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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The 11th Hour

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Have you heard about this whole global warming thing? It's a dangerous global epidemic (apparently caused by the overheating of celebrity egos). This grim eco polemic is well-intentioned and crammed full of provocative data, but its tone is so relentlessly gloomy that it invites parody.

Narrated in a dire monotone by Leonardo DiCaprio, and laden with montages of calamity from hurricanes, deforestation and factory farming, the film uses information as a bludgeon, until the viewer is forced to seek diversion. The problem is not with the film's premise, that humans are wreaking havoc on the biosphere, but the alarmist tone with which it's presented.

The usual array of impressive scientific talking heads is trotted out, spiced up by some old faves, including Stephen Hawking and Mikhail Gorbachev, all hammering home the notion of a looming crisis. One of the more eloquent is author, Air America radio host and Lansing native Thom Hartman, who carefully correlates the harvesting of fossil fuels with explosive population growth, with roughly twice as many people on Earth as there were in 1960. All those people require more and more resources and the film rails against the corporate greed and culture of excess that fuels that brisk expansion. This surfeit of hand-wringing is set to a hyperactive string of imagery that recalls the seminal 1982 mood piece Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, a striking visual montage that shared this film's environmental sensitivity and reverence for nature. That it came out 25 years ago sort of undermines the apocalyptic undertones of 11th Hour, which screams at every opportunity that the clock has run out for mankind, and that action must come now.

Unfortunately this Chicken Little approach is exactly the sort of progressive hysteria that provides ammunition for bullheaded opposition who sneer at the very notion of climate change — even as the house crumbles down around them. Exactly who this enviro proselytizing is aimed at is unclear, since the audience for a documentary like this is most likely the very same choir that will already be humming the tune on the way into the theater. Only in the final third, when the assembled big brains start to offer solutions, involving sweeping architectural, procedural and social transformations, does the movie start to earn its keep.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to


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