Can America Not Handle the Science in "Creation" & "Extraordinary Measures"?

By Andrew Moseman | January 25, 2010 4:55 pm

Friday saw the release of two science-centered films: the medical drama “Extraordinary Measures” opened around the country, while the British-made Charles Darwin biopic “Creation” finally found a U.S. distributor and began limited showings on this side of the pond.

Starring Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford, “Extraordinary Measures” tells the Hollywood-ized true story of researchers racing to find a cure for Pompe disease, a genetic affliction affecting fewer than 10,000 people in the world. Two of those people, however, are the children of John Crowley, Fraser’s character. “The movie is a great exposure for a rare genetic disease,” said Duke University School of Medicine’s Priya Kishnani, who studies Pompe and participated in much of the research that led to the first and only approved treatment for the disease…. “I would have never thought in my lifetime, a disease that I’m so passionate about would make it into mainstream Hollywood cinema” [The Scientist].

While Dr. R. Rodney Howell also applauded Hollywood for making the film, he wrote for the Miami Herald that people must be careful not to imagine that the Hollywood version of finding cures—Crowley overcoming all odds nearly alone to successfully save his children—is the way it really works. There’s much more to the story of how drugs are developed in the real world. And, as Americans turn to the promise of science to correct deadly genetic mistakes, we need to realize drugs don’t get “discovered” the way Hollywood says they do [Miami Herald]. The real-life Pompe treatment upon which the film is based, called Myozyme, took 20 years of work, with teams of scientists building on the work of other teams, Howell points out.

creation

As for “Creation,” prospects looked grim last fall for the film even finding distribution in the United States. Producer Jeremy Thomas ranted to The Telegraph that the poor percentage of Americans accepting evolution, compared to residents of other countries, was keeping his movie out of the United States. Less than two weeks later, however, the U.S. distribution rights were picked up by Newmarket Films – which was ironic, because five years earlier the same company handled  “The Passion of the Christ,” Mel Gibson’s worshipful (and graphic) tale of Jesus’ death and resurrection [MSNBC].

Actually, according to director Jon Amiel, the holdup happened mostly because U.S. distributors didn’t see a period drama about big ideas as a big money-maker, as opposed to say, blue creatures with tails piloting dragons in 3-D. “I’d love to say that it was a conservative, right-wing religious conspiracy that hampered the film’s distribution prospects,” he said, “but the truth is a little more complicated” [Wired.com].

“Creation” stars Paul Bettany as the great naturalist and Jennifer Connelly as his wife, Emma Darwin. Amiel’s film focuses particularly on Darwin’s personal life, reviews say, especially the fact that the real Darwin wasn’t the religion-smasher that some critics make him out to be, but rather held conflicted feelings on the implications of his singular notion for humanity’s place in the cosmos.

Related Content:
The Intersection: Darwin Film “Too Controversial For Religious America?”
Discoblog: Darwin May’ve Had “Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome” (It’s As Fun As It Sounds)
Discoblog: Worst Science Article of the Week: The “Dark Side” of Darwin
Discoblog: Sneak Preview of Darwin: The Musical
DISCOVER: Vital Signs, all our medical mysteries

“Creation” Image: Newmarket Films

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • Nanakitteh

    I for one would love to see the Creation movie. It would be nice to see the story of Darwin’s life and how he put the pieces together.

    I’m not so interested in Extraordinary Measures, but that’s a personal preference not a religious or scientific one. It sounds like it’s too melodramtic for my tastes.

  • Sarah

    “Extraordinary Measures” seems a lot like the movie “Lorenzo’s Oil” which focuses on the disease ALD-adrenoleukodystrophy. I just hope Extraordinary Measures puts scientists and doctors in a better light than Lorenzo’s Oil did :)

  • Katharine

    This is why I hate America.

  • Robert

    @Katharine: the nice thing about our country and ppl like you is that you are free to leave!

    Creation, which seems to be a misnomer since its more about evolution than creation, promises to be a melodramatic tell of a couple “torn between faith and science”. Give us a break. We are not all atheists. Many many people don’t buy what the media sells and are quite comfortable living with both. We’ve all heard of Darwin science majors or not. What would be more thought provoking IME would be a movie about the flaws and corrections in Darwin’s ideas. Evolutionary biology is a hazy, sketchy science indeed. Sort of the red-headed step child of the true sciences like physics and chemistry.

  • YouRang

    Sadly the critics pretty much agree that Creation isn’t very good. PBS had a cool show with the luxuriant scenes from some other special (I forget which) showing an explosion of life.

  • YouRang

    Also A.O. Scott of the NYTimes said he learned about how science works and therefore liked Extreme Measures. I had wondered how he knew that the movie was correct in its depiction of the creation of science. I am happy the above article says that it wasn’t very correct either.

  • Richard Stein

    I had the pleasure of having as a guest several years ago, for a meal the granddaughter or great granddaughter(?) of Charles Darwin while spending time at Cambridge University in the UK. At that time. we had some discussion of Charles Darwin, and I would be interested in leaning more about current thinking.

  • Chris

    As an American I’d love to see Creation if it is playing in a theater in the Dallas area. I’m not religious and it can’t offend me. Moreover, I would think that anyone secure in their faith wouldn’t be offended by the subject matter either. Most of my friends think the same way.

    That is why I hate America-haters. ;)

  • Ian

    “which was ironic” Why? It is possible to believe in evolution and God – ask St George Mivart and Ken Miller.

  • TripCyclone

    Robert,

    Evolutionary biology isn’t as sketchy as you seem to believe. Every year, evidence FOR evolution is presented, increasing the acceptance of the concept by scientists. Modern Evolutionary Theory is now a widely accepted explanation for how life got to it’s current stage, and the concept of evolution is almost uncontested in science. The debates are now centered on individual mechanics of the development of different species, not the theory as a whole. So it’s not as sketchy as you seem to believe. It is regarded as a true science, despite what you state, and is often considered a principle component of modern biology. And the flaws you refer to…what flaws are you referring too? Yes, there are flaws but not with the concept as a whole. I often see flaws misapplied as general proof against the concept of evolution, when they are really flaws with individual mechanics of evolution on a smaller scale.

    Now, about the film. How does “…promises to be a melodramatic TALE {not tell} of a couple “torn between faith and science”.” turn into the need for a break and spouting about atheism? If you are trying to say that Darwin was an atheist, that would be incorrect. Darwin was a religious person, and his wife was even more devout than him. He sat on his theory for years because he knew that it went against church philosophy, and because of concerns about how his wife would react. It was the threat of another biologist publishing and getting credit for the idea that spurred him to get his work completed and to the press. If you are trying to argue that this film would only capture the attention of atheists, then there’s another misguided statement.

    Now, I happen to agree that many people are comfortable with both faith and science. I myself have solid faith, but I also firmly believe that science plays an important role in our understanding of the world around us and without it, we would not be where we are today.

    I agree, a film that delves into the various flaws and corrections to the theory that have been made since Darwin first presented his theory to the world would be interesting, but only if the information was presented in an unbiased manner. Too often, that kind of film comes along produced by someone trying to argue for creationism, and often involves a biased representation of the facts. And the type of film being discussed in this article is actually a very good thing as I’ve commonly heard people talk about how Darwin wasn’t a religious person, that he was trying to argue against religion, etc., etc. All misguided beliefs that this film addresses.

    Last…when you say IME, what are you trying to say? I’m hoping it was just a typo and you meant IMO (in my OPINION).

  • Frank V.

    I saw Creation recently, and, I think it was a great drama but I wouldn’t really call it a science movie. When the movie starts, Darwin has already figured everything out, and the rest of the picture only covers the actual writing of “On The Origin of Species” while Charles Darwin deals with his sickness, his relationship with his wife/family, and his dead daughter. Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty good, just not that much science, or history.

  • Brad

    The religious scientist: God created the universe. We are just trying to figure out how and what rules he set in place.

    The non-religious scientist: We know the universe came into being and that it is governed by predictable rules, but we don’t know exactly how. Give us a theory we can test, and we’ll explore it and see if we can prove or disprove it. At present, you can’t test the God theory, so it must be set aside for now. When someone figures out a way to test it, it will be examined critically just as any other new theory is.

  • phanie

    Brad: Thanks very much. You clearly outlined why understanding evolution really doesn’t have anything to do with religious beliefs. Evolution doesn’t claim why, it’s about understanding how. And we know an awful lot about how. It is happening to all living things and it’s not sketchy – those who say it is may have just have sketchy personal knowledge of the subject, and it’s fundamental to most biological sciences. Everything from diseases, crop management, drug development, genetic disorders and gene therapy, and biological resource management, to name a few, is dependent on an understanding of evolution. Addtionally, if you ever check out a museum, it’s not a coincidence that elephant bones, lizard bones, whale bones, and human bones are not strikingly different outside of their size.

  • Larry

    Sketchy? Surely you jest. The pictures of hell shown to me and my 7 year old friends in our Baptist church sunday school 55 years ago were “sketchy”. It took me 35 years to free myself from the fear, guilt, psychological violence and brainwashing that I was subjected to as a young child. Unfortunately some people never escape. I have siblings who are still trying to re-convert me.

  • http://www.dnusbaum.com Doug Nusbaum

    Science does not deal with truth. A very vague and ambiguous concept at best except in the areas of math and logic. Science is about theories. The best are the most useful as measured by how well they make predictions, what is required to make those predictions, and the scope of those predictions. Hence you have both “classical” and “quantum” mechanics as well as both “general relativity” and Newtonian gravitation theory. None of these is “more true” than the other. But depending on what you are doing, one or two of these will be much more useful than the others.

    Creationism is not science since it has no useful theories. None at all.

    Even creationists do not believe it. This is reflected in their language. They will never say that “this medical treatment is faith based, or faithfully accurate in order to promote a cure” But they will claim that a certain argument of faith is based on science. Seriously, how strange is that?

  • Alison

    I don’t know if it’s late or not, but the website has listings of it playing in many cities. Dallas, Atlanta,… and so on. I think this was just a publicity stunt exploiting the stereotype that American are all super religious; this gave them more press and now people here know about the movie and will go and see it. What a scumbag. Also, the only website, beside this one that I’ve seen this on, was a UK one. (Telegraph) I’m just so sick of these people.

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