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 Sept. 4, 2015
It is the most profane of preseason traditions: Deadspin's annual NFL Why Your Team Sucks series. Every year, columnist Drew Magary goes through every team in the league, mercilessly burns them to the ground and salts the ground they once proudly stood upon. And now he's finally made it to the Green Bay Packers. It's not pretty.
Published Sept. 3, 2015
Every year, I think that there's no way the Milwaukee Film Festival can put together another lineup as strong as the year before, and every year, I'm proven wrong. 2015 is no different. Here are 10 of the movies I'm most looking forward to once the end of the month comes around.
Published Sept. 2, 2015
"The Room" is a not bad movie. Bad movies are nothing special to Hollywood; one comes out pretty much every weekend. No, "The Room" is more like an unholy miracle of awful filmmaking, a movie that fails so incredibly hard it becomes an almighty success in the process. The new cult classic is coming to the Oriental Theatre this weekend, so we asked its creator Tommy Wiseau a few questions. And no, not "So anyway, how's your sex life?"
Published Aug. 31, 2015
The former Goldmann's Department Store is in the process of becoming the new home to the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center. As a part of the renovation process, however, its iconic sign was taken down. After spending some time for sale in the construction lot, the popular Milwaukee and Mitchell Street landmark has found a new home. But, not in Milwaukee.
Published Aug. 27, 2015
Growing up, the Bay View-based toy maker Peggy Brown has plenty of memories of the classic board game Operation - and her family didn't even own it. Decades later, Brown - along with her friend and fellow toy maker Tim Walsh - are trying to give something back to the man whose legendarily buzz-worthy game gave them so many fun times and fond memories over the years with the documentary "Buzz Heard 'Round the World."
Published Aug. 27, 2015
Considering its reputation as Milwaukee's haunted bar, Shaker's Cigar Bar, located at 422 S. 2nd St., certainly knows a thing or two about old stories coming to life. After giving plenty of historical tours through the years and guiding eager guests to some of the city's ghosts, bar owner Bob Weiss and marketing director Amanda Morden are hoping they've found a new way to resurrect some of Milwaukee's old tales of yore: Hangman Radio.
Published Aug. 26, 2015
Now, with their Internet comedy series "Shangri-L.A.," Milwaukee-grown filmmakers Drew Rosas and Nick Sommer ("Billy Club," "Pester") are the latest to go in search of the worldly utopia. Well, kind of, as the search for dreams brings them to the very real city of Los Angeles - and to Kickstarter to help finish the 11 episode production.
Published Aug. 25, 2015
Yes, the Packers will probably be just fine without Jordy Nelson, who's done for the year with a significant right knee injury. But sometimes, you just need to grieve ... with a collection of Dubsmashes from Olivia Munn and Aaron Rodgers from before the injury that eerily fit this time of great sadness.
Published Aug. 23, 2015
If you're planning on riffing off of one of Hollywood's greatest director's greatest movies, you better know what you're doing. Luckily, the man behind "Phoenix" is the extremely talented German director Christian Petzold, who smartly takes a touch of Hitchcock and twists it into an impressive project all of his own, a brilliantly crafted modern post-war noir carefully cloaked in mystery that slowly but satisfyingly burns to a quiet fireworks display of a finale.
Published Aug. 22, 2015
The jazzy retro style of Guy Ritchie's "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." is slinky fun, but enjoy it while you can because, like a toddler, if you take your eyes off it for a second to grab your drink or glance at your watch or merely blink, it is gone, a whooshing little breeze where it once used to be on screen and in your mind. The projector might as well be one of those neuralizers from "Men in Black."