Docurama // 2006 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // April 16th, 2009
It's worse than you think. But it's not too late.
The tagline for Crude Impact promises shocking revelations and intriguing solutions. The tagline would be wrong. Crude Impact is yet another mediocre and forgettable documentary about why we need to reconsider our use of fossil fuels. It's shoddy and meandering, too often substituting platitudes and generalizations for data and information, and it doesn't even offer a hint of possible solutions. This is the kind of film that could be accused of preaching to the converted but even they will probably find it embarrassingly sloppy.
Ostensibly, Crude Impact is based on an intriguing premise. The idea is to explore the concept of "world peak oil," the point in time at which the amount of oil available to be extracted from the Earth declines. Scientists don't agree that it's possible to predict this exact point globally, but the notion could lead to disastrous consequences, including rationing, wars, and economic collapse. The idea of whether it's possible to discern the exact midpoint of a finite resource, especially given the enormous political and economic ramifications that surround it, is a fascinating one for a documentary. The notion of an argument for alternative sources of energy made from a purely economic standpoint without stooping to the pointless overheated rhetoric that tends to surround this issue is a novel idea that is long overdue.
Unfortunately, it's still long overdue because if there's one thing Crude Impact excels at, it's pointless overheated rhetoric. The documentary clocks in at 98 minutes. At what point does it actually even begin to mention world peak oil? At the one-hour mark. For the previous hour, it meanders painfully through boilerplate left-wing documentary clichés. There's a segment where various interviewees complain about how corporate media stokes and feeds consumerism. There's a segment about how modern industrialized societies are not much more psychologically secure than earlier ones. There's even a segment on, of course, global warming. What the hell does any of this have to do with world peak oil? Why waste so much time on subjects that have been addressed elsewhere in countless other documentaries and that are barely, if at all, related to the topic you're supposed to be addressing?
It's not bad enough that the documentary wastes time on filler. What's worse is that it does such a horrendously sloppy job of doing so. In one segment, one interviewee asserts that the amount of oil present in Alaska's National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) is far too small to offset growing international demand. How small is it? How much is international demand growing, and what is the net difference if one were to add the oil from ANWR? No one provides any statistics or data; you're just supposed to take her word for it. Similarly, the documentary provides a shocking graph that demonstrates that the United States uses a colossal amount more barrels of oil per year than Germany does. Missing from this statistic is the simple fact that the United States has nearly four times the population and twenty-eight times the area as Germany does. A more telling approach would be to point out that the combined oil consumption of all the countries in Europe is still less than that of the United States by itself, though not by a huge amount (see Accomplices section). This would have had the desired effect of demonstrating how dominant the United States is in global oil demand without using such an easily discredited value. Even more ineffective is the last part of the documentary, in which all of the talking heads insist that people need to pressure their political leaders to provide solutions. Such as what, exactly? Apart from switching to fluorescent lights, no one suggests any. It's this kind of vacuous moralizing that makes Crude Impact not nearly as useful as it could have been.
Crude Impact's shortcomings are all the more disappointing because when the film finally gets down to addressing the one topic it's supposed to, it actually does a surprisingly good job. The 15-20 minute stretch starting at the one-hour mark that actually discusses world peak oil is genuinely impressive. Real statistics are given that show how geologists were able to accurately predict the peak oil point in Texas back in the 1950s. Most oil company scientists suspected oil production in Texas would peak sometime around the early 1970s, and that was pretty much what happened. Using those formulas, the documentary shows that it's possible to estimate the peak oil point for the rest of the world, and examines how OPEC countries have so many incentives to exaggerate their projected oil production rates that the peak oil point may have already been passed in many of them. This section is so well-done that it's a mystery why the rest of the film is so hackneyed. Instead of indulging in lame Michael Moore imitations, director James Jandak Wood would have been better served expanding on this part, as it's the one worthy and informative bit in the documentary.
As an extra, the DVD provides an additional hour-plus section of interviews that could have conceivably added more valuable information, but instead these are even more ludicrously unwatchable than most of the main feature. Unless you're really interested in hearing one interviewee proclaim, with a straight face, that television is the single greatest evil ever produced in human history, feel free to skip the extra interviews with no regrets. At least the anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix are both decent, with no major flaws to speak of.
Crude Impact is nowhere near a constructive look at the issues surrounding energy policy and science. Even the most devout Noam Chomsky fan will find this documentary obvious and ham-fisted, not to mention hopelessly incoherent. There are far better sources elsewhere.
Guilty of wasting far too much time on irrelevant clich és.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site
* Nation Master: Oil Consumption by Country