HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Merchants of Doubt
HTS Overall Score:66
Opinions are everyone on just about every subject. I get paid to give you my opinion on movies, other people give their opinions freely and other people are paid to give someone ELSE’s opinion. Even further down that slippery slope are people who are paid to misdirect and spread lies as fact or opinion in order to gain illicit profits or other nefarious ends. This has been made famous by different companies lying about their products, safety issues or whatnot in modern society and has created an environment where consumer faith in businesses is at an all time low. Robert Kenner, the same documentarian who brought you “Food Inc” comes back with a tight little documentary focusing on this very same subject. Dealing directly with three simple instances of this practice of lying and twisting the truth to meet selfish desires, Robert pounds away at that notion and strives to bring the truth to light.
“Merchants of Doubt” focuses on three points that spinmasters have used for decades to deceive the public, and never really deviates or changes the pace at all, giving us a very pertinent look at the deception done. His first point of interest deals with big tobacco. Tobacco is really an easy target though, ever since the 70’s the cigarette and tobacco corporations have been outed as trying to spin the public’s opinion over their little chemical filled sticks of burning cancer. Going all the way back to the beginning, Kenner goes through evidence and video blurbs of how big tobacco has been trying to downplay the side effects of tobacco for literally decades. Even though they have been busted by the general public, they still spend BILLIONS of dollars trying to get consumers to “forget” all the little bad things that go along with smoking. Even the simple “fix” for all of the deadly fires was shifted from the burning cigarettes and blamed squarely on the things being lit on fire, requiring furniture manufacturers to put pounds and pounds of fire retardant chemicals into the fabric, chemicals which have pretty much been proven useless and STILL were used for years.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=49017[/img]The first ½ of the film felt very pertinent, if not a little light on evidence, but then we deal with the issue of global warming. This is already a delicate topic, but is made even more delicate recently as it has become a very political topic where the detractors fight vehemently against the “liberals” and their doom and gloom scenarios, while the supporters regale people with threat after threat of extinction no matter the fact that there really is most likely a middle ground. Here is where I felt the momentum slowed and the objectivity went off the track. I really feel a documentary’s job is to give both sides to a subject and display them on screen, allowing the viewer to decide for themselves. I understand we all have an opinion and a bias, but it became very obvious, very fast that Kenner leans VERY hard to the left as every crackpot theory shown was from Fox news or the like, and every logical point seemed to come from CNN. I don’t mean to say that I think that Fox news is blameless, but rather that both sides have their own fair share of crazies, and the lack of balance made it seem a little too biased against the political right. Add to the fact that while he tried to pain the opposition in all scenarios as WRONG, there never was any real evidence put forth on screen to back up Kenner’s assertions. Long story short, he made some strong appeals to authority without ever showing his proof.
However, there are some really good points to the documentary. The fight against big Tobacco has been well documented for decades, so the information is there for you to see and the logic being used is nearly indisputable. Especially the efforts that the corporations went to, to insure that people were deceived for their profits. Also the inclusion of the magician and his tricks added a nice visual effect to correlate the idea of misdirection in the corporate environment. Even the videos shown of debating ‘experts’ are poignant and powerful, showing the sheer lunacy spoken in public as people try so desperately to deceive others.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=49025[/img]Presented in 1.78:1, “Merchants of Doubt” comes to Blu-ray with an acceptable 1080p encode that shouldn’t be faulted for not be reference material. The modern bits where interviews are happening in the studio audience look extremely well done, with crisp colors and strong detail, but as with many documentaries, there are quite a few points where older footage is spliced in from decades old TV source material, or cheaper hand held cameras being used that don’t carry that same quality. The end result is a bit choppy as you have moments of really clean digital video and then we have some old 1990’s piece of television broadcast that is full of digital noise or scratches and print damage due to its condition. That’s nothing to poo poo, as it’s very much to be expected in a documentary and overall the image is more than acceptable by those standards.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=49033[/img]Much like the video encode, the 5 .1 DTS-HD MA track on this documentary is in that acceptable range. For a 5.1 track I must say that this is really more a 2.0 track with some mild trimmings to flesh it out into a full 5.1 track. 99% of the film is mainly dialog, with interviews and interviews and commentaries galore, leaving the center channel with most of the work and the other channels to show a flicker of life only when the score is playing something ominous, or when it picks up background noise from an outdoor interview. The track does EVERYTHING that its asked to do in the movie, but it does so without impressing everyone everywhere simply because it’s not asked to do a whole lot. Dialog is clean and clear, except for a few moments from archival footage, and any use of the other LFE and surround channel do the job when asked.
• Audio Commentary
• An Evening at the Toronto International Film Festival with Robert Kenner
• Unlikely Voices
• Theatrical Trailer
Spin masters and political pundits trying to snow the public is something that is very real. We see it all the time, and I really appreciate the minds behind “Merchants of Doubt” for bringing this to the public eye with this documentary. Big tobacco is one of the WORST offenders for this type of thing, along with many other big money industries (where there’s money, there’s almost always some form of spin to gain public approval), but I hesitate to completely agree with the tactics in “Merchants of Doubt”. There is no such thing as 100% objectivity when taking a side, as biases are a natural part of humans, but I felt that the creators tended to not be as objective as they COULD have been, tend to lean towards proving their own agenda rather than creating a debate of both sides or traveling down that middle road, bringing both sides to the table. The topic is fascinating, and many of the points are spot on, and my only real complaints are that I wish they had gone more in depth and tried to walk that middle line a bit more. Rental.
Starring: Frederick Singer, Naomi Orseskes, Jamy Ian Swiss
Directed by: Robert Kenner
Written by: Erik M. Conway (Original Book), Robert Kenner
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 93 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: July 7th 2015
Buy Merchants of Doubt On Blu-ray at Amazon
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