Particle Fever

Movie Information

The Story: Documentary about finding the Higgs boson with the aid of Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. The Lowdown: It is made by physicists and made for physicists — or at least pretty hard-core science enthusiasts. For that audience, it's fine, but the uninitiated may find it something of a slog.
Genre: Physics Documentary
Director: Mark Levinson
Starring: Martin Aleksa, David Kaplan, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Savas Dimopoulos, Monica Dunford, Fabiola Gianotti
Rated: NR



Apparently, I am supposed to be really jazzed about Particle Fever as a Profoundly Important Film about an even more important topic — the search for the Higgs boson or, in popular press parlance, the “God particle.” At the end of what was to me an alternately tedious and unintentionally amusing — not to mention very long — 100 minutes, that’s all I really know. Well, I also know that they found it — probably — but they don’t really seem to know what it means. (This raises the prospect of Particle Fever 2: Einstein’s Revenge in a few years.) And, no, I don’t think I’ve given anyone any spoilers, since even I knew how it ended going in — and my interest in physics and science for its own sake is … well, let me put it this way: I once turned in a periodic chart of the elements listing fire, water, earth and air. It is not unreasonable to assume that anyone interested in seeing this movie knows more than I do about the Higgs boson and the Large Hadron Collider.




If you are a physicist — or maybe even a hard-core science freak — then this is quite possibly your movie. And I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s too long, but it’s well done — even if I really think it belongs on TV. But not only is your appreciation of it going to be grounded in your interest in and knowledge of the material, so to a great degree is your basic comprehension. The film seems very academic to me, and it is far more interested in telling us how gosh-darn exciting all this is than it is in telling us why it’s so gosh darn exciting.  The problem may be that none of the often socially awkward physicists are capable of explaining why they’re so riled up, but, boy, are they ever. Wait till you see them erupt in rapture when they first understand that the collider will work — an event that, from the layman’s perspective, looks like a light on a board in a control room coming on.




Director Mark Levinson seems to understand that this is an inherent problem with the film for the great unwashed, and he does everything he can to convey excitement — including slapping dramatic music over someone writing on a chalkboard. (I have not even mentioned the spectacle of partying physicists performing what might be called “Collider Rap.”) The biggest obstacle is the realization that the big experiment is not something you can actually see. Just how far trippy animation and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” goes to make up for that is a personal matter. If you’re really into the subject, it may work for you. Not Rated, but one physicist drops the f-word in a moment of excitement.

Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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