Yes, Judge Gordon Sullivan notes, Christine has a new motor.
You can't kill an idea whose time has come…
I am a climate change skeptic. Roughly half of those reading this review will nod in agreement, while the other half will think I'm crazy. I'd like to think I'm not crazy. As Carl Sagan once said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and my burden of proof has not been met. However, what separates my scientific skepticism from those we usually see in the media is the fact that even if human beings aren't the cause of Global Warming (if Global Warming even exists), it's still a good idea to do most of the things advocated by reasonable climate change theorists. For instance, smog is nasty stuff I'd like to see reduced. Consequently, I am highly encouraged by the development of technology like electric cars. But because I'm still a bit skeptical about some of the underlying claims, a film as preachy as Who Killed the Electric Car? can be grating. Luckily for me, Revenge of the Electric Car is a much more balanced look at recent developments in electric-automotive technology.
Facts of the Case
Who Killed the Electric Car? is a documentary about Chevy's EV1, an electric car project that tanked. After the film was released, an entrepreneur named Elon Musk founded Tesla, a company that produced an attractive and efficient prototype. The major thrust of Revenge of the Electric Car is the change of heart that Bob Lutz undergoes. Fans will remember him as the most vociferous opponent of electrical cars at GM, but once Tesla developed its proof of concept he changed his mind. He's now the most vocal proponent of GM's new Chevy Volt. Instead of the talking-head celebrity nonsense of Who Killed the Electric Car?, this film focuses on director Chris Paine's three-year long access to the boardrooms and backrooms of GM, Telsa, and Nissan's electric car departments.
If you were following along with Who Killed the Electric Car?, you might have been left with a sour taste, as it seems major auto manufacturers are more interested in maximizing oil-based automotive technologies rather than theoretically green electric options. However, neither the concept of the electric car nor filmmaker Chris Paine were defeated. For those who want to see what's been happening since the demise of the EV1, Revenge of the Electric Car is perfect. More importantly, it gets two things right the first film did not: less bias and more drama.
A documentary sequel is a pretty rare beast, and it takes something extraordinary for a filmmaker to revisit a previous nonfiction situation. In the case of Revenge of the Electric Car, two factors helped inspire Chris Paine. The first is the electric car isn't going away. Though there are competing technologies (e.g. solar and hydrogen), the idea of the electrical car has a certain traction in the popular consciousness. The second is Paine was granted access to Lutz (of GM), Elon Musk (of Tesla), and Carlos Ghosn (of Nissan), three of the top guys in the field of electric car development. Thus, it's easier for him to give a balanced portrait of everyone involved. Revenge of the Electric Car isn't the story of a monolithic corporation burying a significant environmental advancement, but the tale of individual personalities working for big (GM and Nissan) and small (Tesla) companies alike.
More importantly, this focus shift gives the film drama. Who Killed the Electric Car? was a one-sided preaching to the choir kind of film, whereas this is much more of a standard documentary, watching these men race to be the first and the best. While overall struggles of getting a car to market make take center stage, we also have individual dramas. Lutz may have had a change of heart, but still brings his no-nonsense attitude to this new calling. In contrast, Musk is not an auto industry veteran and has to deal with a credibility gap.
This added drama is what will draw viewers to the film. Those who dismissed Who Killed the Electric Car? because it was too enthusiastic will find this tale more balanced and ultimately more interesting. Even if you feel electric cars are unnecessary or you don't want to hear about the evils of oil, Revenge of the Electric Car can be enjoyed as a story of technological innovation and market craziness.
Thankfully, Docurama's DVD is as strong as its feature presentation. The standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a true contemporary documentary, even though the lighting may falter and the color saturation and black levels vary. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix isn't necessary, as most of the material is interview-based, but the dialogue is clear and that's what's important. Bonus features include additional footage, (unnecessary) celebrity interviews, and a roundtable from the Tribeca Film Festival featuring Musk, Ghosn, Dan Neil, David Duchovny, and Chris Paine.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The celebrity material is still present, though to be fair even their quality has increased. While I'm sure it helps promote the film, the world doesn't need to hear from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jon Favreau, or Anthony Kiedes in a documentary about electric cars.
Revenge of the Electric Car is an interesting look at where electric car technology has been for the past few years. Greater access and increased drama help make this documentary sequel much more essential than its predecessor. Recommended for anyone interested in environmental issues, electric cars, technology, and good-old-fashioned boardroom shenanigans.
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