The way this film was shot breaks a lot of “rules.” Basically, it’s a Power Point presentation. But a really, really good one. Plus, the fact that the man making the film was the winner of the popular vote to become president in 2000. But we all know what happened there. Al Gore is a tragic figure who, with this film, finds something he can be really really good at: telling the devastating truth about global warming. Gore makes an absolutely compelling case that global warming is an impending global disaster.
The film opens with a series of nature shots, which I think were filmed on or near Gore’s family farm. Voiceover of Gore talking about his goals and what he’s failed to achieve in life. Beautiful and simple transitions use classic technique of person in moving vehicle to project a sense of forward motion with a disolve from car moving directly into tracking shot from airplane of glacier cuts to single point of ice with water melting under it to tie it all together and tell us what this film is about. In particular I like the way Davis Guggenheim shot Gore through the window of the car – he apparently leaned out of the front passenger seat and shot Gore through the reflections in the class of the passenger window, so that you can catch glimpses of him. Nice way to create dramatic visual in otherwise boring visual situation.
The film is structured simply: introduction with Gore talking about himself and providing a glimpse of the problem, and we see him preparing power point slides at his home, and in hotel rooms. Then we get straight into the presentation, which is filmed with high production values complete with complex crane moves sweeping over the crowd up toward Gore and his slides.
Then after Gore makes a particularly powerful point, we cut to a quiet interlude. More traveling. We get that Gore is really dedicated to the cause of spreading his message to the entire world. There’s a great moment where he says “Is it possible there are other threats we need to address besides terrorism?”
A lot of the footage is slightly shaky – in the car, also Gore at his farm looks shoulder shot. Adds to the feeling of believability. Lots of very slow zooms or dolly moves when Gore is giving the presentations makes them come alive more. On the many still photos of Gore’s family members, we get the Ken Burns effect: slow pans and zooms into the pictures. Great Upton Sinclair quote: “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
There’s one beautiful shot that I’m guessing was made with a stabilizer of some kind, like a Steadicam Merlin, when Gore gets out of his car and the camera crosses in front of him. That’s a shot I want to use sometime and I recently purchased a Merlin, which I’m practicing with (because it’s not simple to get good results with it).
Gore talks VERY slowly and deliberately throughout the film. It’s a very effective way to get people to listen: slow down. Deliver clearly. A takeaway is that you can tell your subjects to slow down in interviews sometimes if you want what they are saying to have more impact.
Simple but very well crafted and ANIMATED graphics throughout film (presumably provided by Gore’s power-point designers) provide visuals for the film. The fact that they are animated makes them very effective. Map lights up while he talks about cities he’s traveled to. Nice music interludes with electronic riffs provide background for the transition sequences.
This is a devastating film. You can’t watch it without feeling in your core that the planet is fucked unless we change course radically and fast. Gore addresses the skeptics and preempts some criticism by addressing skeptics questions directly and then debunking them. The film doesn’t try to do what journalists do – get the “other side” of the story, which is really a cop out. Gore shows in one slide the number of journalistic articles that provide “balanced” coverage by quoting someone from the “other side” but then shows that among scientists, the numbers are an avalanche with literally just a tiny handful of scientists who dispute the finding that global warming is a real and present danger to our way of life and survival as a species.
But the film concludes hopefully with a great quote: “In America, political will is a renewable resource.” And neatly provides a place you can go to act: climatecrisis.net. The film credits are intermixed with steps you can take to help. So that as a whole, the film is a stirring call to action. This film is, in my opinion, an example of absolutely brilliant documentary filmmaking: it shows a strong point of view that is based on facts, without taking the easy path that so much so-called “balanced” reportage does when they include “the other side.” Filmmakers are free to look at the facts and make up their own mind, then share that with the world in the form of a compelling film worth watching. Which is why I love this medium so much.