Sunday, 7 January 2007

An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

An Inconvenient Truth

Sometimes I think the world's gone mad! And no, I'm not referring to the environmental disaster that's manifesting itself all around us, and manifesting itself to such an extent that at some point even George Bush is going to have to pull his head out of the sand.

I'm referring to the rave reviews and plaudits Al 'I'm the man who used to be the next president of the United States' Gore's An Inconvenient Truth is getting!

Many people whose opinions I'd normally admire are including this film in the 'Top 10 Films' lists that invariably appear around this time of year, and even as I type this mini-review Micahel Parkinson's Radio 2 radio programme is telling me, and the rest of its audience, that this is in the critics' Top 20 list of movies released last year.

To which the only sensible response can be 'Whaaaaaaaaaaat?!'

An Inconvenient Truth is NOT a good film. It IS a good - possibly even a great - 20 minute talk on what's happening to the planet. That 20 minute talk has been stretched and stretched again, so that its important message is, if anything, diluted by the film-making process rather than enhanced by it. A good talk has become an average lecture has become a sub-average film as each step of the journey has been taken. So what should have been a very punchy, fast-paced 20 minute piece has become a 40 minute lecture padded out with homilies and 'Isn't that beautiful?' asides, delivered to an audience that has been captured on film. That material has then been stretched out again to a 90 minute feature film by adding simple 'interview with the lecturer' footage grabbed seemingly at various airport departure lounges, or in cabs on their way to/from those lounges.

Contrary to all those Top 20 lists, the end result does not make for a great FILM - it actually makes for a rather plodding, unimaginative, and not very well edited one! And it's REALLY depressing in a year when so many good documentaries have been made - documentaries that have built real tension, real drama, and real substance out of simple, boring facts - that a documentary so sloppily put together as this one is getting to the top of all the critics lists, seemingly just because of the surprise that the lecturer is more than the robotic automaton his presidential campaign had lead us to believe he was!

An Inconvenient Truth screencap

Let's go back to the lecture that is the core of this film and which so many of the media folk have found so 'amazing'. Personally, I found Gore's presentation style patronising, overly-repetitive, and lacking in pacing, but maybe I've spent too long working with marketing folks who are better at getting a message across succinctly and in a flashy way. Gore has done his research and has some fascinating information to convey. Make no mistake, the material he has to present is sensational. Graphical charts are used to tell the shockingly real story of what we've been doing to the planet, but are presented in rather dull 2D PowerPoint format, albeit on large monitors for the audience that's experiencing the lecture in real time as it's being delivered. But too often this information is padded out with Gore homilies and sales-pitch push that just come across as patronising. This is understandable - Gore has to sell tickets to 'an event' and it's hard to do that when the event is less than 20 minutes long, so some padding is needed. But when Gore stops to tell me 'Isn't that beautiful? Isn't that amazing?' as he shows us some animations of the planet taken from space, all he's really doing is doing what the poorest salesmen do - patronising me by telling me what I should be thinking, challenging me to disagree with the blindingly obvious! I can see for myself and don't need the tactics of a cheap second-hand encyclopedia salesman to get a message across.

Bottm line: Sweeping crane shots of an audience hearing a Powerpoint presentation, interspersed with hand-held footage of interviews with the lecturer, seemingly grabbed in airport departure lounges, do not a gripping movie make, no matter how 'sensational' the facts presented in the televised lecture may be.

So when I see nonsense like 'Top 10 Film of the Year' I want to shout 'But the emporer has no clothes', not because the message isn't important - it is - but because the message here is presented in entirely the wrong format, diluted from its original form to poor effect, and ultimately making for very poor cinema.

Too many critics have taken their own ignorance on the subject of what's happening on the planet, and the revelations they've learnt from Gore's fact-filled lecture and interpreted that as some sort of life-changing experience which means this is a life-changing film and therefore one of the best. It might well be life-changing for those individuals, but as a film it's a mess!

Let's move on to the presentation on DVD...

The DVD is presented in a plastic DVD holder that's glued to what is proudly proclaimed to be '100% recycleable' packaging, not dissimilar from the material that egg box cartons are made from. One can't criticise the makers for not trying to do their bit in saving the planet (although one perhaps has to question the need for an additional slip-case to house the package). There are two commentary tracks, one from the director and another from the producers. I'm afraid I was so bored with Gore's repetitive assertions made in the main lecture, that I wasn't prepared to waste another 180 minutes listening to various people commenting twice on that same lecture. There's also a half-hour update on what's happened in the year since the lecture was originally filmed, in the form of an interview with Gore straight to camera, which is interesting only for the fact that it proves that the facts Gore highlighted were correct, which I don't think anyone was disputing.

By all means, if you're ignorant about what's happening to our planet, and the direction it's heading in, check out this DVD. The lecture has some key information to present as evidence that we need to change our ways. But this is definitely a rental, rather than a purchase, and those coming to this material expecting to be blown away by one of the 'Top 10 Films of the year' are likely to feel short-changed, as I did, given all the hype around it.

An Inconvenient Truth screencap

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