“Like we really really want to make this film and we feel really passionate about global warming and feel really upset by it. We just don’t know why.”
The tone of that opening statement resonates throughout the film. Randy Olson, of the Shifting Baselines blog and Flock of Dodos fame, set to create a “global warming comedy”. He wanted to understand the debate raging on between scientists and global warming skeptics. Is it a failure of scientists to communicate on the level of your everyday individual? If that statement speaks for the general non-scientific audience of the United States, then this may be true. But what if the global skeptics and deniers are just more vocal and use a style of language that is confrontational or resonates more easily with the layperson?
The movie opens with Randy going to the only people in Hollywood who will back his movie. Right from the beginning and continuing for three-fourths of the film, the viewer is confronted with blatant, ridiculous and overbearing homosexual stereotypes. It borders on absurdity as many minutes are devoted to listening to these two individuals chase down famous people to a host for Randy’s movie. The next blatant overbearing stereotype is about black, materialistic “gangsta” types. These 2 individuals are camera and sound men and ended up “keeping it real” with Randy during interviews and with the movie production process. I saw their role as playing devil’s advocate.
There are 2 sections to the movie. The first is a series of interviews with global warming scientists and skeptics. During each interview Randy is interrupted by Marion, the cameraman, who sides with the skeptics because it just makes more sense to him. The value I saw to this section was learning about how absurd the positions of the leading think-tank type skeptics were. They were obviously either misinformed or clearly pushing an agenda. But their language easily resonated with Marion (who is the stand-in for the general American populace). But a real wake up call was the horrible job by the lady from the National Resources Defense Council who stumbled during the interview with Randy and didn’t know her numbers or could confirm numbers that Randy mentioned. She appeared clearly unprepared and uncomfortable talking about the subject of global warming, a topic the NRDC is actively seeking money from patrons to fight. Here Randy shows that scientists communicate in jargon, or can’t communicate clearly, and shows that while the global warming skeptics, while wrong or misleading communicate better and know how to frame their words to make it appear that scientists are blowing the whole thing out of proportion.
The second half of the movie was the most informative and interesting. For me, this started about the time of the interview with the biologist near the polar bear exhibit of the San Diego Zoo. It comes together when Randy has a conversation with the normally quiet soundman who explains to him that when the confrontational Marion talked with the interviewees, they opened up more and communicated better and more clearly (including the NRDC lady) than when they were talking to Randy (who is himself a scientist). They then meet leading scientist Naomi Oreskes who tells them they must go to New Orleans to witness the human face of global warming in the wake of hurricane Katrina. This section loses the global warming focus a little, but is real, emotional and these are the stories that make this movie worth seeing. I almost feel that if they focused more on the human dimension of global warming this would be a much better movie, but I see the value in building up to it.
What does this movie succeed in? It does bring into light a serious issue, such as how do we communicate how important the global warming subject is. It also contains a somewhat direct connection to the human face of global warming. I would have liked to see more of this. For instance, interview people from low-lying islands in the Pacific that had to move their homes because sea level was rising.
What does this movie fail in doing? I am confused as to who the intended audience is. I watched it the first time around with my wife and parents. Wife left to do better, more interesting things after 20-30 min., mom fell asleep and my dad and I never once laughed and ended the movie not knowing what the point was. I watched it again by myself and found it more enjoyable. Most people will only see a movie once so it is important to get your point across, be entertaining and reach your intended audience. I still am not sure what the thesis of the movie is. Is it about global warming, is it about science communication, is it about black and gay stereotypes?
Overall, I wasn’t very entertained and I do consider myself an easily entertained person. I don’t usually like seeing documentaries in the style of being filmed as it is being created. But it could have worked here without the annoyances I’ve already mentioned. I can only comfortably recommend it for a rental or for your netflix, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to spend theater prices on this film. I’m not meaning to be overly harsh and I didn’t have much expectations going into the viewing. I honestly feel it was unclear and poorly produced. It is not a must-see and it does not add anything to the global warming debate or media, for that matter. Though I was disappointed, I did enjoy Flock of Dodos. There are many stylistic similarities and maybe Randy was trying out something different so that he wouldn’t be viewed as applying the same formula.