Monday, February 23, 2009

"Who Killed the Electric Car?" (Documentary) (2006) - Movie Review

Documentaries has the power to make us look small. Small enough to stand aghast at the limitless cause and effect of the system around us. It has the wand only very realistic to stir up the magic in the sense of the viewers to look beyond the screens, the doors and the city limits of their living. Such is the potential of a documentary even when it involves a ridiculous stunt or two by Michael Moore in his films, it is powerful. “Who Killed the Electric Car?” has some but I could see the frustration of the EV1 drivers who desperately protest in not allowing the cars to be crushed by the makers itself, General Motors.

Director Chris Paine takes the forgotten car which was buried even before it surfaced. It is a technology which some might have heard only when Tom Hanks emphasized with his biting humour in “Late Show with David Letterman”. Where did it start and why did it end without much publicity? Why did now hybrids are sprouting around every one with a cry for alternative sources when thirteen years back there was a chance for a better car with a dependability towards electricity than the liquid gold? “Who Killed the Electric Car?” is a film with good bullet points and it is simple and reachable. A very strong characteristic for a documentary.

It does not mock but groans with frustration. The film which opens with a funeral service for a car is only little encouraging on its unbiased presentation. But it does well for most part. Why does drama takes a great precedence when facts reaches better in films like this? It might appeal for its purpose but the route only worsens. It almost seems impossible to look past the affection Chelsea Sexton shows towards her EV1 cars. She worked as an marketing expert in the EV1 vehicle manufactured by General Motors. She says they are her babies and she treats it more than as a pet. It takes hard time to understand it because we did not go through the work of building it from scratch and we did not have our dreams which nurture the expectation in reality to be shattered by unreasonable circumstances. The knowledge of that in later part of that film makes us empathize with her. Not sympathize but understand.

The film takes a very good strategy in identifying its culprits in the murder of the electric car. It puts forth them as suspects and then declaring “guilty” and “not guilty” in the end. It takes a stand in its decision which is reasonable and ends with a hope of better tomorrow which is now or never. There are grievances, many so told with ambiguity on how a company which went far, beyond and unbelievable in erasing any traces of its product. That tells how much of a cut throat is in the arena of capitalization.

The obvious suspects are the oil industries. Their business would be jeopardized and that points us to the known story of government. Then it extends to the stand the California Air Resources Board (CARB) did not take in the fear of law suits from the Automotive industries who were adamant and spoilt in adapting for a change. When CARB imposed the Zero Emission Mandate it terrified the Automakers of losing their market share in their existing cars. But as Joseph J. Romm an expert and author mentions, the irony of Japanese actually fearing of losing the competition in this new mandate came up with better cars. Now the reality of every body opting for Japanese cars has ultimately put the big three out of business in the current economic condition.

“Who Killed the Electric Car?” could have been an all through clean cut documentary which would have garnered a wider audience. An audience who can easily dismiss the intentions showing the stunts performed by the activists in trying to save the “killing” of the EV1. I am not ridiculing their efforts. Their intentions gets misconstrued as a materialistic obsession than a genuine concern for the ultimate direct effect of those cars towards the reality of environment, fuel efficient and non-polluting transportation.

A very good soundtrack which bows itself out to the pictures but plays out in a distant room to be heard but not be disturbed is a right choice by the film makers. Along with that is the original music by Michael Brook accomplishes the spreading quality of simplicity with an effectiveness. It is sad to see President Jimmy Carter in late 70s telling that the government’s aim in reducing the dependency of foreign oil for the country of US only to be repeated hopelessly by George Bush in 2006. Now the very same line is repeated by the current President Obama advocating the change as his mantra. Hope we do not have a documentary in thirty years taking that clip to show our world’s failure continuing further.

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