It was an error to arrive five minutes before show time at the Sunshine Cinema for the opening night of Al Gore's call to arms for saving the planet from global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. Only the front row had seats and my neck soon ached from tracing the trajectories of the former vice-president's graphs.
The aptly named Sunshine is in Manhattan's East Village and I should hardly have been surprised by the full house. As the lights went down, the mostly student-age audience laid down their copies of the Village Voice and gave the screen their rapt attention, clapping sporadically, muttering their approval at some of Gore's more frightening assertions - notably the graphs showing correlations between increases in carbon dioxide in the air and rising temperatures - and offering sustained applause as the final credits ran.
Only rarely do you witness this kind of interaction between the audience and a film. A cinema is not a theatre. Yet, the enthusiasm in the Sunshine may not tell us much about how the film will fare in the rest of America. If Gore was the preacher, this, without doubt, was his choir. No convincing was needed.
No one could argue with the timeliness of this project. Since winning the popular vote in the 2000 election but losing the race to George Bush, Gore has been travelling the country and even the globe giving his standard lecture and slide show about the planet and the perils of global warming. But there are only so many church halls, smalltown theatres and campus auditoriums that one man can visit.
So it must have been a no-brainer for Gore when Davis Guggenheim, the director, first approached him a couple of years ago about making a film of his quest.
As Gore says on screen, he often feels like he has failed in trying to get his message across - a comment that makes you wonder if he might have done more to affect American policy when he had the chance as Vice-President.
As a lecturer, Gore is clearly accomplished. He manages to leaven proceedings with some self-deprecating humour, quickly delivering his opening line that he "used to be the next president of the United States of America".
And he uses the occasional gimmick, such as when he ascends high above his stage on a hydraulic lift to demonstrate just how far the line on his CO2/temperature graph is now climbing.
Guggenheim dedicates occasional passages of his film to exploring pivotal moments in Gore's life, including the near-fatal car accident suffered by his son, Albert III, when he was six, and the death of his elder sister from lung cancer. More riveting than those, however, are the brief few minutes recalling when the Supreme Court delivered Florida and, therefore, the White House, to Bush and Gore concedes.
There is a large constituency in the US that will not consider seeing this film because they accept the usual clichés that global warming is a political ploy of the liberal left and has no real scientific foundation and that Gore, the wooden man, is incapable of passion.
If you are in the camp that accepts global warming is a problem, it is awkward to admit that Gore is tedious. Just why he manages to be such a snooze is hard exactly to explain. He jokes, his syntax is fine, he smiles, but his ultra-worthiness could smother a forest fire.
Maybe Guggenheim should take the blame for squandering the opportunity he had. Gore presents his case perfectly well but I left wondering why so much of the film was just a broadcast of his standard lecture.
I wanted a little tension and electricity and we might even have seen it if the alternative views on global warming had been explored and if we had seen the proponents of that view - whether oil men or Republicans - challenging Gore on screen.Reuse content