Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Mud Max" movie premiere in Scottsdale

The world premiere of "Mud Max," an hour-long documentary on the mud volcano 'Lusi' near the East Java town of Sidoarjoin in Indonesia, was held in Scottsdale on Friday night, hosted by ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE).

Indonesian officials and scientists were joined by a dozen journalists at the invitation-only crowd of about 150.

It was a wonderful event. An ASU-dominated gamelan band playing native Java music entertained during the reception. [right, SESE Director Kip Hodges welcomes the crowd and describes the cooperative research efforts of ASU in Indonesia]

The movie ended up being premiered in Arizona due to the involvement of ASU geoscience professor Amanda Clarke, who is on camera talking about Indonesian tectonics and as a technical advisor to the film. [on a side note, Amanda recently returned from honeymooning with husband Ramon Arrowsmith, another ASU geo-prof. Big congratulations to them both!]

As nice as the evening was, the movie did not measure up. It tries to tell the story of what's become known as the Lusi mud volcano, the controversy over its origin, and the impact it's had on tens of thousands of residents displaced by the eruption that began in 2006. An oil company drilling in the area is blamed by some for triggering the event, although there are court rulings that they are not responsible. The competing cause is a series of earthquakes just preceding the initial eruption.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn't tell the story. It jumps around so much that it becomes a giant puzzle trying to figure out what's going on. Maps are shown all too briefly, with distracting flashing dots, so that before you can figure out what you're supposed to be looking at, the film's moved on to another scene.

There are descriptions by drilling experts that are hard to follow and out of context. The film struck us as a rough first draft. They should take this back to the editing room and re-cut it. Perhaps if you followed all the legal and technical issues very closely, the significance of many parts would fall into place. Some more illustrations to explain technical descriptions would help.

It was never clear where the oil well was located relative to the eruption. The presence or lack of steel casing to some depth in the well apparently was a key issue in the legal proceedings.

Late in the film, the narrator dismisses the claims of environmentalists and praises the generosity of the oil company owners so lavishly, that I started to wonder if this was a company sponsored film.

This might have been a wonderful film - there are all the elements for a fascinating and compelling story - but the producers missed their opportunities. Instead of "Mud Max", a better title might be "Muddled to the Max."


  1. Anonymous7:06 PM

    I was at the event and completley disagree with your comment on the movie. The movie pointed out the facts and gives a very good insight into earthquakes and the problems faced in Indonesia. I don't think it favoured the oil company, but it did leave me unclear on what was the cause of the mud volcano.

    Very entertaining event and a movie that I think needs to be viewed a number of times.

    The discussion after with ASU and USGS scientsts was very interesting.

  2. Anonymous2:19 PM

    Good documentary, it was interesting to learn what happens in Indonesia and relevant to why earthquakes often happen in Indonesia. The session following the screening was also excellent, and it was great to see the US Government helping the Indonesians deal with this issue, makes me proud that we are not spending 100% of our tax dollars on military related programs. I will be looking forward to the National Geographic screening and the DVD.

  3. Anonymous3:02 AM

    Lee, You must have been sipping too much of the good wine before the screening. Your comments are way way off the mark. The film clearly stated that the mud eruptions were 150m- 200m (490- 650 feet) from the bore-hole, and they didn't dismiss anyone, they explained views from scientists that opposed each other. That is what made it interesting. The steel casing design was covered by the interview with the drilling guy Adams, it was very straight forward and clear what he said. What was amazing was the fact that the gas exploration company (not oil) paid out USD500 or 600 million as a form of CSR without any legal requirement. Even the NGO whom took them to court said it was CSR. We would never see that happening in the US.

    But your right about one thing, it was a good night, well done ASU, very entertaining.


  4. Today is 5th year Lapindo Mud, I'm so sad hear that.