Ebert on Expelled

I hadn’t realized that Roger Ebert had so far neglected to review Expelled, but he has now belatedly rectified that omission with a wonderfully scathing sneer at the movie. Here’s a taste:

The more you know about evolution, or simple logic, the more you are likely to be appalled by the film. No one with an ability for critical thinking could watch more than three minutes without becoming aware of its tactics. It isn’t even subtle. Take its treatment of Dawkins, who throughout his interviews with Stein is honest, plain-spoken, and courteous. As Stein goes to interview him for the last time, we see a makeup artist carefully patting on rouge and dusting Dawkins’ face. After he is prepared and composed, after the shine has been taken off his nose, here comes plain, down-to-earth, workaday Ben Stein. So we get the vain Dawkins with his effete makeup, talking to the ordinary Joe.

I have done television interviews for more than 40 years. I have been on both ends of the questions. I have news for you. Everyone is made up before going on television. If they are not, depending on their complexions, they will look sunburned, red-splotched, oily, pale as a fish belly, orange, mottled, ashen, or too dark to be lighted in the same shot with a lighter skin. There is not a person reading this right now who should go on camera without some kind of makeup. Even the obligatory “shocked neighbors” standing in their front yards after a murder usually have some powder brushed on by the camera person. Was Ben Stein wearing makeup? Of course he was. Did he whisper to his camera crew to roll while Dawkins was being made up? Of course he did. Otherwise, no camera operator on earth would have taped that. That incident dramatizes his approach throughout the film. If you want to study Gotcha! moments, start here.

That is simply one revealing fragment. This film is cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, slanted, cherry-picks quotations, draws unwarranted conclusions, makes outrageous juxtapositions (Soviet marching troops representing opponents of ID), pussy-foots around religion (not a single identified believer among the ID people), segues between quotes that are not about the same thing, tells bald-faced lies, and makes a completely baseless association between freedom of speech and freedom to teach religion in a university class that is not about religion.

I don’t think he liked it.


  1. Parker says

    Sooo true. I recently talked to a co-worker who had seen the movie who had fallen for the same lame thatrical tactics that mr. stein employed to get his point across. she left the theater feeling that stein made a point, that we should* have a right to question science, blah blah blah. I simply explained that scintists love explanation, but when the only alternate theory you can propose is ‘godddidit’ then your answer falls short of any respect. I live int he bible belt and it appalls me that people fall for stein’s tricky shit. I was the only person in the theater (apparently) who didn’t take a thing he said seriously and who was actually insulted by stein’s stupid tactics and irrational POV. More reviews need to be published to absolutely RUIN his movie (if that’s possible) and give credit to rational, reasonable film making and information conveying techniques.

  2. Susan says

    I liked, “In the film, Ben Stein asks predictable questions, and exploits an unending capacity for counterfeit astonishment.”

    That reminds me of every fundamentalist Christian I know.

  3. says

    I know nothing of the making of moving pictures, but I recall Dawkins’ cameraman writing on RichardDawkins.net that in all the shootings they have done, he never needed to wear any make-up.

  4. scooter says

    PZ, you slammed Ebert for doing a POE not long ago, which I thought was horribly unfair.

    We can’t expect a film reviewer to be as informed as a biologist or even a regular phaynglar.

    I thought it was a good poe and you slammed him.

    I thought you owed him an apology then, as now.

  5. Steve P. says

    I’m sure it’s been mentioned here before, but if anyone here has a Netflix account you can stream Expelled right from your computer or xbox. I’m not sure if they get $$$ for this but I’m sure its better than renting.

    It took me two sittings to get through it. Needless to say, Ebert was spot on.

  6. scooter says

    Not to mention, that despite your awesome turn of phrase, and excellent writing skills, Ebert has just made you a piker on the subject of Expelled Slam.

    Glad he finally rose to the challenge.

  7. Droshi says

    I watched Expelled at around 2:00 in the morning when it came out on DVD, so i dont really remember a whole lot,but I remember enough to agree that Eberts review is dead on. The stupid little random black and white scenes bugged the crap out of me.

  8. Samping says

    Jeez that was scathing. I had no idea that Ebert was a evilutionist. He mentioned that he debated evolution, that’s new to me. I mean, he even knew the best pictures to put to spice up the review!

    This man needs to come to the next TAM.

  9. says

    I’m surprised Expelled is still being discussed, but it’s nice to see that such discussion is negative. I have yet to see the film, and really don’t plan to. I think it should die the ungainly death it had coming since its abominable beginning.

  10. Badger3k says

    I often don’t go to the original site, just because I am lazy. However, growing up watching him and Siskel…I felt I owed it to him. I’m glad I did. Wow.

  11. Flerndip says

    I rather enjoyed that article. I had no idea Mr. Ebert was such a rational guy. I suppose I should pay closer attention to him henceforth. I don’t always agree with his movie reviews, but he earned points for calling a spade a spade in this case.

    Thanks for pointing out out, Dr. Myers! It was a good read, and it put a smile on my face.

  12. Janine ID AKA The Lone Drinker says

    Mozglubov, Ebert was not able to review movies for almost a year because of he was being treated for cancer. When he was able to get back to work at the beginning of the year, he was back to reviewing current films as well as catching up with movies he did not review because he was laid up. At the time, he stated that he was not interested in reviewing said film.

    Politically, Ebert is on the liberal side. For the Chicago Sun-Times, he would sometimes write columns for the editorial page. Most were highly critic of dubya. Needless to say, the letters to the editors were stocked with screeds, indignant that a movie critic dared to express his opinions. Also, in Ebert’s Answer Man columns, he regularly answered letter from people who were upset at his liberal slant in his reviews. I am assuming that Ebert did the review in response to the numerous people who questioned him on it.

  13. JHS says


    His drooling over ‘Crash’ notwithstanding, Ebert generally has a good head on his shoulders. Glad he finally had the chance to issue ‘Expelled’ a massive takedown.

  14. Liberal Atheist says

    I shall read this later, on my lunch break, over a baguette. To read Roger Ebert’s critique on Expelled should be good, like an early Yul gift.

  15. Sigmund says

    Scooter, the trouble with Eberts Poe article was that it was badly done. He pointed out various examples of creationist thinking, apparently for comic effect, without realizing that these are often advocated completely seriously by creationists. He seemed genuinely surprised afterwards that people might not take them for punchlines.
    By the way, Ebert recently did a review on ‘Religulous’ that you might like to compare to this one on Expelled.

  16. Feynmaniac says

    Great review, Ebert. This makes up for the time you recommended Titan A.E. All is forgiven.

  17. clinteas says

    Its not so much a movie review,more a total utter annihilation of Ben Stein,the DI,ID in general and Premise Media.
    Its a real treat.

  18. Jack Rawlinson says

    Bjørn Østman – the films done by the RD.net people are wholly amateur jobs performed just to provide a basic record of events such as the AAI conventions. You can tell they’re not professionally shot or lit just by looking at them. This is not like a TV or movie production where, as Ebert says, everyone has some touching-up done before appearing on camera.

  19. Pimientita says

    My favorite excerpt from the review:

    “Your rights have been violated. You’re at wit’s end. You think perhaps the field of Indie Documentaries offers you hope. You accept a position at the Institute of Undocumented Documentaries in Dallas, Texas.”

    Undocumented documentaries, indeed…Ebert hit the nail on just that one phrase.

  20. Pimientita says

    Also…good on Ebert for giving such a thorough and thoroughly scathing review. It’s months too late and seems so much dust in the wind now, but he tackles so many points that most other movie reviewers would not have the knowledge and/or the space to acknowledge. Hopefully, some people will stumble onto this review and really listen to what he says and seek some real answers.

  21. Matt7895 says

    It happens to my birthday today, I couldn’t ask for a greater birthday present. Thank you Roger.

  22. Matt7895 says

    Jack Rawlinson #24

    You are wrong. It is true that some of the folks at RD.net recorded the AAI conferences. But they now actually record ‘Episodes’, featuring Richard talking to people from the worlds of science and reason, including PZ Myers. Those ‘Episodes’ are professionally shot, and it does RD.net a disservice not to mention them.

  23. Chris says

    So I hear you’re going to Rollins College? You couldn’t have done this I don’t know like 8 months ago when I was actually still in the U.S? Thanks PZ!!! Anyways, I’ll see if I cant get my friend to go and get him to inform me about it. Enjoy Orlando/Winter Park.

  24. Adrian W. says

    At a pitch meeting, they are receptive to your ideas, although with the proviso that you should change the proposed title of your film, “From Darwin to Hitler,” because that might limit the market to those who had heard of neither, or only one.

    Dammit, I had a mouth full of coffee when I read that.

  25. says

    Brilliant! I particularly liked the cartoon at the end – Let’s teach both – let the kids decide:
    Alchemy – Chemistry
    Magic – Physics
    Phrenology – Neurology
    Astrology – Astronomy


  26. David Marjanović, OM says

    PZ, you slammed Ebert for doing a POE not long ago, which I thought was horribly unfair.

    Actually, no. The whole affair was a demonstration that Poe’s Law should be renamed Ebert’s Fallacy, the fallacy consisting of — as comment 21 says — not knowing and not being able to imagine that there really are cretinists who believe, for example, almost everything Ebert was able to come up with!

    It was still obvious satire, but far, far, far less obvious than Ebert believed. I took it apart point by point on the thread where we discussed that.

  27. David Marjanović, OM says

    Ebert’s Fallacy: “There are ideas that are so stupid that no creationist will believe them.”

  28. llewelly says

    Brilliant! I particularly liked the cartoon at the end – Let’s teach both – let the kids decide:
    Alchemy – Chemistry
    Magic – Physics
    Phrenology – Neurology
    Astrology – Astronomy


    Except that the poster in the cartoon labelled ‘Astrology’ is actually a palmistry diagram. Same kind of thinking, though.

  29. Graculus says

    Except that the poster in the cartoon labelled ‘Astrology’ is actually a palmistry diagram.

    Can you tell the difference?

  30. tsgt says

    Except that the poster in the cartoon labelled ‘Astrology’ is actually a palmistry diagram. Same kind of thinking, though.

    Isn’t that a little like complaining that a cartoon where Evolution = Ferrari and ID = Matchbox car really features Hot Wheels?

  31. SteveM says

    Isn’t that a little like complaining that a cartoon where Evolution = Ferrari and ID = Matchbox car really features Hot Wheels?

    no because it is pretty obvious that a drawing of a hand is not an astrology diagram. It would be like having a teddy bear labelled “matchbox car”.

  32. phantomreader42 says

    tsgt @ #36:

    Isn’t that a little like complaining that a cartoon where Evolution = Ferrari and ID = Matchbox car really features Hot Wheels?

    In this vein:
    Evolution = Ferrari
    Creationism = Matchbox car
    ID = Matchbox car painted to look like a Ferrari with poorly-mixed watercolors by a blind kid

  33. says

    Timely, huh? What’s next, his review on Citizen Kane? Still, I’m a fan and glad to see he finally decided to step out and speak up, but come-on, isn’t the cat already out of the bag?


  34. Sigmund says

    If you read the comments on Eberts site under his Poe article you will notice that there were plenty of creationists who said they agreed with everything he had posted. Their only difficulty in taking it seriously was that they were aware of Eberts non-religious nature and suspected he might not be serious.

  35. tsg says

    no because it is pretty obvious that a drawing of a hand is not an astrology diagram. It would be like having a teddy bear labelled “matchbox car”.

    That whooshing noise was the point sailing over your head.

  36. Bachalon says

    You know, the older I get, the more I like Ebert. Even when we disagree (which isn’t frequently. I mean c’mon he loved “Sansho The Bailiff” as much as me), I understand where he’s coming from.

    Good critics in general really.

    Thanks for posting this, Prof. Myers.

  37. freakuency13 says

    While we are back on the Ben Stein subject I figure I would pile on and offer more evidence what a fool he is (as if it wasn’t obvious enough)

    Presented is a clip of news shows (taken over the last year plus) featuring economist Peter Schiff warning of the coming economic crisis. Watch Ben Stein show what an incompetent nit wit he is be scoffing at such suggestions. Now of course he is the one running around with his hair on fire begging for government action.

  38. JackC says

    Freak@43…. If you can’t keep up, take notes.

    Check the main page down a few comments. Hell – a screen shot is even part of the post itself.


  39. GregB says

    George Hrab made an excelent point on one of his recent podcast. He said :

    “If you deny evolution then you must deny biology because you’re saying that biology doesn’t work that way.

    But if you deny biology then you must deny chenistry because isn’t biology just organic chemistry?

    But if you deny chemistry then you must deny physics because chemistry describes the way atoms and molecules interact with each other and that’s physics.

    But if you deny physics then you must deny mathematics which describes how all of physics works.

    And if you deny mathematics then you’re denying the very fundmental basis of all logic and reason.

    Yep, that pretty much sounds like creationist.”

  40. recovering catholic says

    Janine @18–

    Thanks for letting people know about this. I live just outside of Champaign, whose restored old Virginia Theater has been the site of the annual Ebertfest for the past 10 years. We were sad that he couldn’t make it during his battle with cancer. Last year he made it but couldn’t speak…maybe this year…


  41. says

    Meh. Expelled is a ridiculous and horrible film, but I have to call Ebert on holding a double standard here. He’s criticizing Expelled for cheap tactics in showing Dawkins getting made up.

    The same technique was used in Fahrenheit 9/11, which Ebert gave 3 1/2 stars, calling the device “vintage Moore, catching his subjects off guard.”

    Bah…it’s not just a cheap tactic when it’s used against people you agree with.

  42. says

    What is a bit surprising is how he seems to accept Stein’s BS about how he approached ID and evolution. I don’t believe it was anything like how the article states, and indeed Stein came into the picture rather late, and Kevin Miller was the main writer of that bit of dreck.

    Stein’s claims about how he approached it was as fictional as the rest of the film. He simply believed that evolution had a lot to do with Nazism, and it is unsurprising that the Jewish Stein disliked Nazism a great deal–and he knows virtually nothing about science. So when they went looking for a non-Xian shill to front their dishonest attempt to smear those who won at Dover, he jumped at the chance.

    So I think that Ebert’s review has merits, but it could have been a bit more skeptical of Stein’s role in it, understanding that none of Stein’s or the rest of the crew’s statements have much to do with honesty.

    Glen D

  43. recovering catholic says


    You’re taking the “vintage Moore” quote out of context–Ebert obviously meant this as a compliment to Moore’s style. Read the review.

  44. Evan Henke says

    Ebert could have done better at his math.

    “You discover that 99.975 of them agree on the answer (A)”

    “…despite the fact that .025 of all scientists support it (ID)”

    Of course he means .025 of one percent of all scientists, which is still a gross overestimation.

  45. Hairhead says

    Hey Derek at #48, you have it wrong.

    Fahrenheit 9/11 was a polemic, obviously so, not meant to be fair in the least, the bias evident in both the film and the promotional materials. The audience went there hoping to see the PNAC shills made to look ridiculous and they were satisfied.

    Expelled is a polemic which PRETENDED to be an objective view; as such their showing of the “makeup” scene (and many others) were disingenuous and deliberately misleading.

    That’s the difference, and it’s a real difference.

  46. JimboB says

    I’m so depressed that my employer (my county library) bought 20 copies of Expelled — one for each library branch. What’s even worse is that there are 100 people on a waiting list for this digital atrocity. Ugh..
    On a positive note, I went to my library’s homepage, did a subject search on creationism and Expelled popped right up! Blessed be our catalogers, for they know this film is bullshit.

  47. Interrobang says

    The same technique was used in Fahrenheit 9/11, which Ebert gave 3 1/2 stars, calling the device “vintage Moore, catching his subjects off guard.” Bah…it’s not just a cheap tactic when it’s used against people you agree with.

    You’re comparing apples to oranges here. Michael Moore makes no bones about catching people off-guard. If they haven’t figured out by now that his style is to ambush people with cameras and catch them with their guard down, I don’t know where they’re living. Ben Stein and his gang of idiots lied to Dawkins and our gracious host and everyone else who appeared on the anti-ID side to even get them into the film (lied about everything from the name of the film to what it was about and what its purpose was) and then did not tell Dawkins that he was being shot while they were putting his makeup on.

    I’m failing to see how you could possibly think this is at all analogous, given that Moore makes no bones about shooting absolutely everything and being an unashamed partisan, and Ben Stein (and his people) lied about everything, including the things about which they are unashamedly partisan, mostly because they knew they wouldn’t be able to make the film if they didn’t. (Do you really think Dawkins would have shown up if they hadn’t lied to him?)

  48. Badjuggler says

    Good news from Rotten Tomatoes:
    Expelled $7.5MM box office
    Religulous $12.9MM box office

    And Expelled has been out six months longer…

  49. says

    As Steve P (I think) noted upthread, you can view Expelled for free on Netflix if you have a Netflix account–it’s under the streamed directly to your computer movies. (Which only seems to work in IE, sadly, or I’d try using my Wii or Xbox to watch on my TV.)

    I tried a few weeks back to watch the thing, and couldn’t get much past the opening credits. No. Seriously. As I see Ben Stein prepping to sing to the choir, looking all down-trodden and sorrowful, intercut with scenes of the Berlin Wall (I think) being built, I seriously wanted to hurl something at the screen. It was luridly bathetic. Maybe someday soon I’ll try again. On the day that I am forced to decide between watching Expelled, reading Twilight, and brushing my teeth with battery acid. And then, only if we’re out of batteries.

  50. says

    I tried a few weeks back to watch the thing, and couldn’t get much past the opening credits.

    I did, mainly by “watching” it on YouTube while doing things on the web. Seriously, Ebert’s wrong about it being well-done, there is nothing more tedious than all of those black and white images from old films, which seek to achieve through bombast what it couldn’t achieve through evidence and reason. Some of the cinematography was done reasonably well, I’ll grant, but the Nazi/Commie/censorship scenes were tiresome dreck (some creationists seem to think so, too).

    All I needed was the sound and a few glances now and then. Most of the narrative was trivially wrong, which was obvious only by half-listening. But I’m glad to have watched/heard it, in order to know what it was about (not quite as shrill as I had expected, btw).

    One thing that was sort of interesting that I had not seen in any of the reviews was the one “scientist” (probably he actually is one, if likely not a biologist as such) in the shadows (identifying features not visible) who claimed that he used the “design concept” in his work of discovery and yet could not mention that in his publications. The people behind the film had brought up these “persecuted ones” who “didn’t dare be seen” early on, but I hadn’t heard that any made the cut.

    Of course he was completely unconvincing to anyone who thinks skeptically (as in, scientifically), since there were no specifics mentioned, and we know how fluid “design” is used by these people. I cannot think that if anyone found any marks of design in life (rationality behind the structure, or evident purpose) that this could not appear in some journal or other. They just don’t have it, and the guy in the shadows almost certainly merely superimposed his beliefs onto ordinary science, not daring to publish his “use of design” because his claims aren’t supported by any meaningful evidence.

    Glen D

  51. SASnSA says

    Expelled is on YouTube. Although probably not for long, ‘enjoy’ it while you can.

    I doubt it will be removed any time soon. I wouldn’t be surprised if the DI intentionally had people post the video. They want as many people as possible to watch it, hoping to bamboozle as many people as they can into believing this tripe.

  52. says

    I just ran across this, the sales figures so far for Expelled’s DVD (from The Numbers):

    DVD Sales Performance
    Released on DVD: October 21, 2008

    DVD Units Sold: 105,233
    Consumer Spending: $1,899,389

    Closer to break-even, this added to the roughly seven and a half million theater take, and both figures including money that others will take (theaters, DVD manufacturer). I would not expect them to make back their money ($4 million to produce, and a multiple of that for promotion–one figures a minimum of $12 million). So that’s good, at least profits are unlikely to draw many to that genre, and we’re stuck with those willing to pay money (almost certainly a several million dollar gap once everyone is paid) to spread idiocy.

    Glen D

  53. Qwerty says

    I just watched the movie on Youtube cause I wasn’t about to rent or buy it.

    One odd thing: They kept making the point in the first half of the movie that ID wasn’t necessarily religious while in the second half the same people were saying how important religion was to science! Huh?

    I also thought Berlinski (sp?) is about the most pompous ass that has ever existed in the world.

  54. AH says

    I have to rant.

    I am so fucking sick of being called a “Darwinist.” There is no such thing. I do not worship Darwin. I accept the theory of evolution based on the evidence supporting the theory; I do not “believe” in evolution, which as a theory has excelled beyond Darwin anyway. For shits and giggles I decided to read the reviews of Expelled on Rotten Tomatoes and there were reviews like, “blahblahblah Darwinism” or “If you want to argue with your Darwinist friends…”

    THERE IS NO SUCH THING. This is not a belief or a religion! I am no more a “Darwinist” than I am a Newtonist or Einsteinist, Pavlovist, Keplerist or what have you. There are times when I feel at a loss when trying to explain these things to people, and it starts to feel like the only resort is to beat them over the head with the stupid stick! AAGGHHH.