Oh, there's the anti-Christ, superheroes in peril and white-knuckle car chases. But the summer film designed to freak you out and rattle your cage is An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary on global warming and its potentially devastating impact. It'll have you nibbling your fingernails along with your popcorn, as it dares to suggest that in some not-too-far-off date, there may not even be a summer-movie season, or anything else.
And you'll no doubt be surprised to learn that the engaging star of this hair-raiser is the previously wooden, pedantic Al Gore. After his trial by fire in 2000, the former senator and vice president has been reborn as an anxious heralder of climate change. Gore now circles the globe, laptop in hand, presenting his entertaining, informative and somewhat alarming slide-show lecture to any and all. Immeasurably speeding up this educational process, director David Guggenheim has now captured the lecture on film, padding it out with a few ruminations on how Gore became global warming's Paul Revere.
In case you're just joining us, global warming occurs when carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases blanket the earth and raise temperatures, thereby sending complex climatic and environmental systems off kilter. Gore's chief argument is that global warming isn't a crisis for 20, 30, 40 years from now; it's happening right now, and he's got the charts, graphs, photos and film clips to prove it.
Gore also has an unexpected ally in our immediate consciousness ... those hypercharged weather events of the last couple of years, including the record-breaking 2005 U.S. hurricane season, European heatwaves and mudslides, and the prolonged droughts in Saharan Africa whose deprivations are intertwined with civil wars. At one point, Gore cracks that the previous year was "like a nature hike through the Book of Revelations."
Beyond the numbers, Gore argues that it's facile to position global warming as a political or even environmental issue; that instead, given the potential for catastrophic loss of life and assorted human miseries (i.e. warmer temperatures increase the range of disease-bearing mosquitoes), its prevention represents a moral imperative.
The film's title is taken from what Gore believes to be the toughest obstacle to tackling the issue: When facts lead to an inconvenient truth ... something that is economically, politically or otherwise not on the agenda ... it is simply ignored. It's easy to decry nations and corporations that do this on a large scale, but every day, we each ignore facts for our immediate benefit: I like my wildly inefficient car; I look good smoking; voting doesn't matter.
Most of the film is simply watching Gore's multimedia presentation that is only marginally flashier than a grammar-school filmstrip presentation. Yet it remains compelling because the material is interesting; complex ideas are presented in digestible, smooth chunks; and Gore's delivery is on, balanced deftly between self-deprecating humor, casual authority and urgency.
Guggenheim breaks up Gore's speech with filler footage of the man on the move ... another day, another airport (whenever we see Gore in his downtime he's always noodling over his laptop, as if he's an automaton entirely devoted to saving the earth). In voice-overs matched with archival photos, Gore also reflects on his life, highlighting key moments that changed his thinking or spurred his commitment. It's less important perhaps than saving the planet, but Truth is also about the rejuvenation of Al Gore, perennial politician and candidate, and it suggests that perhaps this new role ... not the Oval Office ... is really Gore's calling.
I do have one suggestion for Gore: Cut some of the ice-cap footage in favor of more explicitly calling the mainstream media on their abdication of facts, as they earnestly over the last decade worked to provide "both sides of the story." There is no "other side" among scientists; the debunking of global warming has been a PR campaign waged by interested parties. But the media's complicity ... witness the attention paid to State of Fear, Michael Crichton's global-warming-is-a-crock novel...has helped create the popular misconception that global warming is a theory that doesn't even have accord within the scientific community. Big chunks of the Arctic melting is a remote abstraction, but helping people get savvy about media is part of the larger solution.
Truth also gives a wide berth to politics ... Gore calls out just one bad apple in the Bush administration, as if both sides of the aisle aren't ignoring fresh policy in favor of self-interest, laziness or some other reliable political trait. That gang we've elected can't even mandate U.S. autos to match the efficiency of cars in China, our partner in consumption and ecological villainy.
But I quibble: The film is designed as a primer, and in just 90 minutes can't address every aspect of what is a complex, and truly global issue. Its goal is simpler ... to lay out facts that will help you question and confront these issues in the future. Truth ends on a hopeful note about possible change keyed to various "ifs," yet many of these involve entities or concepts beyond our control. Gore calls for "American ingenuity and spirit" but it's not like you can just get that at the mall, or conjure it up overnight across hundreds of millions of otherwise distracted citizens.
Likewise, the credits are interspersed with tips, mostly basic ideas like drive less, write your congressmen, run for Congress. They're a trifle glib ... and seemed aimed at an educated demographic with plenty of time and money to ponder the energy-efficiency quotients on their new appliances. Making "smart choices" can be a luxury: Gore leaves hanging the question of how to engage the millions of other folks who don't spend their entertainment dollars on an eco-documentary, if they even have that spare $8.
Regardless, by the film's end, you're apt to be somewhat overwhelmed and depressed and looking for any action, however small, to act on at once. Get ahead of the crowd with this free suggestion: Walk, bike, bus or at least car-pool to this film.