Who Killed the Electric Car? (Chris Paine, 2005)
Chris Paine's documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? opens with a funeral parade. Several testimonials follow suit, all declaring the good traits of the deceased. It turns out that the deceased is not human at all, but an electric car. The entire funeral parade is in fact part of the program by former electric car owners who are now protesting General Motors' retrieval of the environment-friendly consumer vehicles. The electric car in in truth dead. General Motors, against the rabid campaigning and vigil of activists, has terminated the last few units left, and left some for automobile museums. Paine weeps the unfortunate passing of what could have been a solution to the many problems that surround gas-powered vehicles, and then starts pointing fingers at the likely suspects.
It's a very well-presented documentary of a topic that I think is of important relevance. The first half of the film is told like a clever testimonial to the dead. Paine presents the history of the electric car, avidly describing the fact that these cars have existed alongside fuel-powered ones a century ago. It remains a mystery why the electric cars totally disappeared, only to resurface in a hopeful and probably one of the few bravely political mandates that ever came out of California: the mandate that would slowly phase out fuel-powered cars in favor of electric cars. Paine shows the importance of such, environmentally, economically, health-wise and politically. After telling the story of the rise and fall of the electric car, Paine starts to dissect the details in CSI-fashion and determine who caused the death of the electric car.
The documentary is narrated by a very boring and bored voice of Martin Sheen. Sheen's voice doesn't have the complementary power his visual presence provides and turns the documentary's important messages into a sort of infomercial extravaganza that doesn't quite effectively match up the magnitude of the film. Paine's efforts can be observed. He comes up with several interviews with politicians, ex-employees of General Motors, celebrities (including a bearded Mel Gibson who miraculously doesn't say things that can damage his or the film's reputation), advocates, environmentalists, and an aging inventor and his sweet wife. Paine also shoves up some archived videos from the David Letterman Show (showing a Tom Hanks who is so enamoured by the electric car), a Naked Gun film (which surprisingly and disturbingly accurately describes the reason behind the silent maneuverings to make sure that not a single electric car be driven in the highways of California), and the administrative proceedings that completely toppled the important electric car mandate.
It's a cool and intelligently pieced out feature. There's a sort of sadness by the fact that the only piece of hope or joy the documentary provides is the idea that there are now hybrid plug-in cars in existence or in development (that doesn't really help the cause since electric cars are already an available technology, why spend more cash for something safely in between). It quite feels that the documentary is entirely a lost cause, a mere precaution for what could happen in the future by good-natured technology that may drive huge corporations out of profitable existence. Overall, Paine made a documentary of a story worth telling, and it is told with coherent competence, but above that, there's really not much else. Paine's call for action is not emotional enough to disturb, his documentary not passionate enough to rouse attention.