By John DeFore
Tuesday sees the release on DVD of one of the higher-profile entries in the wave of documentaries about the environment, The 11th Hour. Like its big brother An Inconvenient Truth, it lands on retail shelves in slimmed-down packaging — this one replacing the usual bulky plastic case, with a paper sleeve recycled from 100% post-consumer content; unlike Truth, its price is slimmed-down as well: At $4.99, this disc clearly wants to enter as many living rooms as possible.
Through the eyes of a film critic, judging only how a movie works and not what its intentions are, Hour is an awfully weak entry into the contemporary documentary scene. Its pace is monotonous, its content over familiar, its incorporation of stock footage often distractingly untethered from whatever topic is currently under discussion.
It’s flawed enough, in fact, to make one think even more fondly of Al Gore’s movie, which may have suffered its own aesthetic challenges but packed a polemical punch sufficient to keep viewers engaged.
What this film might or might not mean to the world, of course, is another matter, since a message’s impact can rely on so many external factors. (Anyone whose world view was permanently shaped by clumsily made elementary school films about drugs or nuclear war can attest to this.) Will the narrating presence of a clearly very involved Leonardo DiCaprio help the important message of Hour worm its way into the minds of a new generation? If so, let’s get this thing playing in school auditoriums around the world. (It is on a tour of college campuses.)
A stiffly structured rundown of the ecological threat facing humanity, 11th Hour breaks its message up intelligently: what is really happening to the planet; how our lifestyle contributes to it; why our leaders are doing next to nothing; what assumptions in our personal lives lie between us and change; and, finally, how people around the world are working to make a difference.
The early parts of this agenda sometimes verge on the cringe-inducing, with the filmmakers’ kitchen-sink onslaught of frightening visuals matching their short-attention-span hop through everything from Hurricane Katrina to industrial overfishing. DiCaprio’s earnest delivery of his text (he was also one of the producers) furthers the sense that we’re watching an “educational film” that will sum up what we already know rather than inform us or lend new perspectives.
But the final chapter works best, and is clearly most important for a movie so intent on convincing viewers to put down the Hummer catalog and start building windmills. Some of the interviewees who pop up are indeed inspirational, and a giddy buzz generates around, say, examples of architecture that generates all the power it needs to function. If the movie had focused solely on these visionaries, devoting its ninety minutes to only a handful of projects, it might have built to a climax that was both rousing and useful.
But The 11th Hour has too much on its plate to linger like that, so viewers must let the talking-head messages flow by while trying to extract snippets that are personally meaningful. For instance, the impressively succinct way a critic of overconsumption gets across the idea that “things are thieves of time,” requiring us to work to buy them, fret over maintaining them, and then — here’s the ugly part — spend a few centuries dealing with the mess our making, using, and disposing of them has left behind.
Copyright © 2008 | Distributed by Noofangle Media