The TV cart, the bowtie, the chant: Bill Nye has left a legacy among a certain generation, thanks to his Emmy-award winning show “Bill Nye The Science Guy,” which ran during the 1990s. But as his new documentary shows, he’s still working to educate.
Since his show went off the air, Nye has been spreading the gospel of science on many fronts: At Ken Ham’s Creation Museum, in debate with anti-science and climate-change deniers, as CEO of The Planetary Society.
As Nye describes it, in the 1990s he started feeling bad about the United States and its relationship to science education. His TV show helped make him a household name, and make science fun again (as many former students whose teachers wheeled in the TV cart to show one of his episodes can attest), and now he hopes to keep the party going — even in the face of some seriously well-broadcast opposition.
But “Bill Nye: Science Guy” goes about this in a peculiar sense. It introduces concepts — the history and creation of his hit show (right across from now-CenturyLink Field!), his debate with Ham, and so on — and then abruptly moves on. Similar to how a segment or a gag would repeat on his classic ‘90s show, the documentary circles back around to most of these threads later on in the movie. But the result is a bit bewildering; the movie moves fluidly, sure, but in a blur and robs each item of discussion of its full depth.
About halfway through, for instance, after we’ve seen Nye debate Ken Ham, and attend the opening of his “ark” which proudly sprouts Creationism, the film checks in with some protesters and newscasters outside the ark. It’s there we learn that the ark received millions in funding after Nye debated Ham, in a move that opponents say “legitimized” the Creationist pseudo-science in some way.
But all too quickly we’ve moved onto Joe Bastardi, a climate-change denier who Nye debated on “The O’Reilly Factor.” There’s no chance to really breathe, let alone get a sense of how Nye feels about the conflicting marching orders as “The Science Statesman.” And the documentary moves like this throughout — he meets up with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Tyson talks of nominating him to CEO of The Planetary Society, we jump back to Carl Sagan founding the Society and pushing solar sails, we see Nye walking around a constructed building, and we’re back to the ark.
The amount it covers is still plenty interesting to people—especially those who are big fans of Bill Nye and his work. That the whole things seems insightful to a calculated degree is disappointing, and at points distracting, but it doesn’t necessarily drag the film so much as disorients the audience. For those that want to check in with a childhood hero and see how his crusade continues, “Bill Nye: Science Guy” provides plenty of alchemy for delight. For those that were hoping for something a peek behind the blue lab coat, well, here science rules, and everything else will have to wait.
“Bill Nye: Science Guy,” opens Nov. 17 at SIFF Cinema Uptown (511 Queen Anne Ave. N.). For more information on the documentary, go to www.billnyefilm.com.