Ian Cheney’s smile-inducing field trip documentary “The Most Unknown” experiments with a nifty idea: introduce scientists to each other through a global relay of encounters in an effort to find commonality of language and purpose as life’s big questions are explored.
So when a wisecracking female astrophysicist based at Hawaii’s W.M. Keck Observatory finishes hosting a wide-eyed biologist dude who studies microbial life in thermal ponds in Nevada — both jazzed by what’s-out-there notions — she then heads out to be the guest of a geobiologist organizing dives off the coast of Costa Rica to survey deep-sea microorganisms that keep methane from reaching our atmosphere.
Whether the purview is life’s smallest forms or concepts as large as consciousness, space and time — and Cheney’s daisy chain includes points as disparate as an Italian physicist’s underground mountain compound and a cognitive psychologist’s oft-visited island of monkeys – the vibe is the same: a thirst for knowledge and a belief that there’s so much more to learn about what makes us and our world.
The other disarming motif? The collegial awe that accompanies a proud nerd’s introduction to another’s elaborate measuring machines, whether it’s a massive telescope, a particle isolator, a brain mapper or the world’s most accurate clock. With its gorgeous photography, charismatic participants and unabashed love for discovery, “The Most Unknown” feels like a science documentary cross-fertilized with that sentimental old Coke commercial — the smartest among us holding hands across the globe, charting our universe in happy harmony.
‘The Most Unknown’
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica