June 1, 2006

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An Inconvenient Truth (PG)
Dashing Hollywood action hero Al Gore scares the pants off us with tales of imminent destruction in An Inconvenient Truth, clearly one of the most cinematic slide shows of all time.

Al Gore is not, in a squishy relatable way, an exciting guy. He has exactly one bit of public shtick that works — making fun of his own square-ness. There is a part of his mannerisms — that over-exaggerated politeness that very much comes off as condescension — that is extremely unappealing. It is, unfortunately for Gore, the part we saw in the 2000 campaign.

But then there is that other part of Al Gore, the geek part. Like any geek, when the stiff, not-publicly-emotional Gore starts to talk about a subject for which he has obsessive geeky interest, he warms into a person who is likeable and interesting. He becomes the engaging professor.

I've seen this happen in person. I once covered Gore teaching a class at UCLA. The subject was a holistic approach to crime-fighting (which is much less granola than it sounds; the idea is basically that schools and social services can do a better, cheaper job at preventing crime than the far pricier justice system). The discussion was pure wonkery but still interesting and engaging to the students in the room.

This is more or less what happens in An Inconvenient Truth, which is basically a documentary of Gore's slide show about global warming with some bits about his life thrown in to make you feel like you've gotten your money's worth. The personal stuff — about his childhood, the death of his sister from lung cancer, the near-death of his son in a car accident and the 2000 election mess — isn't particularly fascinating and has a glancing, A&E Biography level of depth. All the grainy shots of Al Gore musing about the future of the planet while staring out of car windows smack of filler and don't quite convey the "one man bravely battles alone" tone that the movie seems to be going for. Instead, what I'm feeling is more "one director pads out a movie."

Which is unnecessary, because, as far as slide shows go, Gore's is a real firecracker. He explains global warming. (How accurate is it? Reports vary but basically he gets to the important part, which is that the world is getting hotter and stuff is melting.) Then, he sets about explaining why we should care. He explains the effects of global warming on snows in various mountains and how the melting of that snow impacts the availability of drinking water. He explains how hotter oceans create stronger, more destructive storms. He shows how, under the worst-case scenario, rising oceans can flood Manhattan and Florida. He even dips into The Day After Tomorrow territory to explain how a melting Greenland could cause an ice age in Europe.

Extreme? Yes. But to really sell global warming perhaps it's best not to mess with the low end of the destruction-prediction scale.

An Inconvenient Truth is not Gore's path back to political power — the guy he is in this movie is not a guy he can be on the campaign trail and even if he could be that guy it's doubtful that the winner of the Senate science fair would be able to get elected. The movie is an explanation of a problem that sets you thinking about ways that we (you, me, the government, the world) could fix it. The movie asks, near the end, for us to do simple things to reduce our own contributions to the global warming problem but even the movie seems to recognize that it isn't individual recycling efforts (commendable though they might be) that will solve this problem but a dedicated government effort backed up by a vital and innovative business community. Tax incentives for companies exploring clean, renewable energy? When was the last time a summer disaster flick had you leave the theater thinking about that? B+

An Inconvenient Truth is scheduled to open at the Embassy Theater in Waltham, Mass., on Friday, June 2, and at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre on Friday, June 30.


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