The "inconvenient truth" regarding the well-produced environmental documentary Showtime series "Years of Living Dangerously" extends light years beyond how it depicts the role of human activity on the devastation-related climate change that creates "mad scientist" style weather conditions.
The cinematography, mega-watt star power in front of and behind the camera, and well-presented important messages demonstrate that "Dangerously," which Filmrise released on DVD and Amazon Instant Video in early September 2014, deserves the awarded 2014 Emmy for Outstanding Nonfiction series.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "Dangerously" is an uber-awesome "Cliff Notes" version of the series. It provides a taste of the crisp clear images, the devastation that affects the global population, and the dedicated pretty faces who lend their celebrity to the cause of spreading the word about all this.
However, one must always remember that even propaganda that supports your position is still propaganda. A related truism is that there is your story, the story of the other guy, and the truth.
The above ideas are shared in the context that "Dangerously" entertainingly presents a strip mined mountain full of a verified data regarding how carbon and methane emissions metaphorically are adding "weight" to the "blanket" in our atmosphere that is sealing in the heat in a manner that is exasperating weather events. These occurrences include Super Storm Sandy and severe droughts, which are among the plethora of topics that "Dangerously" expertly covers.
The rather dry (no pun intended) pilot episode on devastating long-term droughts provides an awesome example of the combination of the elements described above. An expert on such matters tells Harrison Ford that we ultimately can expect the temperatures in South Dakota to reach the 107 degrees Fahrenheit level that Phoenix experiences. As an aside, the other five (out of the nine in the series) episodes watched for this review had an appropriately moderate pace.
At the same time, properly understanding the complexity of the climate change issue requires far more comprehension than accepting the pat answer that significantly harmful activities such as coal-burning plants and deforestation deserve all but a small fraction of the blame for our wacky weather. "Dangerously" episodes touch on this in admitting that other factors play a role, but that side of the story is largely glossed over. In fact, it does not seem that anyone can accurately determine the proper allocation of blame.
The Hollywood veterans James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub, and Arnold Schwarzenegger who serve as executive producers also wisely get a gaggle of A and B List celebrities (including Schwarzenegger) in front of the cameras to get people to tune in; accomplished news professionals, including Lesley Stahl and Thomas Friedman, do the true heavy lifting.
The aforementioned actors largely do their jobs well and succeed best when they stay within their limits. Mayim Bialik being a neuroscientist and James Franco and Jodie Foster being among the large group of stars who have attended Ivy League schools demonstrate that star power and brain power are not mutually exclusive. However, the majority of these household names should keep their day jobs.
Dreamy Ian Somerhalder shows great instincts in largely serving as a pretty face and charmer in his segment that has the daughter of the man who now runs a variation of the Jim and Tammy Faye Baker empire trying to convince her father and other pastors to preach the gospel that climate change is man (rather than God) made and can be abated. Having Stahl do some of her typically excellent reporting in this episode provides a nice balance.
A segment in the second episode, which continues the Ford segment on the causes of droughts, of "Dangerously" perfectly demonstrates the risks of having celebrities try the heavy lifting. This scene has Ford acting EXACTLY like one of his rough and gruff characters in grilling an Indonesian official about allowing very harmful illegal activity in protected forests. One feels much more as if he or she is watching Jack Ryan than Harrison Ford.
True absurdity in this scene comes in the form of having the official speaking in subtitled (presumed) Indonesian and having Ford respond in English. The intended impression, which may be accurate, is that Ford understands Indonesian and is not using a translator.
A more annoying incident (which also illustrates the aforementioned bias of "Dangerously") of using celebrities as field reporters occurs during the sixth episode of "Dangerously." "Ugly Betty" star America Ferrera expresses intense umbrage regarding attorney and climate change naysayer James Taylor (not the '70s singer) asserting that he has scientific training.
The outrage goes as far as very strongly indicating that knowledge of law and science are mutually exclusive despite environmental attorneys and many other legal professionals needing understanding of scientific principles.
Ferrara additionally does an on-screen Google search that shows that the FORMAL education of Taylor includes at least one science class. With all due regard for Ms. Ferrara, this humble reviewer has no medical training but has read enough about opioids for prior work to speak very intelligently on that topic. This shows that learning extends beyond college graduation day.
The response of Ferrara also seems to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black in that her IMDb profile, which includes sharing which elementary school that she attended, provides no indication that she is a qualified investigative journalist. She does deserve the benefit of the doubt regarding being qualified to work as either a dragon wrangler or an assistant to a magazine publisher.
On a more mellow note, the herd of special features in the "Dangerously" DVD set includes tons of extra material regarding each episode.
The criticisms of this series are not designed to discourage anyone from purchasing this truly beautifully presented documentary. It does achieve this genre's twin goals of educating and informing, and many of the participating celebrities properly play their roles.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Dangerously" is encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.