Whether you call it “global warming,” “climate change,” or “lefty propaganda,” there’s no denying that the average temperature of the planet is on the rise. Despite the best efforts of scientists, activists, and politicians to explain the phenomenon, people in the United States still look out their windows as seasons change and wonder what all the fuss is about. Temperatures rise and fall dozens of degrees within a few days, but the Earth’s average temperature hasn’t even risen a full degree. Sadly, what these home-brewed experts don’t realize is that increases in the global average have far greater ramifications than the natural cycle of the seasons. After all, when the average global temperature was just six degrees lower than it is now, the planet was enveloped in a devastating ice age. Yep, the Ice Age.
In an effort to further educate the public on the dangers behind this hot-button issue, National Geographic has released ‘Six Degrees Could Change the World’ -- a 90-minute documentary that plots the events which scientists have calculated will accompany each increased degree of the planet’s average temperature. Hosted by Alec Baldwin, ‘Six Degrees’ begins with changes the globe has already experienced, continues with a series of discouraging events that are beginning to transpire, and concludes with a century of predictions tinted with Nostradamus-like doom-n-gloom.
’Six Degrees’ has a lot of interesting information presented in a way that will mainly appeal to those who have already accepted the pressing call for global change. Smartly paced and packed with more facts than I could process in one sitting, I was fascinated by the comparisons between natural climate changes and those induced by man. Furthermore, the visuals give a startling glimpse into the consequences of humanity’s inaction. Sometimes a visual presentation helps to clarify the reality of a situation -- in this regard, ‘Six Degrees’ will help boost the urgency of those who accept global warming as a warning to change our ways. While it doesn’t focus on the United States’ psychological and sociological resistance to planetary change, it consistently reminds its Western audience that indecision is a bigger enemy to mankind that the planet’s increasing temperature.
Unfortunately, ‘Six Degrees’ mainly preaches to the choir. It’s designed to win over those who refuse to accept the possibility of a global crisis, but it takes its case to such an extreme that many will brush it off as extremist propaganda. In fact, while I accept climate change as an imminent problem, I found the style and tone of the documentary to be terribly reminiscent of the killer-bee and ozone-hole docs that littered television when I was a kid. It would have been more effective if it contained a broad overview of the small changes every household can make to help reduce greenhouse emissions. As it stands, ‘Six Degrees’ presents a compelling and frightening case, but it makes climate change seem hopeless and inevitable. By the time the credits rolled, I began hoping scientists were wrong about global warming -- the geopolitical and sociological hurdles involved in averting such a dismal future struck me as insurmountable and inconceivable.
’Six Degrees Could Change the World’ is an engaging documentary that makes an urgent plea to anyone who hasn’t changed their lifestyle, habits, or behaviors. However, it also presents a demotivating case that reminded how unlikely it is that the globe will band together to halt global warming. I appreciated the filmmakers’ well-researched facts and compelling presentation, but the documentary left me feeling hopeless and helpless instead of driven and enthusiastic.
Ugh. ‘Six Degrees Could Change the World’ shows its multi-source roots with an ugly 1080i/AVC-encoded mess. Artifacting, noise, edge halos, black crush, spotty detail, screen-door overlays, stair-stepping -- name any conceivable video issue and I can assure you it pops up several times throughout the documentary. Composed of archive reels, standard definition news footage, and a small sliver of HD camera work, ‘Six Degrees’ manages to look worse than any other high-def documentary I’ve reviewed. The spotty visual nature of the genre isn’t a valid excuse in this case either. Early on, there’s a muddy, SD shot of kangaroos hopping through a murky field of tall grass. Am I supposed to believe that the film’s directors were unable to find a high definition clip of kangaroos in the vaults of archived National Geographic footage?
The HD camera work is a welcome addition to the documentary, but it has its own share of problems. Not only are these shots limited to interviews and computer simulations, they suffer from artifacting and heavy banding. Aliasing and motion instability merely add to the growing list of issues. Worst of all, colors are over-saturated, fleshtones are flushed, and the picture looks unnatural and unsightly. How bad does it all get? On a few occasions, these unattractive HD shots are superimposed over SD footage. Don’t misunderstand me, the Blu-ray edition of ‘Six Degrees’ looks a bit better than the standard DVD, but considering the price difference, this is one of those rare occasions where the BD version of a release doesn’t offer the kind of upgrade that justifies its increased price.
While it doesn’t suffer from rampant technical issues like the video transfer, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track (448 kbps) featured on the Blu-ray edition of ‘Six Degrees’ doesn’t fare much better. Severely constrained by the nature of the documentary, the audio mix is a front heavy affair that doesn’t tap into the potential of every channel. Thankfully, Alec Baldwin’s narration has been comfortably inserted into the documentary, sound effects are evenly distributed, and the LFE channel provides a suitable level of support to collapsing ice sheets and raging forest fires. Of course, the sounds associated with the archived footage or news clips are limited by their source, but this is neither a surprise nor a major distraction.
My biggest technical complaint with the mix is that the volume level hasn’t been normalized across the documentary. I was constantly increasing and decreasing my sound system’s volume to achieve a happy medium. I never felt as if I could relax and simply watch the film since I was constantly babysitting the remote throughout the film. All in all, the track does a good job with what little it’s been given, but it ultimately fails to engage the listener as much as the information in the documentary does.
Like the standard DVD, the Blu-ray edition of ‘Six Degrees Could Change the World’ offers an anemic set of supplements dominated by trailers and commercials from the National Geographic channel. The package doesn’t offer any expansive content and fails to provide any additional value to the disc.
’Six Degrees Could Change the World’ is a mixed-message documentary that doesn’t add a lot to the ongoing debate concerning climate change. I gained a lot of information during its 90-minute runtime, but I don’t think it will convert anyone who hasn’t already invested some effort into combating global warming. As a Blu-ray release, ‘Six Degrees’ fails to justify its cost. A horrible video transfer, a mediocre Dolby Digital audio track, and a collection of throw-away supplements make this one of the worst documentaries available in high definition. It may be difficult to track down this Amazon exclusive at rental outlets, but you should definitely watch this one before deciding if it belongs on your shelf.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.