'Gasland Part II' review: Josh Fox tries to top first film

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Director Josh Fox attends The HBO Special Screening

Director Josh Fox attends The HBO Special Screening of "Gasland Part II" at HBO Theater in Manhattan. (June 25, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 9 p.m. on HBO

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Three years ago, HBO aired a strange and wonderful polemic by a Pennsylvania filmmaker who was about to be gassed -- so to speak -- by the methane extraction industry. Josh Fox had been offered a big check ($100,000) for mineral rights beneath the house his father built deep in the woods, but he opted to investigate instead. His film -- about "fracking," or forcing gas from underground through various means, and widespread water pollution wherever it occurred -- earned an Oscar nomination and won an Emmy. Tonight, he brings the story up to date, with the Obama administration's efforts to boost the industry, and the Environmental Protection Agency's buckling under political pressure. "II" closes with Fox's arrest by Capitol Police at an EPA hearing in February 2012.

MY SAY Among its many virtues, 2010's "Gasland" was blessed with the power of pure narrative clarity. Fox followed the blunt facts wherever they led him -- from a home where more methane spilled out of faucets than water, to a rancher who could light what came out of his garden hose with a match. A natural-born muckraker, Fox had sneaked up on an entire industry, then pounced.

The element of surprise was intoxicating, the abuses he uncovered irrefutable, and the environmental movement had a singular new voice. But with "Gasland II," you get the sense he wants to top himself. Everything and everyone is roped in -- all the perpetrators and evildoers, the good folk who have been wronged, the laws that have been subverted and politicians bought off. In Fox's view, the very foundations of democracy have been fracked with money and greed.

Please, don't get me wrong: Fox is on to something. But he's on to too much of something, and that sprawl -- which takes him from Dimock, Pa., to Dish, Texas, to Hollywood, to Queensland, Australia, to the bayou, to Washington, D.C. -- tends to dilute the story he set out to tell. Plus, there's not a single word of rebuttal from the industry. (Besides being a fundamental of journalistic fairness, there is value in rebuttals -- even if they're bogus ones.)

BOTTOM LINE Some great reporting, but a lot of sprawl and (sorry) some gas, too.


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