Cinema Libre // 2009 // 112 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // June 24th, 2010
"Oil is the lifeblood of our society. Almost everything in our lives is made from oil. It heats us, it cools us, it feeds us. It brings us what we need to live. It takes us where we need to go. But there are problems with our use of oil. Serious problems."
Josh Tickell is serious about oil. He doesn't like the gunky stuff. Armed with a degree in sustainable living and his experience with organic farming in Europe, he's become the Veggie Van Guy, hitting the road in a biodiesel Winnebago to promote his cause. He's the narrator of Fuel, a documentary about oil. Among the stars you'll see discussing the need for alternative energy are Willie Nelson and Larry Hagman. Yes, the J.R. Ewing Larry Hagman.
This sort of movie always gives me mixed feelings. I'm fascinated by projects like the Plastiki, a sustainable boat traveling from California to Sydney, Australia. I'm going to be listening to the BBC guys who are going on an electric car road trip across Europe. I'm encouraged by Richard Branson committing money to alternative energy projects.
However, I'm not much for loud ideological arguments; I avoid listening to both Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore as much as humanly possible. As Josh Tickell made his call to action, telling viewers to write their leaders at all levels, asking for environmental legislation, I thought back to some of his own complaints about oil. Many of these centered around the way Big Oil has gunked up the system with its coziness with government. Yes, it has, but hasty government action to favor alternative energy could just replace Big Oil with Big Bio. Also, Fuel is revised from Fields of Fuel, an earlier version of the biodiesel argument, to touch briefly on the complications from ethanol; that also serves as a hint that there's a lot of room for problems from hasty action.
The parts of Fuel which deal with Big Oil can be annoying. At the same time, I found I agreed with some parts and was even occasionally amused with the ironies of oil's hold on our lives, as when Tickell points out that even the corn grown for ethanol is grown with oil-based fertilizers and pesticides.
When Fuel actually deals with what can be done with green technology or just shows the Veggie Van Guy in action, it can be fascinating. Even if you're all for omnibus energy bills, you'll probably find these parts more interesting and persuasive, and wish Tickell had thrown the switch toward these aspects of the movie. "As if we didn't hit you over the head hard enough," one of the crew members says in the commentary as Fuel goes into a discussion of global warming. There are enough good moments to let you know that this could have been a stronger, fresher movie, but I got the feeling they just felt they had to squeeze in the standard bits.
Fuel is slick, with great animation, strong music, and high production values. It's a well-done movie, whether you agree with its conclusions or not.
There's an "educational version" of Fuel, condensed down to about 40 minutes, and thus able to fit into most high school or college class sessions. It's complete enough that it doesn't feel like you're losing anything, which makes me feel after the fact that the movie could have been tightened.
Other extras include a discussion of green business with Paul Mitchell's John Paul DeJoria, a profile of a store devoted to energy saving gear, a look at a Prius upgrade, and a look at HeroBX, a Pennsylvania biofuel company that was involved in the making of the movie. There's about 15 minutes in all here.
Fuel is guilty of pumping up the hard sell.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Libre
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Educational Version