An Inconvenient Truth Review

It’s a measure of how effective An Inconvenient Truth is that I was shocked by it. Let me put that in context. This is a film which, in my case, was preaching to the converted – I personally have no doubts that climate change is one of the two or three major issues facing mankind in the 21st century – and it still managed to disturb me. I knew it was happening but I didn’t realise it was happening quite so fast or with such devastating consequences. The film is a documentary record of a slide-show given by the former Vice-President Al Gore on hundreds of occasions, during which he uses freely available statistics – all of them agreed by a broad base of scientists - to demonstrate the impact that humanity is having on the climate and the possible consequences. Seeing this explained in such clear terms is quite an upsetting experience and, as a result, I think An Inconvenient Truth is the most terrifying film I’ve seen for many years.

It may seem paradoxical to say this about a film which centres on a soft-spoken Tennessee politician giving a high-tech PowerPoint presentation, but the reason An Inconvenient Truth works so well is that it’s somehow so very British. It’s reminiscent of nothing so much as one of those late-1950s English films like The Earth Dies Screaming where a group of people sit in a pub and discuss the onset of global apocalypse. Al Gore is such a quiet, reassuring presence that you fully expect him to come over to your house and, in true Vera Drake style, offer to make you a nice cup of tea while he explains how we are slowly destroying the world. We’re so used to Americans getting either hysterical or terrifyingly gung-ho about Armageddon that this alternative approach is wildly effective and far more disturbing.

You see, that’s basically what you get in An Inconvenient Truth - a whole lot of Al Gore and his slide-show. Consequently, one’s reaction to the film depends on how you respond to Al Gore and that may well be why its had received such violently diametric reactions in the USA. For liberals, Gore represents all the might-have-beens of the 2000 elections and he will always be a divisive figure for some Americans, something exacerbated by his increasingly vocal anti-war stance and his frequent criticisms of Bush. But I don’t think there’s any denying that he comes out of the film well. Given time to talk on a subject about which he’s clearly passionate, he shows a kind of intensity and witty intelligence that, had he demonstrated them during the 2000 campaign, might have taken him to the White House. He relates very well to his audience, mixing self-deprecating humour with a few sharp digs at the Bush administration. Most importantly, he knows what he’s talking about and he has the facts to back up his argument, which is simple; man-made greenhouse gases are causing temperatures to rise. This is evoked in the most memorable image of the film – two graphs which link rising temperatures to rising CO2 levels.

I use the word ‘facts’ with the knowledge that some people think climate change is a load of old bunkum and that they will approach this film as yet another attempt to justify government interference in their lives and greater deductions from their pay-packets. I doubt there is any way for those people to be convinced about climate change short of them being flooded out of their homes but it’s worth noting that the reaction to the film has been fascinating in itself. The key scientific critic of the film, Richard Lindzen – a noted critic of the theory that mankind is hastening climate change – produced an editorial in the Wall Street Journal which contained far more dubious claims than any of those proposed in the film. The US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is also adamant that the science in the film is not supported by a consensus of scientists. Needless to say, the business lobby of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has dismissed the film. Yet 19 Climate Change scientists who saw the film claimed that the science in it was almost entirely correct – the main sticking point being the claims that global warming and hurricanes are connected, something which is still a matter of debate among the scientific community. So it’s a matter of who you believe – I don’t have any trouble siding with Mr Gore and his scientific supporters, especially when the science academies of eleven industrial nations (including the USA) have issued the following statement: “Carbon Dioxide levels have increased from 280 ppm in 1750 to over 375 ppm today - higher than any previous levels that can be reliably measured (i.e. in the last 420,000 years). Increasing greenhouse gases are causing temperatures to rise .”

Disregarding the controversial side of the film, it’s undeniably a very well made piece of cinema. Not many recent films have had the nerve to focus on one man talking and An Inconvenient Truth harks back to such memorable works as Swimming To Cambodia. This film isn’t quite as intense as Jonathan Demme’s 1985 film of Spaulding Gray’s stage performance, moving away from the stage for some not entirely compelling vignettes about Gore’s past and the history of the presentation. But it’s beautifully put-together with razor-sharp editing and some very ingenious camerawork to avoid the film appearing static. As a documentary designed to wake audiences up to an issue which is about as pressing as any I can remember in my lifetime, it’s something of a triumph and, whether or not you end up agreeing with it, it demands to be seen by everyone.

The Disc

Paramount’s DVD of An Inconvenient Truth comes along a few months after its limited but successful theatrical release and gives a wider audience the chance to enjoy this remarkable film.

The film is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and has been anamorphically enhanced. It’s an excellent image with strong colours, plenty of detail and no distracting artifacting. The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is two channel stereo and while it’s not likely to test your system to its limits, it’s more than adequate for the job. You can hear every single word very clearly and that’s the important thing.

The extras are valuable, none more so than Al Gore’s 30 minute update which, in its characteristically understated way, contains enough material to scare the hell out of anyone even vaguely supportive of its thesis. There are also two commentary tracks, one with a gaggle of producers (including Lawrence Bender, one-time Tarantino confederate) and one with the director. Both of these concentrate on the making of the film and the reaction to it, with asides about the science. I would have loved to hear an in-depth commentary from a leading scientist who could discuss the material presented in the film and that’s maybe the key thing lacking here. We also get an eleven minute compilation of behind-the-scenes moments and a music video from the terribly concerned, admirably engaged and ever so slightly annoying Melissa Etheridge.

Subtitles are provided for the main feature and also, pleasingly, for the commentaries and all the extra features except the music video.

An Inconvenient Truth is one of my personal favourite films of 2006 and if it causes only one or two people to consider their lifestyles and the impact they have on the environment, then it will have done some lasting good. The DVD presents it well and is very highly recommended.

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