Review: Crude: The Incredible Journey of Oil

A True Story About Oil

A film with the title Crude could mean all sorts of things, but in this case, it refers to the past, present, and future of crude oil. Australian documentary filmmaker Robert Smith (a marine biologist by training) set out to make this film because of what he called, “his own curiosity and quest for knowledge to understand this substance that takes such precedence in almost every aspect of our lives.” Even the computer that I now type this on owes its presence to the petroleum products making up its plastic case, not to mention the fuel that allowed it to be transported from its place of manufacture to my desk. What amazed Smith, and amazed me in viewing the film, is how pervasive crude oil has become in every aspect of our lives, and how quickly it has done so.

One of the important questions everyone wants to know these days is, “Have we really hit peak oil?” (The point at which the oil available is equal to the oil we’ve already consumed.) Smith thinks so, butt when he spoke about his film at the Fund for Santa Barbara’s Social Justice Award reception, he clarified that “it’s a messy peak, with peaks and valleys.”

Part of Smith’s interest in making this film was his concurrent investigation into the Permian Extinction. It turns out that the bulk of the world’s oil supply was produced during the combination of climatic conditions and massive die-off that occurred during that said event. And that’s just one more link in a long chain of events that has lead up to the situation we’re in today - one where Smith predicts that the price of oil will continue to climb.

After watching the documentary, I left feeling like everyone needed to see Crude. Although, I have to admit, it can be tough to watch. It’s extremely well-done, with much of the footage skillfully shot by Smith himself as he traveled the world, talking to experts and visiting oil production facilities. Tough, because it reminds us of the reality of what our dependence on oil means: it’s a limited resource.

Crude has garnered attention; noted environmentalist David Suzuki penned a rave review that appears on the film’s site, and it won accolades at the 2007 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. It’s one of the nominees for the Social Justice Award, but since Crude Impact was one of last year’s award-winners, Smith isn’t expecting to take home the prize - he just wants people to see the film.

There’s another showing today, Wednesday, January 30, where Smith will appear for a question and answer session. Besides Wednesday, the Australian company, ABC Science and the producer of the film have made Crude available on-line at

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