catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 14 :: 2006.07.14 — 2006.07.28


True, in the end

It’s hard to take a moderate position on Al Gore. The man is a martyr, a holy crusader who could very well save the world some day. Or, he’s a bumbling, partisan hack, hell-bent on destroying the very moral fiber of America. Take your pick; you’ll have plenty of company in either camp.

Gore’s new documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, does little to settle the issue. In fact, it offers ample ammunition to be used on both sides of the debate. The film, of course, is all about Gore’s favorite issue—the one he’s been championing for decades now—the issue of global warming. Obviously, it’s an issue that involves a lot of science, and it’s when it sticks to the science that the film works the best. When it drifts away from the cold, hard facts, however—ah, that’s when the Gore-haters will take up their arms.

One thing moviegoers on the right and on the left will have to agree on, though, is the fact that, as a public speaker, Gore’s come a long way. Remember that guy who ran for president a few years back? The one tragically born without a personality? Yeah, that guy seems to be gone; in his place stands an Al Gore who’s actually fairly warm, at times even animated, and quite easy to like. He seems both highly intelligent and approachable here—almost as if he actually has a soul. Who knew?

It’s a good thing, too, because he’s pretty much all we see in the film. This isn’t a panel discussion between experts from both sides of the political divide; rather, this is essentially a filmed PowerPoint presentation, delivered entirely by Gore. (He even does his own graphics!) From the very beginning it’s clear that Gore isn’t just a politician here—he’s a genuine, bona fide expert on the subject, having studied it for years and delivered this presentation “a thousand times.”

And he’s got quite an arsenal of scientific data to back him up. There are those in the red states who are skeptical about the very existence of global warming, but Gore is quick to dispel those doubts. There’s compelling information presented throughout the film, clearly establishing a relationship between carbon levels and the Earth’s temperature. Gore even addresses specific concerns raised by the skeptics. I’m no scientist, but, to a large extent, Gore sold me; the truth, it would seem, is on his side.

Too bad he didn’t stick with that. Interwoven throughout the presentation is a sort of biography of Gore’s life, chronicling his childhood and his career in politics up to this point. This actually makes sense; for one thing, it breaks up the monotony of the slideshow, and besides, Gore really has been championing this issue for his entire career, and at times he’s received quite a bit of opposition.

It’s when the film stoops to emotional manipulation that it stumbles, damaging the credibility of Gore’s entire case. The voice-over narration that begins the film—describing the precious beauty of the natural world—is merely cheesy, but a segment dealing with a tragic, nearly fatal accident involving Gore’s son seems superfluous and irrelevant, designed just to make us sympathize with his case. Likewise, a brief flashback to the 2000 election seems self-serving and distracting, adding nothing to the discussion of the actual issue.

To its credit, though, the movie mostly avoids partisan polemics. There are relatively few potshots at the Bush administration, and, frankly, many of those seem entirely warranted; for example, Gore mentions a man hired on as Bush’s science advisor, whose previous employer had been an oil company, and whose work after leaving Bush’s team was also in the petroleum industry. There is only one criticism of Bush himself—an admirable show of dignity by Gore and the film’s producers.

At times, Gore’s rhetoric drifts dangerously close to pulpit-pounding, but this is largely forgivable; if there’s one thing that shines through in this film, it’s that, whether you agree with him or not, Gore honestly does feel strongly about this issue of science and ethics. Love him or hate him, the man’s trying to do what he thinks is right, and that’s what ultimately makes An Inconvenient Truth work as a film. As the end credits roll, the audience is given a number of practical suggestions they can use to help the environment, showing that, while there’s fear mongering on both sides of the issue, it’s possible to transcend politics and say something genuinely informative, perhaps even inspiring.

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