Friday, June 23, 2006
Usually I don't read reviews of a movie until I've finished writing my own. The frightening new global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" has been in limited release for about a month now, and I've just seen it. This means that there are plenty of people in bigger cities who have already posted their reviews. I had a feeling about what the general critical reaction to this movie would be, so I headed over to RottenTomatoes.com.
And I was right.
The negative reviews the movie has received have been from opposite side of the political spectrum as the film's narrator and partial subject, former Vice President Al Gore. This is not a political movie.
As of this writing, the film stands at a 90% positive rating on the critic-compiling TomatoMeter. So let me first get the misconceptions out of the way before I talk about how or whether the movie works.
If you really don't want to like it, you won't.
If you really want to like it, you will.
Don't have an opinion one way or another? You will by the film's end.
It's just that simple. Hate Al Gore? You may view this documentary as a feature-length campaign commercial, despite the fact that the man who "used to be the next President of the United States" says he's not running. There is an enormous amount of evidence and support in the scientific community for the idea that our Earth is reaching a breaking point of mass disaster proportions. Humans have caused this. I don't want to believe it. It scares the hell out of me. But it's there, and it's been there for years. Whether you choose to let politics color your view of the continuing spread of global warming is up to you.
An Inconvenient Truth ***
"It's not a political issue as much as it is a moral issue," Al Gore says about global warming. The documentary follows the former VP as he tours the globe presenting a compelling multimedia speech that lays out facts and solutions. But is this a great movie or did director Davis Guggenheim merely grab a camera and record a great lecture?
"An Inconvenient Truth" uses a PowerPoint speech that Gore has been revising and touring with for the past six years to lay out the facts about how and why the polar ice caps are melting and the ocean is heating up and what effect this will have on the planet if nothing is done about it. I'll give you a hint-it's not good. There are beautiful and disturbing photographs, like the photos of Mount Kilimanjaro's once-snow covered mountaintop. There are statistics, like the one that states the 10 warmest years in all of history were in the last 14 years. And, yes, there are graphs-- lots of graphs, that illustrate the disturbing facts in a clear manner but never insult your intelligence.
Director Davis Guggenheim rotates his camera slowly around Gore, his presentation, and the auditorium, creating a fluid movement that matches the speaker's warm delivery. As a speaker, he is engaging, thoughtful, and sometimes even funny. Who knew? The strategy of having an audience and constantly showing their reaction keeps the movie in the realm of the heart and out of the dry statistics book.
Guggenheim cuts back and forth from the speech to short montages with narration from Gore in a more quiet and personal voice. Here the film moves beyond lecture and into an emotional identification with its presenter. We learn that Gore has been with this issue since the beginning, and his commitment to the message, always delivering the newest evidence, is directly tied to his own personal tragedies. By allowing us into his life, Gore miraculously transforms from politician to person right before our eyes.
He also turns into a cheerleader of sorts, assuring us that Americans are capable of amazing things when they band together to accomplish something. I want to believe him.
What I find most fascinating about the movie is that it even exists. Because some people feel this is a hypothesis that can be debated, we now have what is basically an educational film (albeit one made as artistically as possible) making the rounds in theaters. Media-savvy energy corporations have created doubt, and turned fact into a debatable issue to suit their own financial needs and skirt moral responsibility.
It strikes me that, in this advanced communications age, moving pictures with sound are absolutely the most important tool out there today to reach people. There is no other format where this much information could be so quickly and plainly understood. More than anything, "An Inconvenient Truth" is a public service announcement that appeals mostly to our conscience, but also our hearts, and it should be seen by any convenient means-- copied, bootlegged, spread on the internet, and given to family and friends.