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Friday, May 11, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

I see quite a few films (just hit the films tag at the foot of this post to see what I mean). The problem is when you watch lots of films, it’s easy to become jaded. So, before watching this documentary, and only knowing it’s ‘star’ was a politician who didn’t quite make it to be president, and having done global warming to death in CSI Glenwood* last year, I wasn’t expecting it to really be interesting or good.
*stands for Contemporary and Social Issues group - good eh? I thought it up.

But on the plus side, Al Gore did appear in an episode of Futurama, so he couldn’t be all bad. And then in the first few minutes a clip of Futurama appeared in the film, making me think ‘hey, what’s going on?’

In truth (inconvenient or not) my prejudices were totally wrong. As a topic, climate change is something so massive it becomes meaningless, but the movie managed to give it meaning. Global warming can seem so big we’re all doomed, but the film ended on an incredibly positive and stirring message of hope – that we, as a race, can do something to avert catastrophe, and in fact we are doing something, despite the machinations of the current White House administration.

Topic aside, a documentary stands or falls on the strength of its narrating genius. The best docs in recent years have relied on either the strength of voice (Morgan Freeman) or the strength of personality (Morgan Spurlock); a narrator can blend into the background (Louis Theroux) or be antagonistically larger than life (Michael Moore).

So, how does Albert Gore Jr come off? Incredibly well, in fact. With a nice line in understated irony, self-deprecating comments, and personal history that illuminated the subject of the film rather than fed into a personal ego, his role should become a template for future documentary-makers. When he speaks of his sister who died of cancer from smoking, and how that made his father quit growing tobacco, he uses the story to illuminate how we are unsuspectingly caught up in the process of killing the planet, rather than appeal to our pity. It’s a tragic story, used respectfully by Gore to get his point across, and therein lies its power.

There are a few minor quibbles along the way, and one or two scenes seems a bit fake (Gore on the phone to a researcher seems very forced at one point), but generally, if you only watch one documentary among the blockbusters, make sure it’s this one.

Jongudmund’s rating 9.5/10

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