The Uncertainty Principle (2001)

"Weak"

The Uncertainty Principle (2001) Review


In this docu-oddity, Toni Sherwood turns her attentions to one Keith Schwab, a scientist doing basic research into the guts of quantum mechanics.

Try as she might, there's no way to make that subject come to vibrant life (though a 53-minute running time helps).

Schwab, as seen under the flourescent light of the lab and via an unflattering digital video camera, struggles with his experiments. He plows away for six years at Berkeley before getting a gyro-thingy to work. Then it's on to Cal Tech, where he attempts to directly measure a constant of quantum heat dissipation. (If that means something to you, congratulate yourself.) He cheats on his wife. He has a dozen hobbies to help get the mind working -- including biking, diving, and making his own ammunition -- none of which he seems very adept at.

In fact, a more cynical critic would say that Schwab's travails are indicative of someone who isn't adept at anything. Case in point: Eventually, when his second experiment works, he is invited to speak at JPL -- where he is practically heckled by a grating woman in the audience. Flustered, he almost forgets what he was saying.

While such vignettes are intriguing, they are few and far between. Much of The Uncertainty Principle is devoted to the uber-techie details of Schwab's experiments plus interviews with his brainiac colleagues. No one in the picture is terribly compelling, especially Schwab, who comes off as a midwestern buffoon, essentially clueless and certainly not worthy of having a movie made about him. (This, of course, is a common problem with documentaries about scientists; see also the recent W.I.S.O.R.)

As a treatise on the scientific method and the nature of experimentation, The Uncertainty Principle has a few thought-provoking moments. But really, the thought that comes to mind most during the viewing of this movie is: Why was this even made?

Experiment, meet nostrils.



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