AN INCOVENIENT TRUTH
**½/**** Image A- Sound B Extras B+
directed by Davis Guggenheim
WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR?
directed by Chris Paine
by Walter Chaw Spend much time mining the cultural divorce in these delightfully divided United States and you'll discover that the stereotypes governing our perceptions of either side (bellicose vs. pussified) tend to be by and large accurate. Given the choice between violent and dogmatic or simpering and equivocal, the American electorate has erred badly on the side of a unified message, no matter how dangerous--and who can blame them? I mean, shit, whatever the leadership qualities, Custer didn't die alone. The mess of our national politics (and the mess that it's made of our standing in the international community) inevitably must inspire a spate of left-wing documentaries and, judging by last year's Clooney-fest, a handful of well-intentioned (if simpering and scattershot) partisan fictions. It's a strange world out there, and in it find Al Gore (did he lose office to a coup d'état?) as the breakthrough star of the non-fiction summer, following the path ploughed by Michael Moore and Penguins before him. It's not strange because he's uncharismatic; it's strange because in An Inconvenient Truth, he's both charismatic and on-topic. He's become that rarest of beasts: a democrat in the public eye who's not afraid to make strong statements and take his shots at obvious targets without indulging in self-abnegating ambiguities.
Some have equivocated that An Inconvenient Truth is akin to a concert movie (going so far as to compare it to Jonathan Demme's Neil Young: Heart of Gold or, more laughably, Stop Making Sense), when the naked truth is that An Inconvenient Truth is a PowerPoint presentation captured faithfully on film with a few segues to a pensive-looking Gore gazing over photographs or riding along in a car to another speaking engagement. The irony isn't lost on anyone, I'd gather, that Gore has expended countless units of irreplaceable fossil fuels spreading his message of global warming--yet the point that holds water, so to speak, is the idea that we just don't have any choices right at this moment. The question of why there aren't viable alternative energy options (particularly when the electric car was not only more popular than the gasoline engine once upon a time but was also shown as recently as ten years ago to be a working technology) is raised subtly by An Inconvenient Truth. The rest of it--the pictures of glaciers shrinking into nothing, the graphs demonstrating the massive increase in greenhouse gasses in the last few decades--ties in cozily with the sudden hurricane-destruction of New Orleans and the evacuation of a lot of Pennsylvania due to fears of flooding. You're alarmed by it only if you don't think that, to crib from "The Daily Show", Adam and Eve rode a brontosaurus to church and, perhaps more divisively and to the point, that evolution is a theory and that two men who want to get married spells moral and spiritual Armageddon more neatly than does invading a Muslim country for their oil.
The inconvenient truth here for me is that I'm recommending what is essentially a non-film because I agree with its politics and I'd like for more people to agree with me than disagree--it's a slideshow, but it's a good one, and unlike Michael Moore's flicks, it's cogent and filled with a preponderance of scientific fact. It's tempting to wish that An Inconvenient Truth had something like a narrative, but then there's Chris Paine's Who Killed the Electric Car?, which opens with a mock-funeral for the titular GM-produced EV-1 staged by the A-list of insufferable character actors (Ed Begley Jr., Peter Horton) to mourn the recall of their electric cars. Title cards tick off the possible suspects in the demise of the technology (OIL! BIG AUTO! CONSUMERS!)--it's like Murder on the Orient Express: everyone's guilty. But the victim isn't the car so much as it's the environment. Sound difficult to champion? It is. The film is well-meaning but so desperate to entertain that it begins to grate like the left-wing message has begun to grate on even the left wing. Smug and self-satisfied (if only, like "The Simpsons"' dig at Begley Jr., "self-satisfaction" could be tapped for energy), I learned a lot from Who Killed the Electric Car? (mainly that all the auto companies crushed their perfectly functional machines despite wide protest and demand), but can't be the only one cringing in the choir. Originally published: July 12, 2006.
by Bill Chambers Paramount presents An Inconvenient Truth on DVD in environmentally-friendly cardboard packaging with an ostensibly resealable plastic wrapper, although the adhesive is so tacky that I resorted to cutting the damn thing open. The film was shot in a variety of media and the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer wisely goes the direct-from-digital route instead of using a 35mm blow-up as the source print; it's a deliberately mercurial presentation and any artifacts seem aesthetically organic. I'm less comfortable calling the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio intentionally flat, but it's really a utilitarian affair considering how hard the visuals try to hold our attention. That being said, it's more riveting than either of the two film-length commentaries, particularly the sycophantic producer's track featuring an individually-recorded Laurie David, Lawrence Bender, Scott Z. Burns, and Lesley Chilcott: at least in his solo yakker director Davis "Elisabeth Shue's Husband" Guggenheim doesn't spend all his time qualifying his passion for the project. I do wish he'd melted the ice caps on the Paramount logo as originally intended.
Sparkhill assembles a couple of exclusive featurettes, starting with "An Update with Former Vice President Al Gore" (32 mins.), a mélange of extended scenes, fresh slides, and cutting-edge research conveyed via solemn talking-heads that brings us up to speed on a few new eco-horrors, such as the terrifying giant jellyfish (right), glacial earthquakes, and CO2 emissions courtesy our own thawing permafrost. Still, Gore is even more apt to see a silver lining here than he is in the film proper, at once expanding his discussion of the overpopulation problem with some encouraging data and suggesting that Australia, having since suffered a series of Katrina-like cyclones, is thisclose to reversing their position on the Kyoto treaty. The more tech-minded "The Making of An Inconvenient Truth" (11 mins.) offers a fitfully engaging fly-on-the-wall perspective of pre-production (as it pertained to the design and construction of the set) and the choreography of the multi-camera shoot; Guggenheim, not Gore, is the focus of this one. Rounding out the disc, the video for Melissa Etheridge's "I Need to Wake Up," though the ubiquitous anti-piracy PSA cues up automatically on startup. Originally published: November 20, 2006.