Al Gore's slideshow about the horrors of climate change hits the big screen.

Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth Copyright © 2006 by Paramount Classics, a division of Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.

In the cool breeze of Park City, Utah, Al Gore is unfazed by the frigid air as he charges across a snow-covered parking lot like a linebacker—one wearing a navy blue blazer. He still retains some of the robotic demeanor that dogged his 2000 presidential run, but he also seems energized, smiling, shaking hands and sounding off about his passion: the fight against global warming.

“This is a planetary emergency,” he tells a gaggle of news crews outside of the Sundance Film Festival‘s Library Theater where, fittingly, his studious new documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, will soon have its world premiere.

Later, inside the theater, Gore receives a standing ovation from the crowd.

“We have a category five denial of this issue,” he announces. “I believe our political system is broken, however, I have optimism and hope. A rebellion is gathering.”

Indeed, since Gore’s cautionary chronicle of climate change premiered at Sundance in January, global warming has gained an enormous amount of traction in the mainstream media. ABC News packaged two days of coverage on the subject; Time issued a special report with the cover headline, “Be Worried. Be Very Worried.” and Vanity Fair called global warming “a threat greater than terrorism” in its first ‘Green Issue.’

If anything, An Inconvenient Truth—co-produced by Hollywood activist Laurie David and directed by Davis Guggenheim of HBO‘s Deadwood—is working just as its makers intended. What remains to be seen is whether it will grab audiences as it has grabbed the media. To aid in that effort, the movie’s marketers crafted an advertising campaign that makes the documentary appear like a horror flick: “By far, the most terrifying film you will ever see,” reads the posters. The trailer, a quickly edited series of cataclysmic shots that recall The Day After Tomorrow, seems to indicate a frightening thriller.

Which it is, sort of.

An Inconvenient Truth isn’t jump-out-of-your-seat horror, but it does create a slowly building, apocalyptic dread. For all the newsprint and broadcast segments dedicated to global warming, the movie is a far more compelling visual aid.

Call it The Incontrovertible Truth, which Gore delivers in a persuasive tirade on the dangers of climate change—and the political forces that have tried to deny it—pronouncing ominously, “Our ability to live is what’s at stake.”

Still, An Inconvenient Truth is mainly a concert film, with Al Gore as the headlining act. It’s a recorded lecture of a speech and slideshow presentation that Gore has given roughly a thousand times since his political career ended six years ago.

Unsurprisingly, at moments, it does drag a little, but the heaps of scientific data and planetary predictions are striking, far more engrossing than the well-integrated details about Al Gore’s life. Despite the gravity of the former vice presidentís hardships—a car accident that nearly killed his son; his sister’s death from lung cancer; his presidential close-call—it is visions, like that of Mt. Kilimanjaro 30 years ago side-by-side with pictures of the snowless mountain of today, that hit hardest.

Gore does sprinkle in some humor, like the quip, “I used to be the next President of the United States” and a segment lifted from Matt Groening‘s Futurama series called “Global Warming: Or None Like it Hot.” The clip is an animated faux educational film where punk-style “Greenhouse Gasses” beat up “Mr. Sunbeam” and his friends, as their unconscious bodies pile up and heat the Earth’s surface.

But when Gore unveils a chart of the 10 hottest years on record—all of which take place within the last 14 years, 2005 being the hottest—itís not a punchline to laugh at. A look at another slide that indicates today’s carbon dioxide concentrations, which are climbing exponentially above any time in the last 4,000 years, will have few people chuckling. With reduced soil moisture and more arid lands, elevated levels of insect-borne diseases, exploding populations and rising sea levels that could produce millions of environmental refugees, the situation really is scary.

Less gonzo in its execution and inflammatory in its accusations, An Inconvenient Truth may not be this summer’s Fahrenheit 9/11. But it’s just as heated.

Kilimanjaro, Africa (2005) from An Inconvenient Truth  Copyright © 2006 by Paramount Classics, a division of Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.

Originally published May 22, 2006

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