In case prices at the gas pump haven't scared the bejesus out of you, just pop A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash into the DVD player, and you just might end up with night terrors. Directed by Swiss first-time filmmakers Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack, this somber, well-crafted documentary argues that oil, what it calls "the bloodstream of the world's economy," is hemorrhaging. The concern is as easy to understand as it is dire: The planet grows more and more dependent on oil as its primary energy source, and we are quickly running out of it.
A Crude Awakening backs up its thesis with an impressive array of experts who range from geologists and oil consultants to physics professors and government officials. These aren't folks who naysayers can dismiss as environmentalist wackos.
In stark terms, the movie illustrates the dilemma of rapidly depleting oil reserves in a world that moves on oil. Once thriving oil fields have long since dried up, and it's not going to change. As one Texas woman in the movie wryly puts it, "They're not making a lot of dinosaurs anymore."
The film concisely lays out the controversial theory of the late Shell Oil geophysicist Dr. M.K. Hubbert, whose once-derided predictions of "peak oil" aren't so funny anymore. Oil discovery peaked in the 1930s, and the industry has long since identified where any promising oil reserves might exist.
More and more oil is coming from less and less stable nations. The only region that appears to still be oil-rich is the Middle East, and several experts interviewed here suggest that OPEC countries have pocketbook reasons for significantly exaggerating their reserves. The filmmakers provide a brief examination of the central role that oil plays in geopolitics, including both Persian Gulf Wars, the Iran-Iraq War and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Meanwhile, demand continues to climb. Oil accounts for 95 percent of the world's transportation energy, not to mention a dizzyingly expansive lineup of petroleum-based products. Hummers and SUVs undermine energy conservation efforts. And then there is the reality of emerging superpowers. One interviewee notes, "China and Indian are kind of getting late to the party when the glass is half-empty at this point."
The documentary uses familiar strategies to lighten the mood, tossing in kitschy old television commercials, cartoons and promotional clips that now drip with grim irony. Nevertheless, A Crude Awakening occasionally punctuates its case a bit too, well, crudely. Its music score strains for a Philip Glass portentousness and, unlike An Inconvenient Truth, the filmmakers don't offer much in the way of hope that the crisis can be averted.
Who knows? Maybe it's an unavoidable fate. Thunderdome, here we come.
The picture, presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1, is perfectly adequate, if unremarkable, boasting sharp lines and detail.
Viewers can choose between Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Surround. Both are clean and crisp, and the 5.1 actually gets occasionally creative with sound separation.
To drill deeper into the questions of peak oil, the DVD offers extended additional interviews with four key figures in the doc: oil geologist Colin Campbell (19:56), who has consulted for such companies as Exxon, Mobil and Shell; energy investment banker Matthew Simmons (24:40), who is an adviser to President George W. Bush; former OPEC Secretary-General and former Iraqi Oil Minister Fadhil Chalabi (23:39); and California Institute of Technology vice-provost and physics professor David L. Goodstein (18:40).
In addition, there is a theatrical trailer and a bonus chapter, the four-minute, 22-second "Petrostates," which is about countries rich in oil but not necessarily wealthy economies.
A Crude Awakening doesn't make it easy on viewers, but perhaps the time for niceties is over. This hard-hitting documentary is a wake-up call. The end might just be closer than you think.