It sounds improbable: a documentary film about global warming, starring Vice President Al Gore, has become the third-highest-grossing documentary of all time. After his loss in the 2000 presidential election, Gore began giving a talk on global warming to audiences around the world. An Inconvenient Truth is the film version (also appearing in book form) of his multimedia presentation. Remarkably, its heavy use of PowerPoint slides actually adds to the narrative, which interweaves explanations of climate science with defining episodes from Gore's life to convey a mix of alarm and hope.
The film is a paragon of clear science communication. It explains the workings of complex physical phenomena, such as the jet stream, while chronicling the reality of glaciers receding and the increase in carbon dioxide emissions and global temperatures. Gore, meanwhile, succeeds in bringing the “moral imperative” of reducing greenhouse gases to a personal level, attempting to convince viewers that their own actions can make a difference.
His appeal to individual responsibility is enhanced by the way the former politician, often lampooned for his stiff speaking style, gives the viewer a glimpse of his own life. In one of the film's strongest scenes, Gore recounts how his older sister's death from lung cancer led his family to stop growing tobacco—a painful metaphor for the industrial world's predicament in coming to grips with excess atmospheric carbon.
The film provoked commentary from across the political spectrum. After its release, the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute attacked: “Carbon dioxide—they call it pollution; we call it life.”
But movie critics drew attention to it by generally lavishing praise: “You owe it to yourself to see this film,” urged Roger Ebert. “If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.” The achievement of An Inconvenient Truth has been to bring the most important scientific and technical issue of our time into the public view better than anything before in print or film.