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Gore's ecology film gets an `inconvenient' label of liberalism

WASHINGTON -- The new Al Gore documentary ``An Inconvenient Truth" has the noble intention of unifying America behind an effort to halt global warming.

But like a fake beard that keeps slipping off, it can't seem to help revealing its liberal roots. And while its politics don't discredit its message -- which is scientific, not political -- it risks losing a rare opportunity to speak to the whole nation on a subject of undeniable importance.

The moviemakers seem to be aware of that opportunity, and their hopes of reaching a broad audience are reflected in the quote topping some of the film's ads: ``Not to be missed. It doesn't matter whether you're a Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative."

The quote is from Roger Friedman, the movie reporter for Fox News, which many liberals see as a cheering section for the Bush administration. No doubt the movie's marketers hope the fact that even Fox News has something good to say about ``An Inconvenient Truth" proves that it's not just preaching to the ``blue-state" choir.

And the message of ``An Inconvenient Truth" -- that the vast majority of scientists believe that rising levels of greenhouse gases are causing global warming, with disastrous effects -- should cross partisan lines.

There is no red state/blue state divide over increasingly fierce storms, vanishing species, and rising ocean levels -- which are just some of the effects of global warming described by the movie.

Yet the fact that President Bush's administration pulled out of the Kyoto treaty to limit greenhouse gases -- and that Gore, Bush's 2000 opponent, is a leading spokesman for the dangers of global warming -- makes it a potentially divisive topic.

``An Inconvenient Truth" avoids attacking Bush directly. It follows Gore as he delivers a slide show outlining the scientific evidence for global warming, and pointing to the terrifying dangers of allowing such warming to continue.

Gore lobs a few barbs at the Bush administration, but far fewer than on any Sunday talk show. Mostly, the former vice president tells the story straight.

But the filmmakers surround the slide show with gauzy biographical material that seems to have been culled from old Gore campaign commercials, a touch that is likely to irritate those who didn't support Gore.

Worse, conservatives are likely to wonder if the whole slide show is rigged in the same way as the biographical bits.

Then there's the sound track, which includes an anthem from Melissa Etheridge, the rock star who is known for her liberal politics. And there's a request at the end for all those who believe in prayer to pray for the Earth; it's a reasonable enough request, but acknowledging those who don't believe in prayer seems an unnecessary nod to political correctness -- and a reminder to red-state Americans that this movie comes from a place where some people don't believe in prayer.

The film also tracks Gore as he drags his own suitcase from airport to airport, delivering the slide show to small groups of people. This serves the legitimate purpose of showing just how far off the national radar screen the global warming debate has been conducted. But it also plays into the time-honored liberal conceit that Democratic politicians don't cash in on contacts: Like Jimmy Carter and Michael S. Dukakis, they continue working for causes they care about, while living on modest means.

In fact, Gore has made millions of dollars giving paid speeches and becoming involved in business deals since leaving office, though his deals are usually related to his sense of the public interest -- such as a new television network aimed at young people -- and he also gives a lot of speeches for free.

But the movie makes so much of Gore's sacrifices that it sometimes feels like a vanity production.

It's not. Gore and the filmmakers seem totally sincere in believing that the fate of any one person pales in comparison to the need for action on global warming.

Moreover, ``An Inconvenient Truth" has none of the Bush-hating agitprop of ``Fahrenheit 9/11," but runs the risk of becoming a similar phenomenon: A blue-state hit that's ignored in most other places.

So far, ``An Inconvenient Truth" has played only in big cities with large liberal populations, earning $1.33 million last weekend in 77 theaters, breaking into the Top 10. It won't get beyond that core market until June 16, when it will open at 450 to 600 theaters across the country. Then it will become clear whether it has succeeded in reaching the whole country, or just played to the half that already thinks highly of its star.

Peter S. Canellos is the Globe's Washington bureau chief. National Perspective is his weekly analysis of events in the capital and beyond.

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