The 11th Hour
Directed By: Leila Conners Petersen, Nadia Conners
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (Narrator)
The 11th Hour is a documentary consisting primarily of interviews with a large group of individuals from a broad background of interests who are concerned about the environment, particularly issues relating to global warming and sustainability. The interviews are intercut with footage of various locations around the globe experiencing changes attributed to pollution and climate change and graphics illustrating the concepts they are discussing. The interviews are tied together via narration from Leonardo DiCaprio, who produced and co-wrote the film along with its writer-directors.
The documentary is largely a piece of advocacy, the major purpose of which is to convince viewers that the Earth is quickly approaching a point of irreversible climactic catastrophe. Its best sections are dedicated to explanations of the science behind global warming/climate change, and, in its last third, discussion of steps that can be taken to move towards a sustainable future.
The film's chief strength is the variety of its interview subjects. Scientists, scholars, politicians, designers, religious leaders, and environmental advocates all weigh in on the subject. The film's chief weakness is … the variety of its interview subjects. The comments of the very large number of participants are boiled down to sound bites supporting the point of the film, but allowing very little opportunity for depth of discussion over its hour and a half running time. This detracts from the film in a couple of ways. First, it allows for little intellectual back and forth, giving the impression that all participants are in agreement on what the others are saying. For example, when one participant suggests re-vamping the tax system to lower income taxes and raise energy taxes, there is no follow-up discussion on the pros and cons of this approach (disproportionate impact on low income households who pay little income tax, other taxes that might be displaced instead, etc.). Secondly, topics that are especially interesting are mentioned but not explored in depth. I was intrigued by the discussion of eco-friendly building designs and biomimicry, but the film does not allot much time to these subjects or practical real-world examples of how they can and have been implemented.
At its core, though, the film is effectively provocative, and will likely make the viewer seriously consider the issues of climate change and pollution while piquing their interest to dig deeper on various potential sustainable solutions. This was undoubtedly the extent of the filmmakers' intent, and from that standpoint, they are successful
The 16:9 enhanced transfer is serviceable but not spectacular. The interview footage is not as sharp as one might expect, and some of the cross-fading between clips has some strange looking artifacts that are distracting whether they are intentional or not. A lot of the insert footage of various ecological disasters is archival footage from a number of sources of varying quality
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track comes to life during some of the montages, particularly the one that kicks off the film. These sequences are mixed creatively to take advantage of the entire available surround field for an unexpectedly immersive experience. Most of the rest of the film consists of talking head interviews and illustrative graphics with only the score contributing to any kind of stereo or surround presence. There are no obvious issues with fidelity, and the interviews are recorded with uniformly excellent quality.
The extras are described as the 11th Hour Featurette Gallery. They are a collection of outtake interviews grouped by broad topic headings. The featurettes are all presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound and the same subtitle options as the main feature. They run just under 90 minutes if "Play All" is selected. The individual featurettes are as follows:
- Natures Operating Instructions and Solutions (27:55) - The lion's share of this featurette consists of comments from science writer Janine Benyus on the topic of Biomimicry. She discusses how observations of nature can be translated into sustainable designs. Additional comments come from author/anthropologist Jeremy Norby, and Mycologist (i.e. mushroom enthusiast) Paul Stamets. Norby's ideas about plant intelligence seemed a little far out, especially when coupled with his description of his environmental epiphany achieved through the use of a Peruvian hallucinogenic. Stamets offers interesting information about the healing properties of increasingly scarce fungi.
- Solutions We Have Right Now (26:36) offers a broad overview of potential sustainable solutions, touching on the economics of sustainability, solar energy, constitutional protections for the rights of nature, capturing methane from landfills, protecting oceans, applications of sustainable concepts to corporations, and organized labor's relationship to the environmental movement among many other topics.
- Wonder of the World (5:46) features comments concerning the value and wonder associated with such things as trees and oceans.
- Our Reactions in the Face of Environmental Collapse (14:59) looks at the practical and philosophical responses of a diverse group of people to the noticeable changes in the Earth's environment.
- Religious Perspectives (14:25) collects comments from Rabbi Michael Lerner, Reverend James Parks Morton, and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf on how they perceive environmental obligations in the context of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
When this disc is first spun up, the viewer is greeted with the following skippable promotional spots, all presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound and in letterboxed 4:3 video unless indicated otherwise below:
- Anti-Piracy PSA using clips from Casablanca(1:00 - 4:3 full frame)
- Theatrical Trailer for Darfur Now (2:18)
- DVD Trailer for The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters(:35)
The DVD is packaged in an eco-friendly recycled cardboard case that proudly indicates that it is "Made with 100%-Certified Renewable Resources". The case opens up like a book, and the disc is contained in a built-in slot/pouch inside the right hand side with no spindle. The case is in turn slotted inside a clear "Earthfirst PLA film" (made from corn) clear plastic wrapping. A sticker indicates that a portion of the profits from the film will be donated to the "Global Green" environmental agency. More information about that organization and its Canadian counterpart, "Green Cross Canada", is printed on the left inner sleeve.
While I personally wish the film spent more time discussing real world ways to address environmental issues and less time trying to convince me they exist and are imminent, The 11th Hour still succeeds in its mission of advocacy by offering a large cross-section of views both from persons concerned about environmental issues facing us earthlings in the 21st century and from some of the people on the front lines of addressing them. Video quality is adequate, but not spectacular, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is occasionally surprisingly immersive. The extras consist of a set of outtake interviews that are sometimes more interesting than the feature itself due to added depth on certain topics.