Comparisons to Al Gore’s Oscar-winning slide show will be inevitable, but there’s a key difference between the two documentaries. An Inconvenient Truth was aimed at the PBS set, while Leonardo DiCaprio’s The 11th Hour combines a traditional structure with a more MTV-friendly pace. Of course, neither was made by these public figures. Davis Guggenheim directed the former, while Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Petersen are behind the latter.
DiCaprio serves as producer, co-writer, and narrator (the three previously worked on the short films Global Warming and Water Planet). Their first feature combines a diverse array of interviews with a dizzying variety of images, both soothing and alarming (droughts and hurricanes vs. serene sunsets and playful polar bears). Speakers include former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking, and progressive CEO Ray Anderson, hero of The Corporation. Granted, there’s no obvious youth appeal in these subjects, but the presence of the Titanic heartthrob-turned-Scorsese star, who keeps his on-screen narration to a tasteful minimum, plus atmospheric tracks from Sigur Rós, Coldplay and Mogwai seems likely to attract a younger crowd.
And that seems to be the point, since The 11th Hour is, at heart, a call to arms. It begins by taking a look at the causes of global warming before exploring solutions, from eating organic to building with solar power. There isn’t a ton of new information for environmental experts, but DiCaprio and his team have assembled a thought-provoking primer for neophytes and potential activists.