Stephen Romei

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

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.


Dane DeHaan and Cara Delev­ingne in

Va­le­rian and the City of a Thou­sand Plan­ets; Al Gore in his doc­u­men­tary

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