×

Film Review: ‘Planetary’

Guy Reid's documentary is equal parts stunning cinematic picture book and worthy if somewhat overreaching lecture on the imperiled state of Mother Earth.

With:
Janine Benyus, Wade Davis, Drew Dellinger, Charles Eisenstein, Lawrence Ellis, Ron Garan, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Joan Halifax, Paul Hawken, Dr Mae Jemison, His Holiness the 17th Karmpa, Sean Kelly, Elizabeth Lindsey, Barry Lopez, David Loy, Joanna Macy, Bill McKibben, Luntana Nakoggi, Ethan Nichtern, Wes Nisker, Mona Polacca, Peter Russell, Alan Senauke, Ali Smith, Sobonfu Some, Brian Swimme, Becca Tarnas, Anam Thubten, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Angel Kyodo Williams.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3473882/

Like “Baraka” or “Koyaanisquatsi” with a scholarly/preachy commentary track, Guy Reid’s “Planetary” is equal parts stunning cinematic picture book and worthy if somewhat overreaching lecture on the imperiled state of Mother Earth. Some viewers may be turned off a bit by the talking-head experts’ eventual shift from scientific to more spiritual matters. Those who prefer their eco-consciousness delivered with a drop (or a full draught) of New Age-iness will have a new favorite movie.

A most impressive logistical and aesthetic feat for the first-time feature filmmaking team, “Planetary” had a single-date release at venues scattered around the globe on (of course) Earth Day, April 22. While it’s not necessarily too late for correction, it’s a pity that the pic otherwise bypassed theaters, going straight to VOD via Vimeo: D.p. Christoph Ferstad’s frequently ravishing widescreen images rep a bigscreen experience if ever there was one.

It’s not his camera, however, that dominates the vivid initial section. Instead, vintage NASA footage accompanies the reminiscences of astronauts, from Apollo missions to recent space-station years, as they relate their first experience of seeing the Earth from an external remove. For many, it was a revelation of mankind’s small role in the overall scheme of things — not in a depressing way, but rather in the sense of realizing the totality of our planet as an extraordinary environment in which all life is interconnected and interdependent.

But as a roster of climate experts and others attest, that perspective head-butts the one that has shaped “civilization” for centuries. Instead, man too often views Nature as a bank to be endlessly withdrawn from at his convenience. It’s only recently that the finiteness of our resources — and the negative impacts of their exploitation — has become glaringly obvious, at least to some.

Yet destructive “progress” marches on, despite all evidence of imminent crisis. Fanning out to encompass a range of ideas beyond its original inspiration in physicist Peter Russell’s book “The Golden Brain,” “Planetary” spends little time on the specifics of global warming and such, assuming viewers are already savvy about such issues. Instead, it gradually moves toward a more philosophical call for change in how individuals and societies view themselves — as participants in, rather than consumers of, a unique and fragile ecosystem.

As the academic talking heads morph into Eastern and indigenous Western spiritual guides, yoga instructors, etc., “Planetary” may grow a tad too woo-woo for some. While the message is undoubtedly, earnestly important, the quasi-narrative arc, which grows ever vaguer as it moves from fact to faith, can feel somewhat ungainly here — more so, perhaps, than it would have in a film that stuck closer to one pole or another. The soft landing on a general note of “Be mindful” lends all the spectacular images (duly shot in various remote and crowded locations worldwide) less cumulative gravity than a more straightforward call to protesting action might have.

Still, those are some mightily beautiful pictures. Eschewing the strictly stationary shot (with or without time-lapse) that provided a visual signature on Godfrey Reggio and Ron Fricke’s wordless travelogues, Ferstad utilizes graceful camera movements, as well as (from other contributing lensers) much impressive aerial and some underwater photography.

Despite all the globe-encircling eye candy, there’s a certain monotony of pacing imposed by the nonstop spoken input of various elders whose wisdoms seldom come in anything chewier than (at most) paragraph-length soundbytes. Their incessant audio intel perhaps necessitates that Human Suits’ original score be both continuous and all too easy to ignore as anything more than a respectable backdrop.

Film Review: 'Planetary'

Reviewed at Hot Docs Film Festival (Special Presentations), April 24, 2015. (Also in SXSW Film Festival.) Running time: 85 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — U.K.) An Abramorama, Vimeo and SHFT.COM presentation of a Planetary Collective production in association with Reconsider Film. (International sales: Together Films, London.) Produced by Christoph Ferstad, Guy Reid, Steve Watts Kennedy. Executive producers, Paul Hawken, Stephen Apkon. Co-producer, Sarah Mosses.

Crew: Directed by Guy Reid. Written by Steve Watts Kennedy. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Christoph Ferstad; editor, Kennedy; music, Human Suits; sound, Steve Cookman, Calum Yuill, Halo Post.

With: Janine Benyus, Wade Davis, Drew Dellinger, Charles Eisenstein, Lawrence Ellis, Ron Garan, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Joan Halifax, Paul Hawken, Dr Mae Jemison, His Holiness the 17th Karmpa, Sean Kelly, Elizabeth Lindsey, Barry Lopez, David Loy, Joanna Macy, Bill McKibben, Luntana Nakoggi, Ethan Nichtern, Wes Nisker, Mona Polacca, Peter Russell, Alan Senauke, Ali Smith, Sobonfu Some, Brian Swimme, Becca Tarnas, Anam Thubten, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Angel Kyodo Williams.

More Film

  • Guillermo del Toro Alec Baldwin Tribeca

    Guillermo del Toro on Why It's a Director's Duty to Always 'Exceed the Budget'

    Guillermo del Toro has some advice for directors that would leave most studios shaking. “As a director, it is your duty to always responsibly exceed the scope and exceed the budget,” he said. “If you have enough time and enough money, you’re f—ing up.” Del Toro dropped that bit of wisdom during a chat with [...]

  • Michael Hutchence

    Film Review: ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence'

    “Mystify” — a portrayal of charismatic INXS singer Michael Hutchence, who committed suicide in 1997 at the age of 37 — makes powerful use of family and personal footage to tell the story of a talented man beset by personal demons, but illuminates the influence of a serious head injury that he hid from the [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Harvey Weinstein Sex Crimes Case: Judge Bars Media From Hearing

    Harvey Weinstein’s Friday court hearing in his rape and sexual assault trial will be closed to the media and the public, New York Supreme Court Justice James Burke ruled. The issue of whether or not the movie mogul’s latest court appearance will remain public has been hotly contested in recent weeks. News organizations such as [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame' Soars to Record-Breaking $60 Million Opening in North America

    Disney-Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” has opened astronomically in North America with a record $60 million in Thursday night preview showings. It’s the top domestic preview number of all time, besting “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at $57 million in 2015. Imax showings scored brought in $4.8 million at 412 locations, the third-highest total of all time. [...]

  • Sophia Anne Caruso and Alex Brightman'Beetlejuice'

    'Beetlejuice' Musical Team Hopes to Attract New Audiences to Broadway

    In the new Broadway adaptation of Tim Burton’s 1988 cult classic film “Beetlejuice,” teenager Lydia takes center-stage alongside the titular gut-busting demon (Alex Brightman) to reflect the famed goth girl’s journey through Beetlejuice’s funhouse of death and disaster. “I think so many people connect to “Beetlejuice” because it’s a story of outsiders, Lydia being the center of [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth'Avengers: Endgame' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Is Chris Hemsworth Ready to Leave the 'Avengers' Franchise?

    Chris Hemsworth isn’t exactly sure when he’ll leave the “Avengers” franchise. “There will come a day,” the “Thor” star told me when we sat down to chat for the second episode of “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeartMedia’s new film podcast. “Whether it’s now or in the future, I don’t know. … Who knows what [...]

  • Michael B. JordanLAFH Awards 2019, Los

    Michael B. Jordan, Ronda Rousey Join Efforts to Help the Homeless

    Michael B. Jordan and WWE star Ronda Rousey were just two of the powerhouses that gathered in Hollywood Thursday night for the LA Family Housing’s annual fundraising celebration. The live-auction event, which brought together hundreds of top industry executives, philanthropists and government partners, aimed to raise $2 million for LAFH, which builds permanent housing and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content