Sunday, 20 April 2008

DVD: Who Killed the Electric Car?

Lowdown: Cunts are still running the world.
Time after time, when called upon to review a documentary, I find myself facing a problem: how do I review a documentary based on its movie attributes when it is not really a conventional movie but rather a tool designed to deliver a certain message, often not far from the level of propaganda? And how do I review it when I'm far from being objective about the message delivered by the documentary? Serious problems indeed; take them into account when you read the following review.
Who Killed the Electric Car is a documentary that attempts to answer the question of why there are no electric cars on our roads when very successful electric cars were made available for a while just a few years ago. The story goes like that: The state of California came up with legislation forcing car manufacturers to sell electric cars; they've complied, and indeed GM outdid itself by coming up with a model that managed to gather a collection of fans. But then the car manufacturers changed their minds; the electric cars were gathered up and systematically destroyed, while the car manufacturers claimed they had to do it due to lack of public demand.
Well, according to this documentary, the car manufacturers were lying. They had a vested interest in maintaining a market where they can still sell us maintenance, the bulk of their total earnings and an area where the electric car didn't require much attention. The oil companies, for their part, wanted to continue selling us more and more oil. The legislative authorities were under the influence of both, altering the Californian legislation enough so that it became ineffective, and the federal government came up with a distraction called the hydrogen powered car (a distraction mainly because there is still no way to distribute hydrogen). And last, but not least, the consumer - us - was ignorant enough to let the whole thing pass under our noses without us paying attention to it.
WKtEC works quite effectively by doing its best to cover all options and answer all questions. In fact, it wrongs by going for a cover so tight it made me feel as if the filmmakers thought I'm dumb (repetition repetition) while on the other hand slacking on major weak spots for their argument. For example, when arguing that electric cars don't manufacture more pollution by raising demand for coal generated electricity, the film correctly argued that most cars will be charged at night when the power stations are still running but demand is low, but also waved this banner of a research claiming that the increased demand for electricity would still be better for the environment overall. The problem was that they left that last point at that, while we all [should] know that one can come up with research results claiming almost anything; it's the analysis of the research of the views of peers that make one research more acceptable than the other.
Another problem with WKtEC is that it was obviously designed for commercial TV rather than a DVD presentation. The pacing of things at short intervals and the obvious places left for the insertion of commercials betrays the point and makes it all feel rather cheap.
Criticism aside, WKtEC really works. At the end of it, or even at the beginning, you realize that we're all the fools of corporate greed and that we can make the world a much better place right here right now; alas, there are a few key powerful stakeholders who think they'd lose some power in the process, and utilizing their power they keep us stuck in place. That's a very chilling message, one all of us should remember the next time we think highly of a particular car maker. Whether they selling us a sexy car or whether they claim to be selling us a clean car, remember they could all do infinitely better but choose not to purely because of greed.
Best scene: The interviews with an old guy called Ovshinsky, who came up with the battery technology for the electric car - a very workable battery technology, according to WKtEC, which was purchased by the car manufacturers and the oil companies just so they can make it disappear off the face of the earth. The guy effectively makes his point that education is what we need, because if we were all able to think our way through this world we wouldn't fall for the car manufacturers lies like sheep to the slaughter the way we do now.
Technical assessment: The picture varies in quality as its sources vary; it's never particularly good. The sound, however, is surprisingly enveloping and effective for what is mostly a talk based documentary.
Overall: I'll be generous to the electric car and give it 4 out of 5 stars - it is a compelling watch, worthy of playing to kids at school so they can learn something about this world and how it is run.

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