A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash
Docurama // Unrated // $26.95 // July 31, 2007
Review by Randy Miller III | posted August 16, 2007
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It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that crude oil is a limited natural resource, yet so much of the world is still completely dependant on it. We use it for heating, transportation, manufacturing---and when the well finally runs dry, what then? Directed by documentary filmmakers Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack, A Crude Awakening (2007) provides a balanced look at this rapidly growing dilemma, tagged with this unsettling phrase: "We're running out, and we don't have a plan". By all accounts, their argument is perfectly reasonable---especially now, as countries like China and India are ramping up their own American-sized appetites for oil. Soon, we'll be longing for the days of paying three bucks a gallon.

Peppered with comments from energy analysts, including oil geologist Colin Campbell, energy investment banker Matthew Simmons, former Iraqi oil minister Fadhil Chalabi and professor David L. Goodstein, A Crude Awakening provides little comfort to those hoping our reserves will never run out. Their argument is that oil production peaked long ago---and since supply will never again overshadow demand, we must focus our attention towards alternate resources. Current options like ethanol and wind energy are summarily ruled out, as the analysts claim they're not practical or potent enough. Nuclear power is too dangerous to use as a primary source. Solar energy is hinted as being the most viable option, though progress in that department is slow at the moment.

Hammering the point home are clips from an assortment of vintage commercials, educational films and the like, promising a seemingly endless supply of the oil we've learned to depend on for more than a century. These, combined with older scenes of once-thriving cities who exported oil decades ago, stand in stark contrast to the present situation: our resources are rapidly dwindling, while the once-thriving cities are now depicted as barren wastelands. It's not a pretty picture. Then again, A Crude Awakening is intended to be a wake-up call, not a celebration.

There are those who may have a tough time digesting the information presented---and while A Crude Awakening thankfully keeps politics pushed to the background, certain segments can't be considered time well spent. One interview subject (let's call him "Donnie Downer", as named by my wife) does little more than complain about the situation while offering little to no theories of his own. It's finger-pointing like this that slows progress. His opinions are meant to be more provocative than practical, but they often drag A Crude Awakening down with too much cynicism. For the most part, though, this attention-grabbing documentary plays its cards right: it's skillfully executed and certainly worth viewing, whether you're a fan of the genre or not.

Presented on DVD by Docurama, A Crude Awakening plays well on the small screen. However, this one-disc package is a relatively hit-or-miss affair: the technical presentation leaves something to be desired, though the bonus features support the main feature well. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen displays, A Crude Awakening looks slightly unimpressive in certain respects. The newer interview footage is certainly clean and clear, boasting an accurate color palette and solid black levels. Older clips look only as good as the source material will allow. Here's the bad news: there's a fair amount of digital combing on display from start to finish, while vintage material is typically cropped and zoomed to fill the screen (an unfortunate trend in most modern documentaries, though it doesn't affect the technical score). Edge enhancement and pixellation also make themselves known during several sequences; overall, they add up to an uneven visual presentation.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (also available in 2.0) isn't quite as disappointing, though it's also not a perfect effort. Like the visuals, most of the older material only sounds as good as the source material will allow---but unfortunately, several new clips are surprisingly thin on the high end. Still, most of the comments come through just fine, while foreign languages and portions of the more muffled dialogue are paired with forced English subtitles. Unfortunately, no other captions or subtitles are included during the main feature or bonus material.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

Seen above, the plain-wrap menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. The 85-minute main feature has been divided into 14 chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and includes a promotional Docurama catalog.

Bonus Features

A few appropriate bonus features support the film nicely, though an audio commentary isn't part of the package. Leading things off is a Bonus Chapter entitled "Petrostates" (4:21); featuring additional comments by professor Terry Lynn Karl, this additional scene focuses on the countries affected by oil dependency.

On a similar note are four Additional Interviews with Colin Campbell (19:56), Matthew Simmons (24:39), Fadhil Chalabi (23:40) and David L. Goodstein (18:42). More than simple deleted scenes, these excerpt collections offer additional insight and details that the main feature didn't quite have time for. All are recommended viewing, though Simmons and Goodstein are particularly well-spoken.

Last but not least is the film's Theatrical Trailer (1:59), which provides a solid account of A Crude Awakening without excess sensationalism. All bonus features are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen; unfortunately, none include optional subtitles or captions. Overall, this is a solid and streamlined assortment of extras that fans should enjoy.

Final Thoughts

It certainly isn't light afternoon viewing, but A Crude Awakening does a fine job of ramming home an all-too-important point: we're running out, and we don't have a plan. Thankfully sparing viewers from the typical left vs. right mudslinging, this carefully-crafted documentary is as gripping as it is persuasive, resulting in a balanced analysis of a rapidly fading resource that affects billions of people throughout the world. Docurama's DVD package supports the main feature adequately---and though the technical presentation isn't anything special, the bonus features are detailed and appropriate. All things considered, A Crude Awakening is a solid blind buy for documentary fans and deserves to be seen, mulled over and passed around. Firmly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.

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