February 11, 2020  (Web Review)

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

(2018) 86 min. DVD: $29.95 ($349 w/PPR from www.kinolorbereducation.com), Blu-ray: $34.95. Kino Lorber (avail from most distributors).

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

From the same team that made Manufactured Landscapes (VL-11/07)—Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, and photographer Edward Burtynsky—this strikingly filmed documentary narrated by Alicia Vikander supports the claim that Earth has left the Holocene era and entered the Anthropocene, because humans now change the planet more than all of its natural processes combined. As in Baichwal’s earlier work, image takes precedence over the narrative and the sights here are simultaneously horrible and beautiful: $150 million dollars’ worth of elephant ivory tusks going up in a flaming inferno meant to send a message to poachers; workers quarrying a marble mine in Carrara, Italy, to an operatic background score; the sci-fi-like image of the world’s largest excavator (weighing over 12,000 tons) reshaping the German landscape. The film is divided into five segments: “Extraction,” “Terraforming,” “Technofossils,” “Boundary Limits,” and “Extinction,” the last noting that Earth is in the middle of the sixth great extinction and first that is due to human impact. Taking viewers on a Dantean world tour, the camera visits Chile’s Atacama Desert (driest in the world and a major source of lithium); a heavy metal smelting factory in northern Siberia, where locals celebrate “Happy Company Day” by posing for pictures next to giant machines; British Columbia, Canada, where only 10% of old growth forest remains on Vancouver Island; the Dandora dump in Nairobi, Kenya, home to 6,000 who make their livings picking through the voluminous garbage; and a WWII-era London subterranean air shelter in which nutritious plants are grown using special LED lighting. Throughout, the scale is uniformly gargantuan, even when the film visits the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Lagos, Nigeria (built to seat one million people). Although somewhat scattershot in its approach, Anthropocene is visually stunning and it delivers an earnest warning about humanity’s future. Extras include a featurette with actor Edward Norton discussing Burtynsky’s photography. Recommended. Aud: H, C, P. (R. Pitman)