An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power National release Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (M) National release
Iwatched Al Gore’s new climate change documentary, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, in a near-empty cinema. Was that screening bad for the environment? I don’t know, but Gore would. He has spent much of his professional life, and especially the near 20 years since he lost the US presidential race to George W. Bush, working to raise awareness about global warming.
Perhaps this film will, like its 1986 predecessor An Inconvenient Truth, be a slow-burner. Made for $US1.5 million, that film made $US50m, won an Oscar and delivered Gore the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet the former vice-president does not consider himself a winner, at least not based on what he says here. “If I said there weren’t times where this felt like a personal failure on my part, I’d be lying. For me the past 20 years has been a painful experience.”
I’m not going to pretend to know how right or wrong Gore is about climate change, but that little self-reflection of his goes to one of the strengths of this documentary: it is not a polemic, not a rant, not dominated by political dogma or personal anger.
Donald Trump appears only briefly. The film, made when he was the Republican presidential candidate, required a late reworking to include his election and his vow to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, struck in December 2015 and due to come into effect by 2020.
Gore responds to Trump’s election by recalling the words of a boxer: “Everyone has a plan until he gets punched in the face.” That was Mike Tyson and he said mouth, not face, but I suppose that doesn’t much reduce the pain. It reminded me, in a tangential if unrelated sense, of Robert Mitchum, born 100 years ago, when someone asked him if he should get his nose fixed: ‘‘It’s already been fixed, by about four left hooks.” Gore’s new position is the subtitle to this film: today, he thinks, it’s even more important to speak truth to power.
Gore benefits from one of the American political traditions I admire: respect for people who have held high office. He is still Mr Vice-President, just as any former president is still Mr President. It’s something we could use here. Of course it doesn’t mean they can’t be criticised. Opponents of An Inconvenient Truth compared Gore with Joseph Goebbels.
So Gore has high-level access, at home and abroad. The centre of the documentary, directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, is the leadup to the Paris meeting, attended by representatives from almost 200 nations. The meeting followed the lethal terrorist attacks in Paris. Trump thinks terrorism is the most serious threat we face, and that’s a fair point.
In Paris, Gore has the support of then president Barack Obama and his secretary of state John Kerry, the Democrat who followed him in losing an election to Bush. He’s hugged by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. We see and hear from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But the sticking point is India, and here Gore allows room for both sides of the story, even when one of them frustrates him. In a meeting in India, Energy Minister Piyush Goyal puts it plainly. His developing nation, where 300 million people do not have access to energy and where poverty is widespread, will follow the US lead, but not the one Gore has in mind.
India, Goyal says, will think about renewable energy in 150 years, after its people have been liberated by the use of fossil fuels. “I am only asking that carbon space you used for 150 years,’’ he tells Gore. Gore, a native of oil-producing Tennessee, is a bit taken aback, but he changes tack and uses his influence in the solar energy sector to work out a new plan.
I found this geopolitical drama interesting but it’s at ground — and sea and sky — level that a disturbing thriller movie unfolds. We see devastating natural disasters, including Typhoon Haiyan in The Philippines in 2013, which killed more than 6000 people, and unusual weather events such as “rain bombs” and flooding in US states such as Florida. Australia wades in, too, with widespread flooding in Victoria.
Gore believes such wild weather is due to, or exacerbated by, climate change. He has an interesting graph that charts colder-than-expected weather in blue, expected weather in white and hotter-than-expected weather in red, the colours of the American flag. The blue section
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power on his graph keeps shrinking while the red one keeps expanding. Whether this is a deliberate political joke about blue Democrats and red Republicans I don’t know, but it made me laugh.
And that brings me to the politician I like most in this film: Dale Ross, the Republican Mayor of Georgetown, Texas. He says he’s a redder-than-red Republican in a redder-thanred county. But he also says that if what Gore has been saying for the past 20 years is even just a little bit correct, then why wouldn’t we do something about it? Georgetown is now one of the US’s largest renewable energy towns, for economic rather than ideological reasons. But Ross adds, “Doesn’t it just make sense? The less stuff you put in the air, the better it is.”
That’s the line I took out of An Inconvenient Sequel because to me, too, it makes sense. There’s a moment in the Gore movie where he says if we think we’ll all just pack up one day and go live on Mars, we are mistaken. Earth is our only home, so we’d best look after it. Well, he best send a memo to French director Luc Besson, who would consider Mars a intergalactic pit stop in his new science fiction epic, Valerian and the City of 1000 Planets.
In a funny way, Besson’s film is like Gore’s. I don’t quite understand the ins and outs of either, but each has been on my mind ever since. Valerian is set in the 28th century and centred on a huge space station, Alpha, which is home to thousands of species, including Homo sapiens. It’s a diplomatic hub, a sort of UN, and the clever, humorous opening scenes remind me of the footage from the Paris conference. There are lots of introductions between beings of all shapes and sizes. The handshakes are civilised but sometimes have a sticky aftermath.
We move to another planet and meet a group of tall, thin, aliens who live in paradise. They are reminiscent of the Na’vi in James Cameron’s Avatar, and Besson has said that film made him rewrite this one, which he’d been working on for some time, because it was so good. Whether you think Avatar is bad or good or in between, I think it will prove a seminal film in terms of its impact on other filmmakers.
Eden turns to hell when alien spaceships enter its atmosphere and crash and burn. There is a harrowing scene involving the local princess. We cut to the two lead characters Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his offsider Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), who are lazing on a beautiful beach and flirting. They are top agents in the Alpha police force. Valerian awakes from a dream about the paradisiacal planet being destroyed. Or is it a dream? Besson loves messing around with time and space.
The cops report for duty, still in their swimsuits. Their boss is Commander Filitt (Clive Owen, so odds are he will be devious). It seems there is a toxic problem on Alpha, something that threatens the station. Valerian and Laureline must investigate. They must also try to secure a Mul Converter, a miraculous aardvarklike animal that is the last of its kind, from that ruined planet. Everyone else wants it too.
While the over-the-top theatrics are reminiscent of Besson’s 1997 hit The Fifth Element and, more recently, the Wachowski siblings’ Jupiter Ascending, there is also an amusing riff on Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s a black market boss (voiced by John Goodman) who looks a lot like Jabba the Hutt. Ethan Hawke has a lot of fun as a brothel owner and Rihanna is a highlight as a shapeshifting entertainer from that venue.
Besson used crowdsourcing and some of his own money to make this $US200m film. I’m more a fan of his non-space movies such as the assassin ones Nikita and Leon: The Professional and I think his 1988 film about free-diving, The Big Blue, is the most nailbiting aquatic movie alongside Jaws. I liked Valerian, a near 150-minute film that allows DeHaan and Delevingne the time to become more interesting. And I walked out hoping Al Gore is right about at least one thing: that we don’t migrate to Mars.
THE STICKING POINT IS INDIA, AND HERE GORE ALLOWS ROOM FOR BOTH SIDES OF THE STORY
Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne in
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets; Al Gore in his documentary