A Crude Awakening (2006)
"Oil is a magnet for war."- Terry Lynn Karl, political science professor at StanfordDirector: Basil Gelpke, Ray McCormack
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 01h:22m:46s
Release Date: 2007-07-31
DVD ReviewIf you didnâ€™t know we're paying outrageous prices—not just at the pump, but geopolitically, and in blood—to fill up our Hummers and S.U.V.s, you've probably been willfully ignorant. Neither we Americans nor anybody else has a God-given right to cheap oil, and it seems like astonishingly bad judgment bordering on lunacy to build our entire economy and infrastructure on a rapidly depleting natural resource without hope of replenishment. But here we are, and A Crude Awakening is a jolting look at how we got here, and the almost unthinkable consequences of any of the bad options that lie before us for the future.
The film uses a pastiche of talking head interviews, stock footage, and cheesy old industrial films (the last along the lines of The Atomic Cafe) to make its points—we hear from a variety of geologists, consultants, bankers and academics about what our crippling dependence on petroleum means for us. (Things are certainly tilted toward the Bay Area—the lion's share of academics on screen are from Stanford and Berkeley.) The great Cassandra of this all is M.K. Hubbert, a professor derided in the 1970s for predicting a coming fuel scarcity—he turned out to be exactly right, and we've been scrambling desperately to figure out how to move forward. Most noxious is a Texas Hummer dealer, who hawks the merchandise as a status symbol at 10 miles per gallon; beyond the anecdotal evidence is a look at the geopolitical approach of the George W. Bush Administration, certainly the Presidency most closely associated with the oil industry, and the strong suggestion that the current war in Iraq is less about terrorism than it is about oil.
The upshot of the whole thing, really, is: we're screwed. There's a look at potential alternatives (hydrogen, biodiesel, nuclear), and they're invariably politically unpalatable, or simply won't provide enough energy quickly enough to keep up with our geometrically expanding demand. It's a documentary sure to fill you with outrage, and does a very good job walking a lay audience through much of the science; it does sometimes feel overcut, though, with footage bombarding us and many, many different people on screen for only a few seconds at a time. (You realize how useful the singular presence of Al Gore is in An Inconvenient Truth, providing us with a single guide to the climate crisis.) It's worth noting, too, that it's not simply a liberal-versus-conservative screed—among the most persuasive and compelling in the movie are Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican Congressman from Maryland, and Matthew Simmons, an investment banker and onetime energy advisor to President George W. Bush. You only wish that the current administration and its predecessors had heeded these warnings more seriously, and long ago.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
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Image Transfer Review: A bright transfer, and a pretty clean one; the archival footage is frequently grainy and decayed, but that's to be expected in an assembled piece like this one.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Philip Glass is among those credited with the film's score, and it sure sounds like the filmmakers are borrowing liberally from Glass's work for The Thin Blue Line. Either the 2.0 or the 5.1 track is a fine choice, with the score occasionally subsuming some of the interviewees; the older footage of Hubbert is especially difficult to discern, and subtitles are provided.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Deleted Scenes
Extras Review: A bonus chapter (04m:21s) looks at the corrosive effects of oil on the societies of exporting nations—the case study here is Venezuela, which despite its riches and OPEC participation, has an extraordinarily low standard of living for most of its citizens, given the wealth that apparently is flowing in. Also here are extended interviews with four of those on screen in the feature. Oil geologist Colin Campbell (19m:55s) discusses the Soviets and their quest for oil, in Baku and elsewhere; Simmons (24m:38s) goes over market issues; former Iraq Oil Minister Fadhil Chalabi (23m:39s) provides a Middle Eastern perspective; and Cal Tech physics professor Davie L. Goodstein (18m:41s) discusses his initiation into the science and politics of petroleum. Altogether these outtakes are longer than the film itself, and there are certainly more chestnuts in here.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsA bit overcut and occasionally narratively diffuse, but a terrifying look at what our insatiable thirst for cheap oil means for our future, politically, militarily, and socially. The title may be the clumsiest thing about the movie, which should spur you to action, rather than just throwing up your hands at having to pay $50 to fill up the tank of your Escalade.
Jon Danziger 2007-08-07