Scalzi is feeling defensive because someone took a poke at the yanks again, coincidently while at the same time thousands of otherwise lost and somewhat retarded overweight yanks have found a new issue to rally against: socialamalism.

    Jeez, John, you Americans really do have a problem with things outside your realms of experience, don’t you?

  21. I agree with JS basic assumption, this movie would be booorrring as hell compared to the action and comedy flicks that come out. Explosions and boobs always win!

  22. @18 — I had to see your post to realize that that was NOT actually the title of this entry. (The weird thing is that I totally accepted it and did not bat an eye.)

  23. Nicholas @ 14 – The Origin of the Species came out 50 years after Darwin’s death? Wow – talk about post-production schedule issues.

  24. After the horror that was transformers 2, I think the studio’s position has been proven quite well for them. They’re after money, nothing else, and they’re quite happy to take it from the people whose brains they’ve drained already. :p

    As for the creationists, I do think you’re generalizing a bit too much for just one side. I’m from the other side of the fence in that regard, and I have just as much fun laughing at loony evolutionists as I do mocking idiot creationists who just like throwing out random statements. Yep Creationists have wackos but evolutionists have them as well. *shrug*

  25. I know it’s wrong, but I would see that “Will Smith/Jennifer Connelly’s breasts” version of Darwin again and again and again, then buy the DVD, then buy the subsequent limited edition DVD, then 25 years from now watch it again on whatever Turner Classic Movies had morphed into.

  26. Yeah, I think the “no one will come to see it” theory is the more likely one for the US non-distribution. If “too controversial” were the real issue, that would be a money-maker… and when has a film distributor ever NOT pursued profits?

    A Canadian play in the 1990s with nudity and gay love scenes called POOR SUPERMAN tried to get attention in the US (in hopes of getting the backing to run in New York) by making its US debut here in Cincinnati, a notoriously conservative city (which, for example, had previously banned Scorsese’s LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST and Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young,” and had tried very hard to ban a Mappelthorpe exhibit).

    And the plan worked. By opening in Cincinnati, where the play did indeed get the public “controversy” and attempts to close it down that the producers hoped for, this play got covered in articles by NEWSWEEK and other national magazines that would surely otherwise have ignored the US debut of a Canadian art-house play by a playwright whom Americans had never heard of. (IIRC, the play did indeed have the juice to go to NYC after that.)

    So I’m thinking if this film were really “too controversial,” the distribution company would be only too glad to reap the benefits of the free publicity that would be provided by protesters and media coverage–which coverage would probably get many people going to see a period film that they otherwise would have skipped.


  27. P.S. I went to see POOR SUPERMAN when it was here.

    All I got out of it: Nudity onstage is so distracting that it’s only function, realistically, is to pull the audience completely out of frame by thinking–with embarrassment, discomfort, curiosity, admiration, whatever–about the actor’s (or actors’) nudity at that moment. (“Are they cold? Is it difficult to strip off in front of 100+ strangers? Please, don’t get an erection while you’re kissing and hugging, guys! I wonder if they lost weight or worked out after getting a role with nudity.” Etc.)


  28. Charles and wife may also have grown apart because anytime he felt he was short on cash he would sell some of the collection of Wedgwood her father had left and not what he had acquired.

    For some reason she resented this.

  29. Maybe they could have David Milch punch up the dialogue. They would just need to send the flick back for a little looping work:

    “I remember watching the marine iguanas. Jesus fucking Christ those were some ugly cocksuckers.”

    Obviously too late to re-cast with Ian McShane…pity.

  30. Its interesting that the one movie review site they quoted was one of the very few that actively disliked the movie. Of course, that was for obvious reasons. IMDB reviews and Roger Ebert liked it. Apparently only one review made it to Rotten Tomatoes. None of these gave it a bad review for its content.

    This seems to be a “controversy” inventer by the producers upset that not even Masterpiece Theater was willing to book this movie. It seems to me this might be one of those interminably long Merchant Ivory – style flicks. If it starred Meryl Streep and was three hours long with sweeping vistas of slow moving scenery, I’d say it was probably Oscar(tm) material.

    Maybe if they called it “Iguanas on a Ship” and threw in some graphic scenes of big lizards stalking the crew, it might work.

  31. Didn’t /Wilberforce/, the costumed drama about white abolitionists in UK, get pretty wide distribution in the States last year? It did in Toronto, at least.

  32. I don’t see what all this controversy is about. Three of Charles Darwin’s children did die, he did come to the (correct) conclusion that the world we presently live in is a bad place and not the sort of world God would have created, he did disprove the silly idea of fixity of species (which was derived from Ancient Greek philosophy and was unfortunately held by many misguided churchfolk) and he did come up with a hypothesis of how living things could have come to be without Divine intervention, thus removing any deity from the position of creator of this messed-up world.
    While Darwin’s ideas were and still are very controversial, I don’t see the problem with a movie about his life. Either it does a decent job of portraying what happened, or it doesn’t. And either way there’s nothing to get this upset over. I understand that this is a very controversial issue, but this sort of reaction – that no one would be willing to distribute it – seems like a bit much. Maybe I’d understand their objections better after seeing it myself.

    Funny thing, I heard about this movie from a couple of rather outspoken Atheists who had just attempted to take over a screening of The Voyage that Shook the World.

  33. Clearly, Darwin needs to step through a giant, spinning, circular gateway, directly onto an Island in the Galapagos chain. Better yet (adding an unheard of level of controversy) he could use an alien artifact to possess one of the last, gay tortoises and have sex with its first cousin (because they’re all so inbred anyway, it would be difficult to avoid). Darwin only does this in order to preserve the species and bring about more diversity. Then again, maybe I just read too many of other peoples’ posts on Whatever…..

    Wait for it……

    “Monkey see, monkey do”. Hey, a little self-deprecation can’t hurt either, eh?

  34. Actually, I heard through the grapevine that Fox optioned the rights to “Darwin: The Revengination” about twenty minutes after the original post here, and are now in development, and plan to have a CGI-rendered Divine star alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme as Darwin.

  35. martinl @53: Too bad Harriet the tortoise is not Still Alive.
    On second thoughts, perhaps Harriet was a Spy.

  36. @EternalDestiny
    While Darwin’s ideas were and still are very controversial
    If you mean from a religious perspective? Maybe. If you mean scientifically? Most definitely not.

  37. @Shane
    I was meaning controversial in a general sense.
    Given that Darwinism is primarily about the utter redundancy of any creator deity, it can’t be anything but controversial from the perspective of any believe involving a creator deity. Saying ‘maybe’ is a vast understatement.

    But as for Darwin’s ideas not being still scientifically controversial, that’s a rather inaccurate statement.

  38. @EternalDensity
    Oops, I said EternalDestiny last time. My bad.

    Evolution is only controversial in a subset of the religious community. Though it is true that subset is quite large in the US – half the population apparently?
    As far as being scientifically controversial. How so? My understanding is that in the scientific community evolution is a given.

  39. @shane
    “My understanding is that in the scientific community evolution is a given.”
    For the most part. Those who are suspected of doubting Darwin are typically dealt with quickly. Apparently disbelief in the primary axiom that the features of all lifeforms arose in an unguided process of natural selection acting upon genetic mutations means automatic disqualification from practicing science.
    It is of course blindingly obvious that living things do change and adapt by means of natural selection. There’s no controversy on that point. Fixity of species was a stupid idea and Darwin was right in showing so.

  40. @EternalDensity
    I’m a bit confused. If a scientist disbelieves in natural selection what else could he/she think is the mechanism of evolution? That is, you’d be hard pressed to find a biologist that does not accept natural selection.
    If a biologist has an alternative theory to natural selection they should present their evidence for review. I think that is how science is done.

  41. @shane
    I think you misunderstood me. Natural selection isn’t debatable. What’s debated is whether natural selection acting upon mutations is actually able to produce all the physical structures and biochemical systems we see today, or whether the best it can do is act upon pre-existing variation to adapt creatures to their environments, and keep the negative effects of mutation mostly at bay. If you’re interested in population genetics and the mathematical limits of what natural selection and mutation are able to achieve, I suggest you look into the topic of Genetic Entropy.

  42. @EternalDensity
    Ah, I thought you were hinting at subtle differences in opinion like between Dawkins and Gould but I think you’re actually talking about John Sanford and his book Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome. Sorry, but anything that is recommended by both Answers In Genesis and Uncommon Descent has to be a little suspect. Apparently he is a Intelligent Design proponent too and we know that ID is just warmed over creationism.

  43. Joel @ 37 – “Origin of the Species came out 50 years after Darwin’s death?”

    Oops, birth!

  44. @shane
    Ah, yes, being a creationist makes his math wrong.
    I wonder what that means about the software I write.

    The problem here is that if life did not evolve, it had to have been intelligently designed by someone. So any disagreement with evolution automatically makes one’s work unscientific and inadmissible. Evolution has a strong positive reputation, and any opinion to the contrary is therefore not reputable and not worth considering. For an idea to be unchallengeable is rather bad for science.
    And seriously, if molecules-to-man evolution is incorrect, what effect does that have on the bulk of science? Very little. It would alter our understanding of the age and origins of things, but for operational science that gives us houses and computers and aircraft and satellites and medicine, there wouldn’t be a noticeable impact.
    (though we’d probably waste less time labelling things we don’t understand as useless, like ‘junk’ DNA)

  45. EternalDensity @56, no, plenty of people have no problem at all reconciling scientific facts and religious belief.

  46. I don’t think people should be so quick to point fingers and laugh at Americans for poll results that are clearly misleading. I’m sure the actual breakdown of the numbers reveals a different story altogether.

    You can check the following link to see the actual results of the gallup poll:

    As you can see, 75% of Americans polled either believed in evolution or could not form an opinion either way. Only 25% actually do not believe in evolution outright.

    That’s still a regretably high number, sure, but not the 61% the article seems to be implying. I would be interested to see what the U.K results would be if a similar poll was given to Britons. Oh wait, it was:

    Just as I thought. Seems creationism vs evolution is not a hot topic issue just in the U.S. alone.

  47. I’d say it was more a tepid subject than a hot one in the UK, if that. Yes, there are a few loons who support Creationism, but they’re nowhere near as organised as in the USA, and they have to overcome the average Briton’s all-embracing cynicism to get anywhere.

  48. This film might actually appeal to the anti-evolution crowd. Consider, one of their arguments is that evolution = atheism (= death to puppies and no ice cream for anyone). What happens to Darwin? He develops the theory of evolution and immediately turns away from God, just as we have all been warned!! See??? This proves it all!

    Perhaps this should be part of the marketing strategy (as should Jennifer Connelley’s breasts, which provide pretty solid evidence that there is a God).

    Not only is this a multi-Darwin anniversary, but it is also the 400th anniversary of another important atheist creating event: Galileo developing his telescope (the fun stuff didn’t happen until the next year, but that shouldn’t stop you from celebrating now).

  49. I’m neither particularly religious nor particularly pro-evolution. But I doubt I’ll go see this movie for one reason: Paul Bettany’s hair.

  50. I have peered through a couple of telescopes in my time. They ARE evil!! Everything gets turned upside down. You are forced to squint down a long, black tunnel. You are teased with the beauty of the object at the far end, but are denied the ability to go there. Evil, I say.

  51. I’m glad that I’m not the only mutant to see the pun “Invagination” — which is actually quite clever, almost Joycean, given the role of Mrs. Darwin, Biology, Geology, and Literary Criticism invoked. [From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]:

    Invagination means to fold inward or to sheath. In biology, this can refer to a number of processes.

    * Invagination is the morphogenetic processes by which an embryo takes form, and is the initial step of gastrulation, the massive reorganization of the embryo from a simple spherical ball of cells, the blastula, into a multi-layered organism, with differentiated germ layers: endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm. More localized invaginations also occur later in embryonic development, to form coelom, etc.

    * Invagination is the formation of a cleavage furrow during cytokinesis in animal cells.

    * The inner membrane of a mitochondrion invaginates to form cristae, thus providing a much greater surface area to accommodate the protein complexes and other participants that produce ATP.

    * Invagination occurs during endocytosis and exocytosis when a vesicle forms within the cell and the membrane closes around it.

    In the humanities:

    * Used to explain a special kind of meta narrative. Used by Rosalyn Krauss and Jacques Derrida (The Law of Genre, Glyph 7 (1980).

    In Geology:

    * Used to describe a deep depression of strata. Used by Donald L. Baars in “The Colorado Plateau”

  52. I’m an averagely all-embracingly cynical Brit but I’m going to keep off the ID debate. I’m just a bit baffled-aren’t first cousins allowed to marry in the US? They are here! Plus I can’t wait to see the film, Mr Bettany’s hair and all. It looks to be a timely celebration of Mr D and all his achievements, as well as his private tragedies and struggles with faith. Can’t imagine why it would need aliens etc!!

  53. Everybody knows The Americans are another species the british HATE with an unbridled passion.

    The british hate that The Americans are another species, so they’re trying to make them look like… get this… religious people. HAHAHAHA The brits are such poor losers. They invented Afrocentrism to fool the Africans into building their Israel, but that didn’t work. And they NEVER fooled The Americans from Day 0. Columbus couldn’t even do that!!

    The british are such dumb, poor and hateful religious liars, losers and cowards.

  54. That was another comment that made really no sense at all no matter how much you squint at it.

    What is with this thread and the nonsensical ranters?

  55. “No Brit” at #79 has left that same exact comment at a number of blogs with posts about the Darwin movie.

  56. Let me add another unintelligible comment to this thread. It looks like all the cool kids are doing it.

    Anyway, I’ll simply opine that any movie which exposes Jennifer Connelly’s breasts is made watchable by that very act. While that does leave me in the unfortunate position of having to defend “The Hot Spot”, I’ll fight anyone who can claim that there aren’t at least 20-30 great seconds in the movie.

    Actually, you could cross “The Hot Spot” with Charles Darwin to form a new movie: “The G(alapagos) Spot”.

  57. “Catherine Shafferon 13 Sep 2009 at 1:46 pm

    …Many people feel that the laws against first cousin marriage are unfair. I agree with them.”

    Even if the general prohibition is lifted, do be a dear and help lobby for a particular prohibition in my case. If you met my first cousins you’d understand.

  58. RoboWillSmithDarwin makes as much sense as “Inglorious Basterds” or “Inherit the Wind”, in terms of fantasy remakes of historical events.

    The alien attack tortoise image is priceless. I can’t help but remember the SNL “Laser Cats” shorts when I read that. Or any film trailer that starts with, “From the makers of Independence Day…”.

    You’re right, though. It sounds like a truely boring/European film, which is redundant.

  59. It sounds boring because it’s not about what was great about Darwin.

    Make a movie about the bible quoting somewhat-creationist who set out on a life’s journey to discover the truth regardless of where it might lead. Let’s see the Darwin who boldly carried the Scientific Method, critical analysis, and an open mind into the far corners of the world and made amazing mind boggling discoveries. And let’s see the Darwin who overcame sickness, fatigue, and eventually the scorn of the upstanding citizens of the world. The humorous episodes like going through all of his bullets in trying to shoot a fearless rabbit, like being horribly seasick immediately after starting the journey.

    The Voyage of the Beagle is an amazing story that doesn’t require much to make it interesting. Why take one of the most interesting people who ever lived and focus on all the boring things about him???

  60. Maybe it’s the acting. I’ve seen Bettany and Connelly in multiple films, and my impression is that they’re both born supporting actors. When there’s a flamboyant Captain Kirk starring, their Mr. Spockishness adds lovely depth and shadow to the film. When they are trying to play first fiddle, it’s like the understudies came on stage to read while the principals went out for coffee. I get restless, start looking at my watch, thinking about where I parked, and whether I’ll have time to stop at the store on the way home.

    I don’t mean that they’re not good actors, for the most part. They’re not wooden or clumsy. But neither seems larger than life in that way that a movie star needs to be to wrap an entire movie around him, or her.

    The other problem that comes to mind is that ordinary people tend to like two kinds of films: films in which Great Big Things happen dramatically, and films which examine in a particularly sympathetic and intriguing way the complexities, anguishes, joys et cetera of ordinary life.

    Perhaps this film attempts to straddle both and falls between them. Darwin’s life and his ideas don’t really fit into the model of Great Big Things. While influential, Darwin’s ideas evolved slowly and painstakingly, and the difficulties that obsessed Darwin are the kind of wonkish detail for which moviegoers will not sit still. There’s no Eureka! moment, there’s no stark Manichaen struggle, nor emotional climax. Not much call for close-up shots of faces twisted in agony of effort or ectasy of success.

    And, on the other hand, if you want to make a film exploring the pain of a child’s death, and how it can drive parents in different directions — well, you should probably pick someone who seems more ordinary to ordinary folks, not a very famous name. If you want to re-film “Ordinary People” you should use, well, ordinary people.

    And in any event, I certainly agree the probability that the film lacks a distributor because Hollywood moguls are frightened of being picketed by fundamentalists is laughable.

  61. A producer lying through his teeth, blaming others for the shitty response to his shitty film….


    In Hollywood? Never….

  62. #86, I rented and watched The Hot Spot solely because I heard that there was an awesome breasts-of-Jennifer-Connelly moment in the movie. Does that make me a bad person?

    The rest of the movie was pretty forgettable, but the boJC moment was as awesome as advertised.

  63. “While influential, Darwin’s ideas evolved slowly and painstakingly, and the difficulties that obsessed Darwin are the kind of wonkish detail for which moviegoers will not sit still.”

    I think that’s why I think it would be best to focus on the early Darwin and the various interesting observations he made and people he stumbled into.

    It’s like Star Trek: The Really, Really Early Generation. Instead, it’s like they made a movie about the Starship Enterprise’s captain after returning and being bogged down with difficult earthly marital problems. People don’t need to go to the movies to see that kind of stuff, it’s all around them.

  64. As something of a side note: Cousins marrying cousins is something you can get away with occasionally, the problems start when it happens in an area that has a low influx and outflux of residents. Over time people lose track about who is related to who. In one town in Iowa they noticed they were getting a high incidence of mental retardation. It turned out it was caused by relatives marrying relatives over time. They’d lost track of who was related to who and by how much. So family trees got real important in that area. Then there are the Hapsburgs.
    I also keep thinking of a scene from the movie “A Good Year”. Russel Crow states he couldn’t date the hot chick because she is his cousin. The French house keepr says the French nobility do it all the time. He mutters, “That explains a lot about the French Nobility.”

  65. If we’re going to indulge in biased political flimflammery, one might ask why there hasn’t been another Master and Commander movie?

  66. Much has already been said and much is just trash. Darwin did not refute his belief in God. This is a common misconception. He became more religious the longer he lived, this is history and easily verifiable if the history books have not already been purged of that fact. The THEORY of evolution and natural selection has been modified and twisted through the years.

    Research on moclecular infromation transfer that occurs in the cells with DNA has shown there is much more that is unknown than known. It is how such a system could come into being by randomness that is the real crux of the problem. How can random chemical reactions produce a system where information is transfered? I mean I really want to know? Natural Selection and evolution are able to explain much and I am sure that species are evolving but not in the manner that Darwin first thought. Recent findings by looking at fossil records now indicate rather than slow evolution there were times of rapid change. The external stressors are the latest explanation for this and there is much to support this. Rather than slow changes over extended periods of time the latest theory says that species remain relatively stable until some external stress has been applied and the old survival rules get re-written.

    Think about dinasoar extinction. We are now begining to suspect that most of the dinasoars did not go extinct but evolved into the modern birds and reptiles because the smaller body mass was more conducive to survival.

    The point is this. Darwin did not reject religion or God. The theory of evolution and natural selection are being constantly modified as more is learned. External forces are now seen as the biggest factor in evolution. No one has a clue how DNA formed the ability to transfer information that is much more complex than originally thought. The Cell is much more complex and instrutions on protien manufacture are more complex than DNA was thought to be able to contain. The complexity is of such magnitude that randomness alone can not be supported scientifically as the complexity is magnitudes greater than originaly thought.

    One thing that is absolutely true is that not listening to other explanations or theories which have as much evidence as others is close minded.

  67. Wow. A real Intelligent Designist, right here on Whatever.

    *snaps photo*

    Hey, Eunice, come look! An Intelligent Designist! …Naw, they’re not endangered. Besides, all we’re gonna do is take some pictures.

  68. I would love to see this movie. One of my favorite books is “The Origin” by Irving Stone, which tells the story of Darwin’s life. Done right, it can be a touching and compelling story. That said, why would the producers worry about theater distribution? Market the darn thing as this year’s “Pride and Prejudice” and put it out on DVD. I’d rather watch it at home on my big screen with a glass of wine than in some theater.

  69. “The theory of evolution and natural selection are being constantly modified as more is learned.”

    The truly humorous part is how long it took evolutionary biologists to accept (hell, even to consider) the evidence for instances of symbiosis: multiple organisms combining as a path of evolution.

    It’s easy to look at creationists and view yourself as “superior”, but it’s a hell of a lot harder to pursue the truth when it breaks the things you believe in.

  70. “The other problem that comes to mind is that ordinary people tend to like two kinds of films: films in which Great Big Things happen dramatically, and films which examine in a particularly sympathetic and intriguing way the complexities, anguishes, joys et cetera of ordinary life.”

    That’s a really good point, and probably explains more about the film’s distribution difficulties than anything else.

  71. Oddly, I remember seeing many films made in the 1930s that WERE made about a “difficult relationship between an increasingly agnostic 19th Century British scientist and his increasingly devout wife” or the like and did quite well in the US market “The story of Louis Pasteur”, “Madame Curie”, etc. However with the competition from other outlets I suspect those films wouldn’t have done very well today, either.

  72. As a strong skeptic of evolution – which is not the same thing as being a Creationist, but I digress – there is an easy way I can see for the producers to jazz up the film with a minimum of cost. Do a tiny bit of creative editing and add a scene showing a mob of crazed right-wing Bible-thumpin’ Christianists murdering Darwin’s 10-year-old daugher instead of letting her croak in some ho-hum boring way (maybe Jennifer Connelly’s top could also somehow get torn off in the process).

    I know that this did not actually happen, but so what? It fits the Narrative that Hollywood loves, and that’s the most important thing. When people protest the historical inaccuracies, the media can shriek “Right-wing censorship!” (also a key part of the Narrative). And any criticism whatsoever would guarantee that the film-makers would get gobs of awards.

  73. Does the film have Canadian, French,German distribution? How is it playing in Riyadh, Teheran and Gaza? Is it a hit in Korea yet?

  74. Can someone explain to me why this movie is called “Creation”? From what I understand The Theory of Evolution is about how species, already in existence, evolve. It’s not about how life began.

    Just wondering.

  75. It’s easy to look at creationists and view yourself as “superior”, but it’s a hell of a lot harder to pursue the truth when it breaks the things you believe in.

    I think you’re making a small category error with this assertion.

    There is a significant difference between it taking a long time to recognise something and ruling something out based on an apriori assumption of facts.

    There’s nothing in the basic concept of evolution that explicitly rules out symbiotic evolution – at least none that I’m aware of.

    Likewise, in the 150 years since Darwin published (although we should not he wasn’t the only person reaching the same conclusions) the core idea of Natural Selection has been modified several times as new data and information has been discovered.

    With regard to the film: I can see it going straight to HBO or similar but I can’t see it being a big box office draw – not without robots or something… Maybe Megan Fox?

  76. Rich@109: Mostly true. Partial credit. However, to be a stickler for fact, and to quote an often quoted passage (I’m quoting from 3 different web pages below, but don’t want URLs clogging the spam filter):

    Darwin, Charles Robert (1809-1882) British naturalist who revolutionized biology with his theory of evolution through natural selection. He also speculated, in a letter to the botanist Joseph Hooker (1871), on the possibility of a chemical origin for life:

    “It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are present, which could ever have been present. But if (and Oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.”

    Recognizing, however, that the science of his time was not yet ready for such a concept, he added:

    “It is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter.”

    Darwin’s “little warm pond” remains one of the most suggestive explanations for the origin of life. A classic experiment performed by Harold Urey and Stanley Miller in the 1950s brought the problem of the origin of life, and the “little warm pond,” into the laboratory. Urey and Miller filled a flask with the gases they believed were present in the atmosphere of the ancient Earth, and suspended it over a small pool of water. They applied electrical sparks to the system, and observed that complex organic compounds, including amino acids, formed abundantly in the water. Amino acids are the most basic components of life on Earth. Their production in this experiment suggested that the beginnings of life could indeed have formed in appropriate settings on ancient Earth.

  77. “The origin of life is a necessary precursor for biological evolution, but understanding that evolution occurred once organisms appeared and investigating how this happens does not depend on understanding exactly how life began. The current scientific consensus is that the complex biochemistry that makes up life came from simpler chemical reactions, but it is unclear how this occurred. Not much is certain about the earliest developments in life, the structure of the first living things, or the identity and nature of any last universal common ancestor or ancestral gene pool. Consequently, there is no scientific consensus on how life began, but proposals include self-replicating molecules such as RNA, and the assembly of simple cells.” – from Theory of Evolution entry

    This is a follow-up to my previous post on how I don’t understand why this movie is called Creation or why The Theory of Evolution comes up during discussions on the origins of life. From what I’ve read TToE never claims to explain how life began. It only tries to explain how life evolves. So I don’t see any conflict between The Theory of Evolution and any type of creation theory from Science or any religion for that matter since TToE by its own definition doesn’t attempt to deal with creation.

    btw – I know wikipedia is not the best source but every place I’ve checked is basically the same.

  78. @Jonathan Vos Post
    Thanks for the reply. I’m aware of those quotes and of the experiments with “sparks” and amino acids but none of those are part of the Theory of Evolution. The Theory of Evolution deals with organisms evolving but those organisms already have to exist. Darwin may have thought the question was “rubbish” but that just proves my point, that his Theory did not attempt to answer the question of how life began. Instead he offered “suggestive explanations”. If one day we do discover how life began it will not be tacked on to the Theory of Evolution because IMO they deal with complete different topics.

  79. “I think you’re making a small category error with this assertion.

    “There is a significant difference between it taking a long time to recognise something and ruling something out based on an apriori assumption of facts.

    “There’s nothing in the basic concept of evolution that explicitly rules out symbiotic evolution – at least none that I’m aware of.”

    I was talking about the enormous resistance among the evolutionary biologists, refusing to even look or take seriously the evidence. I’m not talking about the standard skepticism that most definitely belongs in science.

  80. Let’s try not to derail the thread into a general discussion of evolution and creationism, folks. Otherwise this thread is going to get both contentious and boring.

  81. Okay, John. I now remove my Professor and former High School Chem, Bio, and Anatomy & Physiology teacher and return to default mode of snarky but congenial 2nd generation Science Fiction professional with questionable sense of humor, looking for an excuse to avoid work on the paying things whose deadlines are breathing down my neck. Please return to your regular program, already in progress.

  82. I’m still trying to figure out what’s wrong with Bettany’s hair. The movie sounds interesting, and if it will show up at an art house one of these days, I will probably go see it- especially if the tortoises have a supporting role.

  83. I’m more inclined to believe the fake controversy for publicity…

    Michael Moore is far more controversial than evolution is, and he makes millions.

    Hell, there was a movie distributed in 2007 called Zoo about BEASTIALITY…it found a distributor in the US.

    I’d think that’s a bit more controversial than evolution.

    The Telegraph story just doesn’t pass the smell test to me. This whole distributor story is about publicity or my name is Bob Terwilliger.

  84. The film just needs a more effective spokesman.

    I hear Kanye is really good at guerrilla promotion. Give him a public venue – the upcoming UN security council meeting, say – to plug the thing.

    He doesn’t even need a mic; he’ll grab one when he gets there.

  85. This “controversy” angle is BS, IMHO. I’m hard pressed to believe that there is such a thing as a film that is “too controversial” for US audiences. Controversy sells in this country, and sells big-time. And film distributors know this.

    Even here in Cincinnati, where we have a reputation for prudishness (a rep due largely, I think, to overzealous prosecutors), we had the Mappelthorpe exhibit in the early 90’s, in which the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) and its director were charged under obscenity laws with showing a number of explicitly homoerotic photographs.

    What people outside Cincinnati often forget is that the exhibit did go on (completely blowing away previous CAC attendance records) and the the CAC and its director were acquitted by a Hamilton County jury of the charges against them.

    So yeah, if you can’t get a conviction in Cincinnati in the Mappelthorpe case and attendance records are set instead, then the notion that a biopic of Darwin is too controversial for the US is, to me, simply an attempt to whip up a fake controversy in order to get people to pay to see an otherwise lame-ass film.

  86. I was talking about the enormous resistance among the evolutionary biologists, refusing to even look or take seriously the evidence.

    Scientists, as you noted, are by nature terribly conservative about when to start accepting data points. Plate Tectonics springs to mind.

    Once something is general accepted it tends to move into the mainstream of thinking reasonably quickly, so I still don’t see this as too much of a problem.

    Certainly there was a reluctance to let go of general natural selection as the _only_ evolutionary mechanism once they had it rather than looking at other systems.

    Bringing Science Fiction into the discussion (if I may John), Professor Jack Cohen has spent years doing the convention circuit giving excellent and entertaining talks about alien evolution and how unlikely it is to come out the same way twice, when along comes Simon Conway Morris and says the exact opposite, that evolution will trend towards optimal fits… for certain values of optimal.

    So I still think this sort of thing is a feature – and not just of evolutionary science. String Theory is another example where to disagree is practically heresy but there are, apparently good reasons to not accept String Theory as the be all and end all.

  87. John’s said it twice, folks. He’s being polite. Let me translate for those of you who don’t speak Polite: Stop talking about evolution and creationism now.

    He will bring out the Mallet of Loving Correction if he has to. I’ve seen it happen.

  88. Heh. Okay, to railroad the discussion back on track, I say it is high time we realised the truth.

    John Scalzi needs USD 150 x 10^6 to make the movie we all know needs to be made. Let’s start the fund rolling.

    I’m willing to chip in, as long as I get to sit in the premiere with RoboDarwin and Jennifer Connelly. Topless Jennifer Connelly is preferable, but not necessary.

  89. Why bother giving $150 mil to some scruffy crew of film-makers and whatnot, only a modest slice of which would accrue to the Connelly children college ed fund?

    I imagine if someone gave $150 mil directly to Ms. Connelly, she’d oblige. All that’s needed here is a front man to set up the organization, collect contributions, negotiate with the actress, and distribute the results.

  90. If I can step gingerly around the pools of parody and sands of sarcasm, might I suggest that this vehicle might be a better fit for a BBC miniseries?

    I seriously doubt that the BBC’s jaundiced view of the American public (“mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers”) comes from anything resembling actual acquaintance. If I really want to see knuckle-draggers, I’ll go to London. It was, after all, the British who found it necessary to invent the term “yob”.

    We grumbled about Gibson’s “Passion”, but it went on to garner a few bucks.

    I’d say we ought to give this one a good run, if for no other reason than to bring the certified loons out from under their rocks.

  91. Jonathan @77, uh, well, I was thinking of it more in the context of round atelactasis. Your post is nicer.

    What is this about Jennifer Connelly’s breasts, anyway? I’m sure they’re very nice, but you can see nice breasts on the Internet for free.

  92. Sadly, I now live in a state where one of the two options for a normal license plate has “In God We Trust” on it (Indiana). So, here, anyway, I think it would flop on the ‘evil-utionist’ plot aspect.

  93. Did Darwin’s kids die to make room for the others to flower, a’la evolution?

    Why didn’t they have the HMS Beagle full of cannons (not canons!) and add pirates and they find an alien who is lovable, but then they feed it and it “evolves” into a killing machine and they have to sort out a way to kill it but then the religious types plant a mole in the headquarters of Evolution, Inc. who will rise up to assassinate Darwin so the Red Chinese can take over the whole evolution story (it REALLY started in China) but then Spartans come and kick their asses , just before losing the whole war to the chinese gremlin lovers. Sort of Master and Commander meets Pirates of the Caribbean meets E.T. meets Gremlins meets the Manchurian Candidate meets 300.

    Oh and film it in 3-D. And at the end , when the entire Gallapagos Island chain is a smoking destroyed landscape the camera will pan back to have Al Gore with a feather in his hair gaze across the ruined landscape with a single tear running down his face. FADE OUT.

  94. “the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s death and the 150th anniversary of The Origin of Species,”

    lol whut

  95. For me the highlight of the film is Brian Dennehy’s role… oops, sorry, carried over an Acoe of Spades running gag.

    I expect the claims of “too controverisal!” are just an attempt to create controversy where there is none, and will be none. There’s a place in America for thoughtful, reflective films (or boring ones, to use another formulation), but it isn’t the mass market. John’s suggested scenario with explosions and breasts is right on. A bad movie with them will usually make lots more money than a good movie without.

    But the “controversial!!!” tactic reminds me of Oliver Stone’s dyspeptic screed about Alexander not doing well because the religious people, rather than protesting, ignored the film. If the film flops, claim it was too controversial. If your target responds with “Huh? What? Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention,” then maybe you’re barking up the wrong tree.

  96. Robert Lol-Whut @ 137 – comments about my error in typing death instead of birth are beginning to repeat themselves, plus I already meaculpa’d this by typing “Oops!” after the first (and wittier) comment.

    Bettany’s previous role in Master and Commander – interested scientist collecting specimens in obscure parts of the world while being intellectual companion to a ship’s captain – was pretty Darwinesque, and (relatively) action-Darwin too.

  97. Oh and film it in 3-D. And at the end , when the entire Gallapagos Island chain is a smoking destroyed landscape the camera will pan back to have Al Gore with a feather in his hair gaze across the ruined landscape with a single tear running down his face. FADE OUT.

    Bravo! Bravo my good man!

  98. ZOMG Tortoises. Errr no.

    What you really want in the film are frickin’ IGUANAS with frickin’ laser beams attached to their frickin’ heads. They can swim out to The Beagle and steal it from Darwin. Muuhaahaahaa.

  99. I was really looking forward to seeing this movie before anyone ever mentioned controversy, because I’m something of a Darwin fan, and not just for the theory of evolution; lovely man, really, though he sucked at bola hunting. I was also geeking out over Bettany playing him, because he was already on the edge of discovering evolution as Stephen Maturin in Master and Commander. Anyway.

    You make a lot of sense, but I wanted to point out that while period dramas are not often on the top ten box office lists, they still make money – enough money that they keep getting made, anyway, despite being costly. I looked at the current list of box office top earners and yeah, action and thriller films dominate with a romantic comedy and a kids’ film thrown in, though it looks like a comedy-drama has top billing. But quiet period films about families have their audiences too. If we talk about target audiences, theirs is as large as the action film target audience. I’m trying not to say “old people and women go to the movies too”, but… yeah. Besides, this is a film that a) has a hook (Darwin) and b) is getting smashing reviews; you’d think it would be at least as distributable as The Young Victoria, which is actually getting bad reviews – that is, if there really isn’t a controversy.

    So, while I agree that if the “controversy” gets enough coverage it will be good for the film, I also wouldn’t be surprised if there’s genuine political resistance to it and that the producer’s frustration is genuine, especially since his words (“I can’t believe this is still a hot potato in America”) resonate with a lot of Europeans.

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