April 20, 2008

REVIEW: Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? (C-)

Background: A few years ago, buzz was building about an unconventional McDonald's documentary by an unknown filmmaker. I saw Super Size Me at first opportunity in the theater, then kind of forgot about it - only to see it explode into pop culture, earn Morgan Spurlock an Oscar nomination and TV series ("30 Days"), and force McDonald's to actually eliminate their super sizing options (and vehemently deny its decision had anything to do with the film). Did Morgan Spurlock change the world? No, but he hacked a piece out of McDonald's, and that's a start. Puffed up with praise, Spurlock graduated himself from the likes of Ronald McDonald to none other than Osama bin Laden. Dubbed "The Next Great Big Adventure," Where in The World is Osama Bin Laden seemed worth a look, if for no other reason than to see if this guy would boldly stare death in the face like he did in Super Size Me.

Synopsis: It's hard to know where this actually begins. Within the first 10 minutes, we learn Spurlock's wife is months away from giving birth, Osama bin Laden can dance really well, and Spurlock is obsessed with video games. In fact, the rest of the film is framed as a video game, with Spurlock moving on to a new country after completing each "round." It's pretty clear from the time he sets foot in his first country, Egypt, that he's not at all interested in actually finding bin Laden. Rather, he's simply interviewing Egyptians, Moroccans, Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians, Saudis, Afghans, and Pakistanis about their thoughts on the United States. Spurlock occasionally throws in a question about bin Laden for comic relief, but he's clearly not taking this trip for the reason he initially used as his motive: ridding the world of bin Laden so his new child can grow up in a utopia.

I Loved:
+ Osama bin Laden as MC Hammer. That. Was hilarious.
+ The end credits, which in two minutes accomplished more than Spurlock did in the hour and a half preceding it.

I Liked:
+ The access Spurlock gained to parts of the world not often seen, namely Saudi Arabia and Orthodox Israel.
+ That Spurlock actually seemed to listen to the answers of his interviewees.

I Disliked:
- The awkward relationship between Spurlock's trip and his wife's pregnancy. It wasn't a bad idea to work his family into it, but it just didn't transition smoothly.
- That the title of the film has nothing to do with its content.

I Hated:
- The video game background to everything. Besides being unnecessary, it wasn't even funny.
- The silly theme song.

Writing - N/A
Acting - N/A
Production - 6
Emotional Impact - 7
Music - 3
Significance - 5

Total: 21/30= 70% = C-

Last Word: I'm all for the idea. Cultural understanding and fostering positive relations with the Middle East has literally never been more important. In fact, that might be why the tame Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?
is so disappointing. Morgan Spurlock simplistically and distractingly takes the conversation nowhere. In the closing credits we see the smiling faces of people of all ages from numerous countries, and Spurlock's idealistic thesis - that we're all not so different from each other - is brilliantly on display. So why not just show that for two hours and save the video games and comic bits (candid camera in the mall, calling all the bin Ladens in the phone book) for some DVD extras? I could forgive the gimmicky stuff if the message was either clear or applicable, but Spurlock fails there as well. Call me a cynic, but few people (including bin Laden or anyone in al Qaeda) are going to see this and put down their weapons. Worse yet, few Americans will take any new insights away from the film, aside from the complacency-inducing "We don't hate Americans, we hate the American government," which would be comforting if not for the fact that we actually elect those people in power. I will give Spurlock credit for at least traveling to these countries and talking to people, and I admire that he refrains from humiliation and naked manipulation (practically trademarked by Michael Moore) in his interviews. Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? won't harm anyone, but neither will it bring us any closer to Spurlock's idea of a safe world for our children.


  1. I agree with you that Spurlock did not reach his main goal (to discover bin-Laden's hiding spot), but I did enjoy the film. I really liked seeing the relationships he built with all of the people he met, and hearing more about their lives and their perspectives. Very different from what we see on the news and read in the newspaper.
    I also loved the MC Hammer dance in the beginning.

  2. still waiting waiting for "standard operating procedure"....... What's up!!!!

  3. I have no interest in seeing this. Good review still :)

  4. That's an excellent point about seeing it as an alternative to the media coverage about the people in those countries. I just wish he would have brought that point home more intensely.

    Workin' on it, Beav...

    Thanks much, Nick. It doesn't meet my reviewing standards, but I think our tastes align enough that you'd find something positive from it.


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