Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Opens locally Friday, November 11th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes, Rated PG-13
Narration by Tim Robbins
Written by P.G. Morgan & Chris Paine
Directed by Chris Paine (Who Killed the Electric Car?)
“Revenge of the Electric Car” is a new documentary from Chris Paine, and a follow-up to his first documentary, 2006’s “Who Killed the Electric Car?” As the title implies, each film focuses on the automobile industry and how the electric car has evolved over the years.
The first film acted as investigative journalism, naming a list of potential “suspects” that have de-railed the development of electric-powered vehicles since the turn of the century. By the end of the film, our list of suspects…consumers, the car companies, oil companies, government, and battery technology to name a few…were given very clear “guilty” or “not guilty” tags, and seemed to paint a very dreary “David versus Goliath” picture of our society…with regular folk in the David role fighting the injustices of the larger Goliath corporations determined to focus on profit over environment.
Sadly, the newest film gives us an update on the state of the electrical car but does little to connect some of the controversial dots brought up in the first one. It has three main story threads, following a small Silicon Valley company, Tesla Automotive; Chevy’s Robert Lutz who had been a major oil-backer in his past but was now responsible for the hybrid Chevy Volt; and CEO of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, a powerful industry leader responsible for the Nissan Leaf, a 100% electric vehicle. The title of the documentary says the “Revenge” of the electric car, but instead we are given 3 pretty depressing stories of companies facing bankruptcy and failure in the face of the economic collapse of 2008.
One such loose thread from the first film was the idea that the car and oil companies were deliberately trying to hinder the growth of the electric car industry. At every turn it seemed, the car and oil companies would oppose growth in these new areas, protecting their profit on oil-guzzling vehicles currently in production at the time. The first film even hinted that car companies such as General Motors purposely under-advertised or misrepresented their electric EV1 automobile, hoping it would fail while at the same time appeasing environmentalists.
In “Revenge,” we never learn what exactly had changed to make these new electric cars like the Leaf or Volt profitable. They mention rising gas prices and economic desperation, but both of these things were never enough historically to bring forth such sweeping industry-wide change in the past…why now?
It’s because of issues like this that made me think that perhaps “Revenge” would be a better movie, if you didn’t have the background of the first film to fall back on. Whereas the first film was titled perfectly, a better title for this film may have been the “Rise and Fall of the Electric Car” as most of this documentary is focused not on how electric cars have become more commonplace, but on the struggles that Tesla, GM, and Nissan had on producing cars for a new market.
While compelling, I felt that “Revenge of the Electric Car” was stuck in 2nd gear for most of the journey, and the final positive 2-minute charge wasn’t enough to get my engine going.
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