After targeting American fast-food companies with Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock turned his sights toward a wildly different objective: finding Osama Bin Laden. With his latest documentary Spurlock kicked up some political discussion over the situation in the Middle East, but not with the politicians in D.C. Instead, Spurlock went to the Middle East to interview those closest to the conflict to get the opinion of all of those involved. While not a massive hit like his last documentary, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? did manage to spark some discussion among the (very) few who saw it.
Although his intentions were to find Osama Bin Laden, Spurlock’s journey to the Middle East proved to have a much deeper meaning to him than just finding public enemy #1. Spurlock travels through the various mosques, malls, schools and even some caves looking for Osama, but on a larger scale his efforts were focused on seeing what the opinions of everyone from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan to Israel were on the war in the Middle East, America and, of course, Osama Bin Laden. With responses that may surprise you, Spurlock opens the eyes of those who weren’t quite aware of the Middle East as they would have been by merely watching CNN in the States.
Had Spurlock not made a name for himself with Super Size Me, I doubt I would have even looked at Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? There’s just something about the man that is easily relatable and regardless of his political views or ideas for how the United States should be run, Spurlock gives off an air of a “regular guy”, more so than other documentary makers who have hit it big in recent years. Ok so that’s not a so thinly veiled swipe at Michael Moore, but while they may be in the same field, to me the two aren’t even on the same playing field. Of course the issue with all documentaries that focus on one element, you’re opening yourself to the bias of the writer/director. Fortunately, there is very little in Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? that one could question as being untrue; Spurlock keeps everything tightened down and by-the-books, leaving personal commentary out of the mix for the most part.
It’s a tricky thing reviewing politically charged films and I’m finding myself already dancing around elements so as not to offend anyone on either side of the fence. Just to get an idea of where I stand with these type of documentaries, however, I will say that while I don’t necessarily disagree with anything Michael Moore has said in the past, I just disagree with how he’s gone about saying it. There’s making a point and then there’s making a point to the degree of looking like an ass and just generally being very annoying, which is the vibe I get off of Moore. As previously mentioned, with Spurlock I don’t get that, so perhaps that’s why I’m more easily led in by him. Whatever the reason, I don’t have any real political bias that leans either way, so that was certainly not an influence on my enjoyment of this documentary.
Truth be told I only watched it due to Spurlock’s appearance on shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. There you get to see a genuinely nice guy who doesn’t try to push anyone’s buttons (too much) and seems to have solid commentary to give on the subjects he covers. For Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, he keeps the questions for those he interviews very basic and very broad in scope. There’s no deliberate wording of his questions so as they’re confusing; he’s straight to the point and very clear with what he wants to ask so as to get the clearest answer possible.
I’m rattling far too much about the political areas of this film for as little as there really is. You mention Osama Bin Laden and immediately feel you have to go onto the defensive so as to cover every angle without coming off as offensive to any one group or party. What Spurlock does in the film is very generic and, quite frankly, it’s not the questions that are that surprising (“What do you think of the war?”, “What do you think of Osama?”), it’s the repeated answers that are what’s surprising. While I’ve no idea if the answers he chose for the film were the proper ratio of those against or for Osama, but the sheer number of “No we don’t support him” answers was the first thing to really blow me away. I knew from other films or stories of this type that support for Osama wasn’t as widespread as one would be led to believe, but I guess watching an hour and a half of it just really hammered it hope.
Watching the documentary really opens your eyes to just how similar in nature every single part of the world is. As diverse as we are, we still come down to the same core element and Spurlock’s shown that there’s really not much difference, deep down, between people in the Middle East and those in the United States. That should already be an obvious realization, but with the saturation of the Middle East coverage on TV that’s rather one-sided (as one would expect, since its American news organizations covering it), it’s just surprising from that aspect alone.
I’ve rambled far too much here for such a simple film. Spurlock never makes much of an effort to actually look for Osama (he makes inquiries, but it’s all usually tongue-in-cheek and done in an effort to get a reaction out of people more than anything), and while he kind of “hones” in on Osama, it’s never anything that’s for-sure. The majority of the films purpose is to show the Middle East’s opinion of the war and from the various on-the-street interviews to the interviews with leading experts, we get to see quite a few different viewpoints on the war from the perspective of those who are much closer to the actual war zones than we are.
Another element Spurlock takes on is the aforementioned war zones. We see him near the Gaza Strip with tanks patrolling and eventually he heads deep into Taliban territory, where he barely starts to interview individuals before the military pulls him out due to impending danger. It’s a rather jarring visuals, as he’s casually talking to people to him suddenly turning around and running. Between that and the Gaza Strip scene, there were some rather haunting images to witness in the film amongst the general dialogue.
All in all, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? is a fascinating documentary to watch simply for the eye-opening element of learning more about the Middle East. I’m sure those more on-top of the latest documentaries won’t be as surprised by it, but between Spurlock’s dedication to interviews, even while his wife is at home pregnant with his first child (which we get to see a bit of talk between the two throughout the film, but hardly anything that interrupts the general pace of the film) and also his realizations about becoming a father as he talks to individuals about the oncoming birth, Spurlock has made a genuinely fascinating documentary to watch. Of course, interspersed with the documentary is a lot of humor, which helps the difficult sequences in the film to go down a bit smoother (such as when he is writing his blood type on various pieces of clothing so that he can be treated should something happen), so those who thought this was devoid of humor will still get what they’ve come to expect from Spurlock after Super Size Me and his 30 Days TV show. Recommended.
Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? comes courtesy of Genius Productions in a standard style amaray DVD case without inserts. Disc art is a stark white disc with the logo from the front of the cover repeated on it, while menus are simple and easy to navigate. The 1.85:1 aspect ratio comes with an anamorphic widescreen transfer that is nice and strong throughout, although by the nature of the film it varies a bit with the random lighting and film grain during dimly lit scenes. Audio is a 5.1 mix, but is largely kept to the front channels, with the surrounds popping in only during some of the more upbeat and crowd filled sequences.
Extras look plentiful on the back, but there isn’t anything here more than deleted scenes, really. “Alternate Ending: Western Showdown” (1:52) shows off some more of Super Tall Ninja Osama being beaten down (since I didn’t mention it before, the film does have some animated sequences that look like something out of a Mortal Kombat game—weird at first, but they’re infrequent and you get used to it by the end), while “Three Girls Saudi” (2:37) talks about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, which is quite an interesting piece. “Watergate” (2:39) revolves around a secret meeting at the Watergate Hotel before leaving for the Middle East and “Saad Ibrahim” (1:38) interviews Egypt’s Democracy Activist. “Shimon Peres” (3:41), the Israeli President, wraps up the interview portions that were removed from the film, while Afghan Animation (1:30) gives a brief overview of the history of Afghanistan.
The removed elements were actually the more politically charged pieces, which may have been why they were removed, so as to not make the film so heavy handed in one direction. Still, it’s nice they’re e included here for view for the curious.
Overall a rather lackluster DVD release, but really, I don’t know what else they would have included. The deleted scenes are about all you can add to a documentary. The disc is a Rental only, unless you really enjoy the documentary. I don’t know if it has repeat viewing, but it does have a “here, watch this and pass it on” vibe, so it may be a nice disc to pass around to family and friends, should you feel so inclined.
Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? arrives on DVD on August 26th.