The latest entry into the crowded field of peak oil documentaries on DVD is Sprawling from Grace (2008) by filmmaker David Edwards. If you've already seen After the Peak: the End of Cheap Oil (2007), A Crude Awakening (2006), The End of Suburbia (2004), Escape from Suburbia (2006), The Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror (2005), Peak Oil: Imposed by Nature (2005), or What a Way to Go: Life at the End of the Empire (2007), you may wonder what Sprawling from Grace offers that's new. Unfortunately, the answer is not much.
Sprawling from Grace starts with the basic explanation of the peak oil hypothesis: our capacity to extract usable oil can be represented as a bell curve. As we move along the bell curve, oil extraction increases to meet demand. However, at some point the apex of the bell curve will be reached, and extraction rates will fall, regardless of demand. This diminishment in supply even as demand increases is anticipated to cause dramatic increases in price, and consequently economic disruption, social unrest, and political conflict.
There's general consensus that American domestic oil production peaked in the 1970's, but there's no consensus about world oil production--some experts think world production has already peaked, while others think a peak is likely in the next few years, and still others that a peak is further off.
Alas, Sprawling from Grace lacks the depth of expertise among its interviewees that some of the other peak oil docs provide to do much better than flesh out the simplistic thumbnail sketch I've provided above. For example, whereas A Crude Awakening (2006) features numerous scientists and energy experts, Sprawling from Grace goes light on the scientists and energy experts in favor of interviews with politicians, urban planners, and social critics.
Like several of the other peak oil docs, Sprawling from Grace targets passenger vehicle commuting attributable to single-use zoning as the principal unsustainable source of fossil fuel consumption in need of redress. There's little or no discussion of how large, conventional, single-family dwellings require more energy to construct, heat, and cool than green, dense, multi-family structures. Nor is there any discussion of other significant contributions to oil consumption such as agribusiness, global trade and travel, and unchecked consumerism. Hence there's also no discussion of alternatives such as sustainable, community agriculture, local economies, and thrift.
According to the copyright, Sprawling from Grace was completed in 2008, but it appears that Edwards wrapped the interviews and narration sometime in 2007: there's plenty of discussion of Bush Administration policies, but no mention of the 2008 presidential candidates; there's talk of increased oil prices, but no discussion of the temporary fall in oil prices attributable to the recent global recession; there's discussion of urban gentrification, but nothing about the current housing downturn; there's discussion about a 2007 bridge collapse, but none about infrastructure spending under the Congressional stimulus package. So while Sprawling from Grace is the latest peak oil doc to make it to DVD, it's no more timely than those released in the past couple years.
Like most docs of its kind, Sprawling from Grace ends with prescriptions of what needs to be done to blunt the worst impacts of peak oil, though these prescriptions are rather meager in scope and depth of development: invest in alternative energy development, and promote urban, multi-use redevelopment supported by efficient public transportation.
Sprawling from Grace, presented in an anamorphic 16x9 aspect ratio, blends archival footage with new interviews and footage. The archival footage is of varying quality, while the new material generally looks acceptable despite notably digital combing.
The 2.0 stereo audio sounds fine with some separation between channels on the score, and no notable dropouts or distortions. No subtitles options are provided.
The extras on this release are rather paltry consisting of a theatrical trailer, photo gallery, DVD-rom content, and trailers for three other Cinema Libre releases.
Sprawling from Grace is competently constructed, but it offers nothing that isn't done better elsewhere. Viewers looking for a more detailed analysis of peak oil would do better to see A Crude Awakening, while those looking for a more engaging critique of suburban living are encouraged to see Radiant City (2006), and those wishing to see how and why Cuba is uniquely positioned among developed countries for surviving peak oil should see The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil (2006).