"I can't believe it's good."
"But I can't believe it."
That's pretty typical of the conversations I've had with friends about the Al Gore documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.
Not, "Hey, Al Gore made this documentary about global warming and impending ecological apocalypse and it makes a lot of sense," and "Oh, wow, I hope he's wrong. Maybe I should buy that Prius."
More like, "Hey, Al Gore made this documenta ... " and "Oh, right, it's an early campaign platform. You know, when he decides to run for president again in 2008?"
Don't invest in ice cubes.
Or buy beachfront property.
The funny thing about An Inconvenient Truth - directed with a confident, efficient hand by Davis Guggenheim, not by the former vice president himself - is how it anticipates this knee-jerk cynicism, the sad modern kind that says if you care deeply about anything you're either a crackpot or selling something. And how could it not? It is (shudder) a documentary about a global warming lecture given by Gore; it outlines why it's happening, how it works, and what'll happen to your home and you if we take no actions to stop it - yo, wake up, I'm talking to you!
Getting people to listen, of course, is no small issue here. It's a theme, and one that Guggenheim and Gore place front and center. The thing about well-meaning eggheads like Gore is they tend to know what they're talking about. But the packaging hurts. He knows this now. If he didn't understand that during the 2000 election, the scolding know-it-all who could barely contain his frustrated sighs has been replaced with, well, a guy who would make a smart president. He's eloquent and funny, that infamous stiffness swapped with the air of a folksy professor.
The guy improved himself.
Gore wants to bring the discussion of climate change (and what can be done to reverse it) to the mainstream. Maybe he's the wrong guy; everything he says will be heard through the scrim of partisanship. Let's hope not. Gore the politician could be a long-winded cyborg. This one is breezy, commonsensical. His tone is of urgency, not alarm - that of a concerned citizen.
He stands in front of an auditorium (of handpicked sympathizers, likely) and after a brief explanation of global warming and how climate works, he takes us on a Power Point trip of climatic upheaval that looks, as he puts it, "increasingly like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation." You watch it with horror.
He stands before a massive screen. Graphs and charts float past, but the most striking images are the pictures of Glacier National Park - so lacking in glaciers (a melting that's happened only in recent years), it's in need of a new name. There are before-and-after photos of the polar caps. The icebergs that are collapsing are not (as previously thought) refreezing. The snows of Kilimanjaro exist only in Hemingway now.
Is it propaganda? Kind of.
Does it have an agenda? Yes.
But the cause couldn't be less self-serving or unsexy. Guggenheim breaks up the lecture and images with short biographical details about Gore's life, and the interruptions are labored and, yes, feel inadvertently self-promoting. It's an odd lack of trust in the stage show to hold our attention, because the offstage meandering snaps momentum.
An Inconvenient Truth should be galvanizing without resorting to human interest fluff. The facts should be a wake-up. Gore's tirelessness should be contagious. He opens and closes his talk with a tender ground-level consideration of the stakes, a river you rest by on a lazy afternoon. In the history of films you probably don't want to see, this one is a doozy.
But the genuine human interest here should be personal. Car companies can sue California over emissions standards. Here's a movie that suggests, perhaps before the 2008 election, General Motors may want to switch to selling boats.
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: firstname.lastname@example.org