The premise to "Particle Fever," Milwaukee Filmâ€™s members screening selection last week, doesnâ€™t exactly scream spectacular entertainment. A film about scientists questing through a world of classrooms and computer screens for an invisible theoretical particle and debating harder-than-diamond scientific theory sounds less destined for the big screen and more doomed for high school classrooms, playing to drowsy students on a pre-break half day.
Yet Mark Levinsonâ€™s documentary about the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012 and the experimentâ€™s five-year buildup defies its educational film expectations. Yes, side effects likely include a rudimentary understanding of the current state of particle physics, but itâ€™s never simply a dense, dry lecture. Rather, "Particle Fever" weaves together an intellectually and emotionally engaging story that efficiently translates years of scientific anticipation, frustration and excitement â€“ even to viewers whose understanding of stuff like protons extends as far as the Ghostbustersâ€™ weapon of choice.
The mission is the Higgs boson, boldly nicknamed "God particle." The experimentâ€™s methodology is almost amusingly simplistic: smash two beyond microscopic particles together and see what flies out of the wreckage. However, the machinery behind it â€“ a monumental, ring-shaped particle collider a decade and over 100 nations in the making, built underground near Geneva, Switzerland â€“ is anything but basic.
If discovered, the Higgs boson could point physicists in the direction of answering some of mankindâ€™s greatest questions about the universe. If not, those same physicists will have to take a long, sobering look in the mirror, realizing that decades of theories and research have led them barking up the wrong tree. Simplified even more, it serves as a progress check: Either the experiment shows science is on the right track, or itâ€™s back to page one. Or the ridiculous third option that it forms a black hole that eats the planet (spoiler alert: It doesnâ€™t).
There are some big conceptual ideas at play in "Particle Fever," yet much of the film focuses on the little people making it happen. Levinsonâ€™s movie gets down in the trenches with the scientists, from the people running the experiments out in Switzerland to a duo of theorists dreaming up ideas from a distance (one particularly horrifying one involving multi-verses could basically make physics null, void and impossible to predict).
Oscar-winning editor Walter Murch manages to take seven years of footage, compress that and find the fascinating story, one that bounds back and forth easily between the experiment and the ideas, naturally blending explaining the dense concepts with simple yet effective graphics with personalities without sacrificing anything in the process. Early on, "Particle Fever" wrangles tension from merely waiting for a bleep on a computer screen.Â
The result is a story that moves and carries a surprisingly dramatic charge.Â
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Jan. 29, 2015
After a little more than a decade under its belt, it seems Cold War Kids are still musically toying around a bit with what it wants to be when it grows up. But according to frontman Nathan Willett, it feels pretty close to now.
Published Jan. 27, 2015
Over 30 years after the event - but just in time for today's headlines - local filmmakers Michael T. Vollmann (the Wisconsin Film Festival-winning short "Before You") and Chris James Thompson ("The Jeffrey Dahmer Files") are putting the true story of a group of young Milwaukee hackers back in the spotlight with their new short documentary "The 414s: The Original Teenage Hackers."
Published Jan. 26, 2015
The brand new event is a weekend-long local music extravaganza running from Friday, Feb. 27 through Sunday, March 1, with 70 bands and 15 artists spread across three neighborhoods -- Bay View, Riverwest and the East Side -- and 15 venues. If that sounds cool, its motives (besides providing a ton of music) are even more so.
Published Jan. 26, 2015
As a gender-swapped sexy stalker thriller in the vein of "Fatal Attraction," "The Boy Next Door" is about as dead in the water as Michael Douglas' infamous pet bunny. However, as a tawdry slab of silly, giggle-inducing camp, "The Boy Next Door" scores more laughs than most intentional comedies. There's entertainment to be found here - cue the cookie-related innuendos - just never particularly of the variety the filmmakers were going for.
Published Jan. 24, 2015
It doesn't take long into George Lucas' bizarre new animated movie "Strange Magic" to ask "What the heck am I watching?" Not shortly after, that question turns into "Why the heck am I still watching this?" It's hard to rationalize a good answer for either.
Published Jan. 22, 2015
After the Sony hack forced "The Interview" out of its prime Christmas release slot, "Blackhat" seemed to be perfectly primed to take its place. Alas, Universal kept the film in January. And maybe that was for the best, because even with its timely sounding synopsis, "Blackhat" plays like a relic, recalling less the anxiety of today's headlines and more the warmed-over memories of yesterday's forgettable action junk and silly techno-trash.
Published Jan. 20, 2015
A day before the Common Council meets to vote on the Milwaukee streetcar plan, advocates and opponents made their final pushes to gain public support or enough signatures for a referendum.
Published Jan. 20, 2015
"Selma" is much more accomplished than "timely" gives it credit - or that its award season release and Important Movie surface may imply. It may appear like yet another Great Man Oscar bait biopic. Instead, it plays exactly like what many of those films are desperately reaching to be: a deeply powerful and deftly nuanced movie, one that beautifully captures the man and his mission with clear eyes, leaving viewers with teary ones thoroughly earned.
Published Jan. 19, 2015
After heading into the heart of the South in "The Beautiful Music All Around Us," the Milwaukee Rep now travels up to Southie in Boston, the home of the Ben Affleck, the Red Sox, pahking the cahr in Hahvahd Yahd and David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People." Taking over the award-winning role of Margie in the Rep's production is Milwaukee actress and director Laura Gordon, but it's not her first go around with the street smart Southie native.
Published Jan. 16, 2015
Every January, the Academy wakes the film-obsessed nation bright and early to present its picks for the best movies of the past year. And every year, it's a three-way tie for headlines between the expected, the exciting and the excrement.