Friday, October 14, 2011

“Revenge Of The Electric Car” – Movie Review



The Fall Semester of my movie class finally began this week with a screening of the documentary “Revenge Of The Electric Car”.


When the electric car is pretty much left for dead by the major automobile manufacturers, the concept tries to be revived – but will it still succeed or has its time passed?


Several years ago, filmmaker Chris Paine made a documentary entitled, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”; in it, he looked into why the same major automobile manufacturers who spent time, money and manpower developing and marketing electric cars were quick to abandon the idea despite enthusiasm by its small but growing cult of customers. The documentary asserted that the reason for the car’s premature death was due to collusion by the big oil companies, whose existence was threatened by competition with the electric car. After all, if people didn’t need gas for their cars, then they wouldn’t need the oil companies, either.

“Revenge Of The Electric Car” is a documentary that serves as something of a sequel to “Who Killed The Electric Car?” while at the same time contradicting it because of the fact that several years since the previous movie came out, the electric car now appears far from dead. The film follows the life and career of four individuals: Bob Lutz, Chairman of General Motors; Greg “Gadget” Abbott, an entrepreneur who converts gas-powered cars to electric cars; Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors, a California – based start-up automobile manufacturer of electric cars; and Carlos Ghosn, head of Nissan.

After pulling the plug on the electric car (pun intended), Lutz suddenly realizes GM’s mistake and tries to resurrect it through their Chevrolet brand – but will it be too little too late? Gadget maintains a garage full of high-end cars he’s converted to electric powered – but after an arsonist burns down the entire garage (including the cars and a quarter million dollars worth of tools), can his business rebound despite the fact that he’s got no insurance? Musk is a multi-millionaire who originally made his money when the company he founded, PayPal, was subsequently sold to eBay; being a Type-A personality, he needs to find a new mountain to climb – but is he willing to risk his fortune? Ghosn is considered a genius by the entire industry; sick of taking a backseat (pun intended again) to Toyota, he decides to gamble on making the electric car the next big thing in order to energize business – but has he accurately predicted market trends?


With the economy still in the doldrums and gas prices unaffordable, it would seem that the timing of this movie is perfect. Director Chris Paine proves his filmmaking craftsmanship with clever use of tracking shots and tight editing. For me, the best part of the movie was a short scene with Arnold Schwarzenegger, especially in light of the hijinks we now know he was up to. Paine’s previous movie, “Who Killed The Electric Car?”, was shown in my movie class a few years ago and I recall finding it very impressive as well as informative. The controversial topic was bravely investigated and clearly laid out in a most convincing manner, so if you haven’t yet seen it, you may want to seriously consider renting or downloading.

My main problem with this movie is that most of the four characters Paine follows are unsympathetic; arguably all four, if Gadget’s goofball sensibilities turn you off. The other three are wealthy, powerful men whom you could hardly consider underdogs worthy of rooting for. Essentially, you don’t wind up rooting for the individuals themselves so much as the concept they represent and that’s ultimately where “Revenge Of The Electric Car” falls a little bit short for me – even in a documentary, I want to root for a person, rather than a business. Sadly, none of these bombastic egomaniacs seem worthy of an audience’s sympathy.

After the screening, filmmaker Chris Paine was interviewed. Our instructor asked him how he got access to some of these people; he said that Gadget was the easiest because he was Paine’s neighbor. One of the interesting things that I find from interviews with documentary makers is the ratio of film shot to film used in the final cut of the movie; according to Paine, he and his crew shot something like 400 hours of film – the actual movie itself is only about an hour and a half in length! Paine told the class that the main concern of the automobile executives was that his film would release secrets about their company that would be discovered by their competitors; it was for this reason that he chose to delay the release of the film until after all the facts were known to the public.


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