A magnificently macro portrait of our planet’s alarming state of health, photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s “Home” puts the aerial imagery of his bestselling book, “Earth From Above,” superbly into motion. Illustrating visually what “An Inconvenient Truth” and “The 11th Hour” did via graphs and talking heads, “Home” reveals the daunting and disturbing results of massive worldwide industrialization, which has transformed natural wonders into dangerously unnatural displays of global warming and scarcity. Released simultaneously June 5 in French theaters, on ancillary and in two other languages on YouTube, this polished docu will find a home among environmentalists and lovers of the land.
Published initially in French in 1999, “Earth From Above” featured a jaw-dropping collection of landscape photos taken by Bertrand from airplanes, helicopters and hot-air balloons. The quintessential coffee-table book went on to sell more than 3 million copies in 24 different languages, and was followed by an exhibition that traveled to 110 cities with nearly 120 million visitors.
The lenser’s first cinematic outing presents equally staggering numbers: It was shot over 217 days in 54 countries with three film crews working simultaneously across the globe. Each crew used a gyro-stabilized Cineflex HD camera loaded inside a helicopter, a technique that gives the images a roving, near-transfixing quality, turning the landscapes below into multicolored compositions closer to abstract expressionism than to real life.
Scenario, co-written by the helmer with several collaborators, presents a succinct history of the Earth’s evolution from a smoldering mass of minerals to its current overtaxed condition. Using the preserved farmlands of rural Africa to reveal how man once lived in harmony with nature, and then the colossal skyscrapers and artificial isles of Dubai to show to what absurd extremes man now dominates it, the pic tells a now-familiar story through imagery that has rarely been amassed to such perfection.
Fact-finders may complain that the gorgeous aesthetics are backed by little data — title cards displaying key figures come in the final reel only — and the sometimes allusive voiceover repeats several mantras (“Faster and faster,” “It’s too late to be pessimistic”) to the point where it sounds like ecological brainwashing. Likewise, the pervasive score by Armand Amar (“Days of Glory”) features a predictable mashup of world-music rhythms and Phillip Glass-style melodies, a mix that shifts from the exhilarating to the tiresome, depending on the sequence.
While the YouTube version — narrated in English by Glenn Close and in Spanish by Selma Hayek — runs 90 minutes, the 118-minute French theatrical version has slower editing and some redundant moments but remains absorbing. The Gaul release coincided with a primetime broadcast on pubcaster France 2, as well as a DVD sell-through at a discounted price of E5 ($7).
Per press notes, the $14 million project was backed entirely by Gallic multinational PPR, whose different company logos (Gucci, Puma, etc.) are animated in the opening credits to form the main title. Call it mass philanthropy or mass product placement, or both.