By Jeremy Mathews | January 24, 2005

To what extent should people be allowed to choose their children’s genes? “Frozen Angels” examines the moral issues of a slew of alternative ways to create and influence babies, from surrogate mothers and the couples who pay them to birth their children to designer genes that will allow for the avoidance of diseases and insure intelligence. Eric Black and Frauke Sandig’s visually interesting and constantly engaging documentary explores an almost too-big chunk of an issue that certainly won’t be going away in the coming years. While it doesn’t go as far as it aims, it is a worthy mediation on its subject.

Radio personality Bill Hendel, who uses his talk show to promote the genetics business that he’s a part of, becomes the movie’s recurring voice, and I don’t know if he’s joking when he says that he considers reproduction through sex immoral. An interesting subject who’s a tad obnoxious, Hendel’s long radio interviews and commentary segments often stray from the focus of the film, and are some of the most bizarrely off-topic parts as well. While it’s important to hear some of his views, he comes in too much. Many other people bring up more interesting ideas, like the potential for gene gaps between the children of those who can afford engineering and those who can’t, and the odd desire of future parents to give their kids blond hair and blue eyes.

The most interesting perspective comes from a young man whose dog-breeding mother was fertilized via a sperm bank that only carried sperm from Nobel Prize winners. He became the poster child for such selective fertilization because, as he puts it, while having a father with a 180 IQ didn’t guarantee that the child would have one, he did wind up with one. As a child he was taken on TV to demonstrate his intelligence (footage from one would have been interesting, but is absent), but didn’t become the ideal scientist that the sperm bank’s architect envisioned. Instead he lives with his mother, content to play relaxing music, read and be the person he became regardless of genetic structure.

His story is mixed in with many other personalities, creating a somewhat muddled but very interesting tour through a complicated subject matter. The film’s visual montages, set to interesting music and showing amusement park rides and over-muscled beach dwellers, are some of the strongest moments. They offer time to meditate on the barrage of information “Frozen Angels” throws at the audience as it looks at the mechanics of the world and the people who want to fine tune them.

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