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By Daniel Lammin
8th March 2015

We really are in a golden age of documentary filmmaking. As more exciting tools become available to documentarians and access to even more fascinating subjects becomes easier, those of us sitting and watching are offered a rare insight into aspects of humanity we otherwise wouldn’t have - or in some cases, even have the desire to. That is most certainly the case with Mark A. Gevinson’s rousing documentary ‘Particle Fever’, a thrilling look at one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time and the pursuit of the one particle that can help explain the mechanics of the universe - the Higgs boson.

After twenty years, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) completed their Large Hardon Collider in 2008. The purpose of the machine, the largest ever built, covering 20 miles over two countries, is to recreate the conditions that resulted moments after the Big Bang, colliding particles in order to collect data from the debris. The immense project required the work of over 10,000 scientists from over 100 countries, without any guarantee the experiment would actually work. Levinson and his team followed the project for seven years, covering the final stages of the build, the moment the machine was first switched on and the results of the experiments conducted. At its heart though, it is a tale of the people at the centre of it, six scientists from two areas of physics - theoretical physics and experimental physics, one mostly intellectual while the other is mostly practical. Both camps however have total investment in the success of the project, which might be the only chance to understanding how the universe ticks.


What makes Levinson’s documentary such a success is its careful balance between science and human drama. It never shies away from delving into the complexities of physics, but always keeps its audience in mind, complementing the more dense theories and discussions with thrilling animation and diagrams. These all act as complementary to the scientists themselves, a charismatic bunch you can’t help but be taken by. Their enthusiasm and passion for their work drives the film, and as each triumph and failure comes along, you find yourself on the edge of your seat, emotionally invested in their success. For these people, the possibility of finally pinning down the Higgs boson, the most elusive particle we know of, is one that could mean the survival of their field of study. What Levinson imparts with the film so beautifully in the importance of this project, that without it, physics essentially stops dead in its tracks. As a work of documentary filmmaking, it’s one hell of a trip, thanks to its ingenious storytelling, its wonderful irreverence and the expert work from acclaimed editor Walter Murch. At a brisk 99 minutes, the film whizzes along, far more entertaining than you would ever expect it to be.

It’s a tall order to expect a film to take such a major scientific event, an impossibly complex field of study and a series of impossible hypothetical questions and filter them into a relatable, entertaining and informative documentary, but ‘Particle Fever’ manages to achieve this without breaking a sweat. This is precisely what every great science documentary should be, accessible to the masses without losing what makes the science so fascinating and complex. Its greatest achievement though is putting a human face on one of the greatest scientific feats in human history, and showcasing the hard-working dreamers that make it happen.

This is precisely what every great science documentary should be, accessible to the masses without losing what makes the science so fascinating and complex.

Madman have released ‘Particle Fever’ on DVD, but it’s doubtful a high definition transfer would have been a must for this one. The footage itself varies in quality and consistency, so the 16:9 transfer certainly serves its purpose, making sure detail is as clear as can be, and allowing the surprisingly colourful image to really pop. The well-balanced Dolby Digital 5.1 track is an excellent complement, placing the focus on the interviews for a clear audio presentation.

There’s just over an hour of extra content on offer, mostly additional material not included in the film. There’s a lengthy and in-depth conversation with Levinson about the development and making of the film, with attention to its origins and his relationship with Murch. There are also expanded interviews with the scientists featured in the film, mostly discussing their personal lives and how they balance that with the demands of the project. The package is rounded off with two Particle Fever Shorts, which introduce other plays in the project and extra dramatic beats the documentary couldn’t cover. All the material is executed with the same professionalism and irreverence as the main feature.

RELEASE DATE: 11/03/2015
RUN TIME: 1h 39m
CAST: Savas Dimopoulos
Nima Arkani-Hamed
Fabiola Gianotti
Monica Dunford
Martin Aleksa
Mike Lamont
PRODUCERS: Mark Levinson
Andrea Miller
David Kaplan
SCORE: Robert Miller
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