Film Review: Bill Nye: Science Guy

A delightful chance to walk in the shoes of a tireless promoter of science education, this entertaining documentary celebrates the current battles waged by 1990s TV star Bill Nye.
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A fun ride from start to finish, the entertaining documentary Bill Nye: Science Guy lets us tag along with its enchanting subject—the zany star of the popular 1990s educational television series “Bill Nye the Science Guy”—as he goes about his everyday business of fighting the good fight against folks such as climate-change deniers and creationists, who think science is something one has a choice to “believe in” or not.

Directed by David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg, and enhanced by William Ryan Fritch’s catchy, rhythmic score, the film draws its appeal largely from Nye. With his handsomely chiseled features, slender frame, measured tone, concerned spirit and informed thinking, he makes for an attractive “leading man.” Wisely, the filmmakers take a gentle-handed, non-pedantic approach and do lots more showing than telling. Though respected scientists contribute brief contextualizing statements now and then, most of the screen time is devoted to demonstrating Nye’s enormous popularity and widely felt influence, spotlighting America’s growing anti-science movement, and letting us witness how Nye is confronting it while also supporting pioneering experiments in space exploration.

Early on, the filmmakers proffer footage from Nye’s TV series so we can see how compelling it was and can understand why Nye is such a hero to the generation who grew up watching his programs in middle-school science class. We see those kids, now as grown-ups, mobbing Nye’s speaking engagements and crediting him with inspiring their continued interests, and in some cases careers, in science.

Our first outing with Nye is a diverting visit to Kentucky’s Creation Museum, a visually spectacular anti-evolution institution Nye walks us through, pointing out its many inaccuracies, such as an exhibit displaying dinosaurs and humans existing at the same time. Ironically, after Nye emerged victorious in a much-publicized debate with the museum’s founder, creationist Ken Ham, money came flooding in from Ham’s supporters, which he subsequently used to fund The Ark Encounter, a creationism theme park housed within a giant rendition of Noah’s ark. When Nye visits the park, where the exhibits are also exquisite and erroneous, he gets into a heated argument with Ham over the issue of enticing children down this anti-science pathway.

Our travels with Nye also include stops at a national science teachers’ convention, where he is a lauded guest, and the Planetary Society, a space-interest group co-founded by Nye’s mentor Carl Sagan, which recently appointed Nye CEO. The documentary’s most exciting scenes show Nye’s involvement with the Society’s testing of a new lightweight space craft—made of Mylar sheets fueled by photons from the sun—that could significantly lower space exploration costs.

Nye’s sentimental side is revealed as he revisits his childhood home and shares memories of his smart feminist mother (who was recruited to work on the Enigma Code during World War II) and stops at his brother’s house, where the siblings play with a fabulous model train set. Yet lest Nye appear too “perfect,” the filmmakers allow us to sit in on an interview Nye grants to a neuroscientist studying the effects of fame on one’s brain. We learn that Nye never married, has no children, and possibly harbors intimacy issues.

The filmic highlight of the documentary is Nye’s visit to the East Greenland Ice Core Project. With breathtaking cinematography by Alvarado, we venture through an awesome tunnel of ice, where the core is drilled to measure climate change.

By the end of the film—an eye-opening opportunity to walk in the shoes of this tireless supporter of science education—you understand what makes Nye tick and want nothing more than to say, “You go, Bill.” 

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