With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releasing their latest report last week and the news that Al Gore has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his documentary, I felt it appropriate to post my review of “An Inconvenient Truth.”
I’ll admit it: Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” had its heart in the right place. It meant well. It did. But that isn’t stopping me from feeling it was heinously executed. I’m pretty sure Gore isn’t planning a surprise campaign for President in 2008, but the movie felt like nothing more than a Gorefest. I half expected to hear, somewhere into the last third of the film, “…and that’s when I invented the Kyoto protocols.” He’s got an important message, but he really is not the right vehicle for taking his message to the silver screen. When the melodramatic music began to wail and the film shifted into “flashback/re-enactment” mode for yet another teary-eyed recollection of Gore’s past, I felt like puking.
On the other hand, I could be in the minority here. I know the movie did very well in theaters, grossing over $24 million according to boxofficemojo.com. (That’s more than twice Super Size Me, and I remember well how many people were talking about that movie.) Then there were the Academy Award nominations, and the fact that for a while, nobody could stop talking about the movie. The buzz was incredible, and people still ask every now and then, “Did you see ‘An Inconvenient Truth?'”
My hypothesis is that the majority of the people obsessed with this movie had only vaguely heard of global warming, and “An Inconvenient Truth” really was a wake-up call. I could appreciate the depth of information Gore presented, but I was not shocked or even particularly impressed. For me, it was confirmation that the problem is as bad as they say, not a revelation.
Another probable reason for this movie’s success is Gore’s star power. He is a celebrity, after all, and a charismatic one at that. I believe I would have preferred to watch a straight-up recording of his PowerPoint presentation than the one the movie gave us, sliced up and interlarded with Gore’s egocentric anecdotes. I just recently saw the book version of “An Inconvenient Truth” in stores, and my heart leapt–at first glance, the book seemed to be free of any maudlinism. But alas, the noxious flashbacks remained in print form. Photographs changed from color to grayscale, and the font shrunk a few points in size—to indicate, I don’t know, emotions—but there they were.
Now that I’ve ejected most of my bilious hatred for Gore’s ego, I’m willing to go on to discuss the information itself. Gore did say in one of his asides that his mission was to make global warming/climate change understandable to everyone, and in that regard I feel he succeeded. His graphs and charts were accompanied by photographs and cute computer-generated models that could not be clearer. It’s hard to disagree with photos that show deserts where there were lakes, or lakes where there were glaciers. His presentation gives a good overview of the issues without getting too deep into complicated science or math.
As far as outside reviewers go, a quick scan of Hollywood’s critics shows that they, at least, loved the film. However, many of the positive reviews emphasized the educational aspects of the movie, not Gore’s aptitude as a presenter. Only three reviewers out of almost 150 on Rottentomatoes.com said anything about the movie as a movie. The other reviewers’ comments, pulled from places like The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and so on, all say the same thing: “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.” (Actual quote from one Walter Chaw, from Film Freak Central–whatever that is.) The negative reviewers focused mainly on Gore’s ego and used it to form ad hominem attacks against the message. Surprise. A reviewer from 7M Pictures in Columbus, who does not seem to believe in global climate change, gave the film 1 out of 5 stars, saying “The film makes [Gore] out to be a bigger martyr and a better savior than Jesus Christ, himself.”
On the other hand, RealClimate.org, a site maintained by working climate scientists, praised the movie for handling the science “admirably.” That review noted that there are a few significant scientific errors–the scene I thought was incredibly powerful, where Gore points to an Antarctic ice core and shows where the carbon emissions have vanished thanks to the passing of the Clean Air Act, is apparently based on completely fallacious science. The RealClimate review is followed by two hundred and forty-five remarkably flame-free comments.
In the end, I’ve got to agree with the Wall Street Journal reviewer who wrote: “The film succeeds powerfully, even though it’s short on practical solutions…and, given Gore’s current ambiguous position in public life, requires a tighter focus on the message than on the messenger.” Next time, Al, skip the schmaltz.