Published Jan 16, 2013On paper, Ben Lewis, an established award-winning documentary director that has frequently been commissioned by the BBC, seems like the ideal candidate to explore Google's most ambitious endeavor: scanning all of the world's books to create a global digital library. Such a topic has numerous socioeconomic implications that, explored in a documentary, could prove to be an enlightening corporate exposé. But, sadly, Lewis's Google and the World Brain falls flat and doesn't pack much punch despite its potential.
From the onset, Lewis provides a brief historical overview of mankind's attempts to create a global library, eventually leading up to Google's creation of their 'Google Books' online repository. In what has evolved into a 10-year story, Google began by approaching some of North America's biggest University libraries, such as Harvard, and offering to scan their entire cache of books, thereby digitizing and making them available to the world.
While the idea was initially met with mass enthusiasm, Lewis shifts into an examination of Google's underlying tactics—their disregard for copyright, national cultures and the integration of the massive repository into their previously established Google search algorithm—which could become a method of surveillance on their users.
Flipping around between a slew of talking heads—from those directly involved in a massive court battle against Google; those in the literary world who have been keeping a close eye on the situation; and those in the tech world—Lewis presents a varied series of interviews that offer a range of opinions on the matter. Unfortunately, this becomes one of the biggest problems with the film.
With such a broad spectrum of opinions being offered, the assumption is that they would be organized and presented in a straight forward and compelling manner. However, Lewis strung them together with a mostly incoherent and disorganized trajectory, leaving the viewing experience to be a bit of a hodgepodge and mishmash of incongruent ideas. All of the pertinent material was collected—and it's obvious that there's a fascinating story to be explored—yet the construction of a narrative and editing approach is desultory, leading viewers down a twisting path that has several dead-end tangents.
It also doesn't help that Lewis opted to use cheesy animations throughout Google, making the production come across as low-budget and somewhat unprofessional, which is a shame since this film had so much promise and could have been so much more. (PolarStar Films)