An Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore's sobering slide show doesn't quite add up to a movie.

You can agree with every point Al Gore makes in this documentary, but a stage lecture with bits of campaign-bio padding doesn't fit my definition of cinema. Yes, global warming is real. Yes, it's frightening. And the former vice president (see interview), makes his case with plenty of graphics, charts, and film clips during the course of his slide show (honed over 20 years, now really more of a multimedia wonk extravaganza)—he doesn't just talk you to death, which is a pleasant surprise. He also cracks a few well- rehearsed jokes at his own expense. If he's bitter about the 2000 election, he's too much the politician to show it.

One problem here is that you're going to walk into the movie believing one thing, then walk out believing exactly the same thing—only more firmly. It might be different for school groups (really Truth's ideal audience), but who hasn't already absorbed the same socio-environmental warnings from newspapers, books (see Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes From a Catastrophe and Jared Diamond's Collapse, to name only a couple), and all that Katrina coverage? (Some of which footage figures in Truth.)

Gore only narrates the "back where I grew up in Tennessee" filler footage (rusticated to look like period home movies), and the backstage material is no more revealing—see the former vice president wheel his own luggage through the airport! Watch as he types on his PowerMac! Thrill as he checks e-mail on his PalmPilot! Again, that he was a big policy geek we already knew. Whether he'll run against Hillary in 2008 we can only speculate. Amid the alarming carbon dioxide graphs and images of receding glaciers—scientific evidence, in other words—Gore sneaks in some shrewd political points, reminding us how the administration now run by "my opponent" has muzzled experts like NASA's Dr. James E. Hansen. (For more on that topic, certain to figure in the '08 presidential election, read Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science.)

Truth will certainly provide a feel-good/feel-bad bonding experience for those who believe in global warming, who respect Al Gore, and who are dismayed by current governmental policies on energy, fuel consumption, and the like. But while I'm part of that same liberal hand-wringing eco-constituency, the movie only really grabbed me as a movie should during its animated sequences, created by Matt Groening (on whose Futurama Gore has voice-cameod). Clearly, the former VP—and future candidate?—has a sense of humor. In the future, having ignored global warming and allowed sea levels to rise, our government spaceships will use giant tongs to drop building-size ice cubes into the oceans to cool the planet? Now there's a movie I want to see.

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