DVD Review Of An Inconvenient Truth
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 5/29/08
Let me state, up front, I have never been a fan of former Vice President Al Gore. He was a right of center Democrat who worked in an administration whose environmental record was considered, by most ecological groups, worse than the two Republican administrations that preceded his, and held that office at a time when the earliest stages of global warming, which he now decries, were first becoming known. As the second most visible politician in the country, did he sound the alarums then? Well, no. He wrote a book or two, but did nothing of any real consequence with the power he had. However, his Johnny Come lately status as an environmentalist, which led to his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as an Oscar for the 94 minute 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, has nothing to do why it’s a bad film. That’s due solely to the film’s director Davis Guggenheim, most noted as a network television director.
Of course, if one Googles the film at such sites like Amazon or IMDB, there will be plenty of negative reviews of the film. Almost all of them will be unveiled ad hominem against Gore or simply blatant pro-global warming propaganda. I did not find a single negative review based solely on the film’s art. On the other hand, many of the film’s staunchest defenders praise the film solely because they are pro-green. Even the Chicago Sun-Times’ venerable film critic, Roger Ebert, seems to feel that bending down on two knees and opening wide is not enough praise for the Buddha Gore, writing:
I want to write this review so every reader will begin it and finish it. I am a liberal, but I do not intend this as a review reflecting any kind of politics. It reflects the truth as I understand it, and it represents, I believe, agreement among the world's experts….He provides statistics: The 10 warmest years in history were in the last 14 years. Last year South America experienced its first hurricane. Japan and the Pacific are setting records for typhoons. Hurricane Katrina passed over Florida, doubled back over the Gulf, picked up strength from unusually warm Gulf waters, and went from Category 3 to Category 5. There are changes in the Gulf Stream and the jet stream. Cores of polar ice show that carbon dioxide is much, much higher than ever before in a quarter of a million years. It was once thought that such things went in cycles. Gore stands in front of a graph showing the ups and downs of carbon dioxide over the centuries. Yes, there is a cyclical pattern. Then, in recent years, the graph turns up and keeps going up, higher and higher, off the chart….In England, Sir James Lovelock, the scientist who proposed the Gaia hypothesis (that the planet functions like a living organism), has published a new book saying that in 100 years mankind will be reduced to "a few breeding couples at the Poles." Gore thinks "that's too pessimistic….In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to….Am I acting as an advocate in this review? Yes, I am. I believe that to be "impartial" and "balanced" on global warming means one must take a position like Gore's. There is no other view that can be defended….What is the look? It's the look of no fear….
To say that there is not a critical (in any sense of the term) thing in the whole review, is manifest. But, even though I did not want to quote as much of the review as I did, this needs to be known. As bad and uncritical as Ebert’s review is, the film is manifold worse in hagiographizing St. Al.
And that is its chief flaw, artistically. Whereas Michael Moore sticks his ugly mug into his agitprop films every three minutes or so, I don’t think that there’s a single three minute span in this agitprop film that we do not see Gore, up close, and too close, so that his every pore is seen, that his nostrils are not heaving with passion. The film opens with some gorgeous cinematography of a sunrise morning over a river on the Gore family’s Tennessee farm. It’s a shot that belongs in a film by Andrei Tarkovsky. It is gorgeous, rapturous. Then comes the bad part- the start of the film-long narration by Gore, larded with pseudo-poesy and even worse faux insight. Here is the opening salvo: ‘You look at that river gently flowing by. You notice the leaves rustling with the wind. You hear the birds; you hear the tree frogs. In the distance you hear a cow. You feel the grass. The mud gives a little bit on the riverbank. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful. And all of a sudden, it’s a gear shift inside you. And it’s like taking a deep breath and going, ‘Oh yeah, I forgot about this.’’
And it only gets worse from there. And I do not mean the science. In the main, Gore is in the right. The warming of the globe is driven by man-made pollutants, which will have dire effects, even if sometimes Gore exaggerates a bit, such as showing the natural calving of glaciers into the sea, which have gone on since time immemorial, as if that act, alone, is caused by glacial warming. Also, while humans have sped up specific extinctions, extinctions are always followed by a flowering of new species, which adapt to the newer conditions. But, he is far closer to the truth than assorted website which take potshots at him and the film, like http://www.aconvenientfiction.com/inconvenient3.html or the even worse http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/monckton/goreerrors.html, a Right Wing propaganda site, which purports to list 35 big errors made in the film, yet the vast majority of the 35 things are things that the film, nor Gore ever claimed. I state this because I want to be clear that I am not doing a hatchet job on Gore nor this film, just giving a straight down the line assessment in the negative.
The film is basically two thirds of Gore preaching to the public about global warming by giving a slide show with some neat graphics. Again, the vast majority of what he states is incontrovertible, and the few areas where he exaggerates are minor disagreements between the scientific community where he chooses the worst scenario for dramatic effect. This is forgivable on Gore’s part, and even the filmmaker’s. It is also quite effective. But, where the film tanks, and also goes way beyond any reasonable standard for calling itself a documentary, is in the interspersed other third of the film, where we get the fetishistic close-ups of Gore as saint aborning, and in the hamhanded voiceovers. Putting aside the fact that the writing of the voiceovers is cringe-inducing (see above), Guggenheim could have at least put on a patina of objectivity by having the voiceovers done by someone else- perhaps another Left Winger like Tim Robbins. Instead, we are left with the unseemly deification of Al Gore….by Al Gore!
Even worse we get a parade of Oprah Winfrey-level sob stories about how tough a life Al Gore has- being born with a silver spoon, political power, and the disappointment of being out-scioned by George W. Bush for the Presidency. There are some genuine bad things that the film inexplicably digresses to, such as his sister’s death from lung cancer and his son’s near-fatal car crash. So? I mean, what is the point of the film- to act as a documentary about the global warming crisis, or about Al Gore’s ‘indomitable courage’? Such courage which propels him to ‘walk alone’ in airports- as if he’s just a ‘regular person.’ Or to spend hours on his laptop computer monkeying with graphs. Ooh, he’s deep. Yup. Yes he is. Yessirreebob! But, if Guggenheim could only stop with the up the nostrils viewpoint so many of his shots have. I mean, even if Al Gore is the greatest man in the history of our species, do we really need to be able to count his nose hairs?
The DVD, by Paramount, is shown in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and has an update by Al Gore, which features well known information, and a making of featurette. There is a music video of the atrocious Melissa Etheridge song I Need To Wake Up. Whether the melody or the cringe-worthy PC lyrics are worse is up for debate. The audio commentary by Guggenheim is actually fairly good. Yes, he’s a bit too fellatric re: Gore the superhero man of action, but the backstory and technical aspects of the making of the film are interesting. The producers’ commentary has some moments, but offers not much more than is learnt in Guggenheim’s commentary.
Overall, An Inconvenient Truth has important ideas, but is a bad film precisely because those ideas are made secondary to the ego of Al Gore. That is not Gore’s fault, but Guggenheim’s, yet is precisely why An Inconvenient Truth is a bad film, and not even remotely a ‘documentary.’
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on The Moderate Voice website.]
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