Obviously, I am behind the times when it comes to reviewing the 2011 documentary film “Revenge of the Electric Car”. I had bought the DVD four months ago but only gained the time and compulsion to watch the film during the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Thanks to hard-to-come-by share time and the US Presidential debate provoked me to finally catch up on the story of the electric car in North America.
Pressing the play button to my DVD player, the one major difference between the 2006 indie documentary and the 2011 follow-up became apparent. Who Killed the Electric Car? operated at more of a grassroots level to examine what happened to the aborted initiatives that would have seen all-electric vehicles become a more common sight on California highways. Stated in this movie by narrator Tim Robbins, the creators of the first documentary struggled to even get a soundbite from one of the major automakers in relations to electric car. Whereas the first film was moved almost entirely on the emotions of environmentalist or other electric car enthusiasts, Revenge of the Electric Car was moved almost entirely on cooperation with auto companies.
Along with Tesla Motors and Nissan, the second film featured a twist worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster as the apparent enemy in the last film returns as a protagonist. General Motors and most particularly automotive executive extraordinaire Robert Lutz provided an in-depth look at the development process of the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt. In California, the efforts of Tesla Motors included close access to PayPal and SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
Both Lutz and Musk were delightfully candid in “Revenge of the Electric Car” as men bearing most of the pressure of their electrified vehicle visions. You can actually called into question whether these lead figures are on the verge of bring the Generals for the electric car vanguard or misguided by a vision of a world the majority of the human population is unprepared to enter. We know Robert Lutz’s motivation for the Chevrolet Volt was to allow General Motors to be seen as a front for advanced automotive technology against the likes of Toyota. In the case of Musk, “Revenge of the Electric Car” revealed him as an astounding creator (both companies as well as a family of five children) and a hands-on CEO with Tesla Motors. Nissan was also given spotlight as they ready their all-electric Leaf for the marketplace but their story was frankly pale in comparison to General Motors and Tesla Motors through the film.
Profiling the reality of making EVs a real world product, the high-profile global financial collapse happening during 2008 and 2009 was given an unplanned supporting role. The documentary was on the inside when General Motors’ Robert Lutz needed to sale the business case for his employer. On the other side of the United States, Elon Musk and his Tesla Motors auto company was portrayed in near collapse. Only with the aid of a United States Department of Energy loan, an IPO (Initial Public Offering) and a partnership with Toyota was it possible for the Model S to be produced.
A diversion from the corporate industry tone of “Revenge of the Electric Car“, viewers were also enlightened by the smaller scale company of Greg “Gadget” Abbott. Proclaimed as Reverend Gadget professionally, Abbott returns after also being involved in “Who Killed the Electric Car?”. A retrofitter of gasoline-powered vehicles to electric propulsion, his work conveyed him as “The Outsider” in this film. Experiencing struggles of his own with a 2008 fire that destroyed a great deal of his operation, the film’s theme shared a melancholy tone through the film’s mid-stage. Knowing through extensive media coverage that the electrified dreams of General Motors, Nissan and Tesla Motors have been developed to market, the Revenge of the Electric Car documentary ultimately presented a different conclusion to where the predecessor film left off with only a few surviving GM EV-1s after the mass recall/destruction of the early all-electric production car.
The one scene that came off as the most amusing (at least to me) is Robert Lutz and Elon Musk meeting in a chance encounter at an auto show. With the documentary likely influencing the actual ‘chance’ in their meeting, seeing the two men taking a brief tour of other auto displays was somewhat like the Christmas song duet between David Bowie and Bing Crosby. Both admired for distinct achievements as well as wildly different in approach to the automotive sector, Lutz and Musk together shared the spotlight as they visualize a single experience.
Without providing anything near same jolting information of Who Killed the Electric Car?, Revenge of the Electric Car is found to lack the same spark as the original public awareness film. While the first film was a passionately angry piece that ended with finger pointing in several directions at why the electric car was not accepted during the late 1990s, Revenge of the Electric Car is tamer as the documentary worked largely as a walking tour of possible production car evolution. However, despite the difference in tone, the second film end with the same degree of optimism and pessimism cast in the previous documentary.
Photo source: Chris Nagy, Tesla Motors