Fast, Cheap & Out of Control. That's how MIT scientist Rodney Brooks describes the insect-like robots that he expects to one day burrow through the universe, like some intergalactic ant colony. It's also the title of Errol Morris' captivatingly quirky documentary, which features Brooks and three other gentlemen who've staked their claims to fame at the boundaries between humans and machines, humans and animals, human nature and nature. George Mendonça has spent his entire life carving hedges and shrubs into elephants, giraffes, bears. Dave Hoover has spent his taming real-live lions and tigers. And Ray Mendez, who obviously loves the ugly little critters, is an expert on the South African mole rat, which burrows through the dirt like...well, like some intergalactic ant colony.
Morris could have gotten four straightforward documentaries out of this material. Instead, he's spliced it into a new species of documentary, one in which the whole is decidedly greater than the parts. The links between the men and their work suggest an evolutionary path from our past attempts to control nature to a future where, as Brooks explains, carbon-based life will be replaced by silicon-based life. Returning again and again to the circus, which it uses as a metaphor for the irrepressible absurdity of life, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control manages to be both profoundly wacky and wackily profound.