Home is an environmental documentary by the French actor-photographer-turned-film director Yann Arthus Bertrand. With aerial footages from fifty-four countries, the movie chronicles the present day state of the Earth, and sends out a very strong message, the planet we call home is in trouble, and we, the dominant species, are largely responsible. The main theme expressed throughout the film is that of linkage, how all organisms and the Earth are linked with each other in a critical natural balance, and how nothing and no one can be self-sufficient.
After getting this message across, the movie asks: “We have the power to change, what are we waiting for? ” The movie starts by taking the viewer back to the beginning of time, and explains how and when life on Earth came about. The first few minutes showed footage of the beginning of the natural world, starting with single-celled algae developing at the edges of volcanic springs. By showing the algae’s important role in the evolution of photosynthesis, the many different species of plants, which all originated from this one-celled life form, were also explored.
We learn that the world is four billion years old while humans are only 200,000 years old. However, that so short a time we have been around, we have had greater impact than any other species. The film says that in the last five decades alone, the Earth has been more radically changed than by all other previous generations of humanity. A bigger part of the film is made up of a series of similar facts illustrated by moving images, which highlight the actions of humans causing damage to the Earth, and their possible irreversible consequences if the trend will not change.
It shows the agricultural revolution and its impact. It portrays today’s predicament about cattle ranches, deforestation, global fresh water shortages, the use of non-renewable fossil water, man’s dependency on fossil fuels, the electricity shortage, and the exhaustion of mineral supplies and other natural resources. Major cities like New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Tokyo, Dubai and Shenzhen are used as examples of energy, food and water wastage. After capturing the varied activities of mankind which compromise the Earth’s natural balance, melting glaciers, rising sea levels nd changing weather patterns are given emphasis especially how these phenomena are ravaging people in countries which have least to do with climate change. It is at this point that the narrator focuses on global warming and goes “the clock of climate change is ticking,” afterwhich some hard facts and figures are presented in white bold text. This information directs the viewer to the enormity of the problem that humans may not have realized until now. The documentary does not only show the truths about the impact humans make on Earth, but also highlighted what they are doing to reverse it.
Towards the end, green initiatives of some countries are mentioned. These include renewable energy resources, creation of more national parks, and redirection of funds from other priorities like military into education and environment protection. The movie winds up with the conclusion that there is still hope, “we still have half of the world’s forests, thousands of rivers, lakes and glaciers, and thousands of thriving species. We know that the solutions are there today. It’s too late to be a pessimist. ” Judging by the language and universality of its theme, this movie is intended for a general audience.
Every human being, young and old, rich and poor, leaders or ordinary citizens, anyone who has a stake in the issue of environment and survival will learn from watching it. Given the profile of climate change and other green issues at present, the film delivers a timely message, that the Earth, shown in its incredible natural beauty, is also fragile and we are surely upsetting its balance. This is presented clearly and cohesively through stunning visuals showing the world’s most captivating water and landscapes. By doing this, Arthus-Bertrand succeeds in drawing attention to the horrors of environmental abuse.
It helps that the film uses a semi-historical take on presenting facts and issues, something students and regular viewers can easily grasp. Non-scientists will not be intimated by the facts presented because they are made simpler by using short and direct sentences in layman’s terms. Unlike other science documentaries, the movie does not present hard scientific concepts. It does not have complex scenes, only plain and moving images which in themselves send out a thousand and one meanings. The history of the earth part, however, drags a bit.
In the first few frames, nothing seems to be happening and the series of shots of molten rocks and volcanoes is boring. The all-aerial filming style might have served the purpose of highlighting the Earth’s wonders as well as the wounds humans inflicted on her, but it fails to make most of its audience hold on to their seats. Saying that it’s an educational documentary that’s why, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining at the same time. It’s understandable why the film starts the way it does, and why incorporating other visuals would have deviated from its format.
But it wouldn’t have hurt if the “in the beginning” part was presented differently, with more images and faster changing or turnover of shots. That could have implied the billion years that passed before the earth was inhabited by animals including man. As regards the narration, it’s a cross between the discursive narrative modality, a narration that gives priority to information, facts and logic and the poetic narrative form, which is built up around visual poetic associations (Toni de Bromhead. 1996). The narration provides fascinating statistics. A liter of oil produces as much energy as 100 pairs of hands in 24 hours. ” “In the United States, only 3 million farmers are left. They produce enough grain to feed two billion people. But most of that feed is transformed, as in all industrialized countries, for livestock or biofuels. ” Laying down these facts is spiced up by adding some poetry, the writer’s way to appeal to the emotion of the viewers. “Ninety-five percent of soy farms in the Amazon region, which has shrunk by 20% in the last forty years, goes to Europe for livestock and poultry.
So the forest is turned into meat. ” These surely are serious environmental concerns, and the movie is obviously hitting the US government for its incentives for biofuel production which is seen by the world as promoting deforestation not only in the Brazilian Amazon but also in Southeast Asia. Rainforests are typically cleared for low-intensity cattle ranching and sold to soy producers after a few years. Ranchers then move further into the Amazon frontiers, spurring more deforestation. “This pocket of sunlight (fossil fuels) freed humans from their toil on the land.
With oil began the era of humans who break free from the shackles of time,”the film says further. Poetizing this statement creates more impact for the message it carries. This easily directs the viewer to realizing the huge energy consumption of the world especially the industrialized nations like the United States. To date, the US uses 17 million barrels of oil every day. That’s equivalent to seven gallons per day per citizen to be able to live at their current pace. From oil, electricity is produced which brings people of these nations unprecedented comforts.
It is in the power of the image that Arthus-Bertrand aims to convince his viewers. He has found an interesting and medium to convey his message, and he executes so well. In this movie, he once again proved his mastery at identifying colors, angles and patterns that show the Earth at its most beautiful. These could be the shadows cast by a train of camels walking through the dessert, the symmetrical patterns formed by brightly dyed pieces of cloth laid out to dry in India, or the many shades of white and blue in a glacier in the North Pole.
In all these, we see this filmmaker’s striking use of perspective and aesthetical sensibilities that produced this vivid portrayal of the beauty of our planet. But the cinematography does only half the job, the narration proves to be as critical. The narration, provided by Hollywood actress Glenn Close in the English version, effectively delivers the message of the film. The tone and the voice itself blend well with its overall mood and feel. There is an air of preachiness in some parts, something people may find uncomfortable. But it is well-intentioned nonetheless.
The narrator at some point sounds like speaking to little children, but perhaps that is exactly the point, to educate, to incite viewers into action, which is the movie’s purpose in the first place. Given the gravity of the problems at hand, an ordinary storytelling will not create the necessary impact. As the narration says, “Although there’s a general trend towards an awareness of ecological issues, concrete action is still too little, too slow. ” The sense of urgency in the narrator’s voice is called for. The push for mobilization to widen the advocacy is evident in the tenor of the entire screenplay.
Speaking in a promotional press conference, Arthus-Bertrand said it was time “to call a halt to a world where 20 percent of the population consumes 80 percent of the planet’s riches. ” Then he added, “We need more courageous policies, the challenge is to convince people to push their leaders to action. ” Home is intended for international release, and these words of the filmmaker take it to the political front, to encourage action on the macro level. “Our goal is that a maximum of people watch it, in order to tell governments and industrials: Look how many of us are rallied to his cause! (Luc Besson, producer. 2009) The documentary might be a life-changing experience for any regular individual whose tepidity in dealing with environmental concerns has rendered him/her neither responsive nor unsupportive. A lot of people actually have this lukewarm disposition which does not help at all in furthering environmental causes. Viewing this film may be all it takes to stir people’s awareness. Its uncomplicated but profound message may bring out the environmentalist in a person. Arthus-Bertrand himself is a perfect example of how a seemingly ordinary experience may change one’s outlook.
Unlike many prominent environmental advocates, he has no scientific background and has never been a politician. His is a successful career that defies the norm in a European country like France where credibility largely depends on one’s level of education. “No one is an environmentalist by birth,” he said. “It is only your path, your life, your travels that awaken you. ” He stumbled across the notion of sustainable development in a newspaper article a few years back and that moment changed his life. From then on, he had gone to all the continents and, through his photographs, had been drawing people to his cause.
His reputation is, in fact, that of an adventurer rather than an intellectual, and this explains why he chooses to communicate science through his personal and rather different perspective. His medium is aerial photography, which he says, will teach you patience, and a sense of beauty that penetrates your soul. Now with Home, he once again takes his audience to the air where, he explained, you see the world differently, and borders disappear. There is hardly any doubt on the documentary as an eye-opener. There’s no question about its impact on making people see the environmental tragedies of our time.
The movie’s intent becomes even more pronounced when we get to know the person who made it and appreciate the cause he is fighting for. However, understanding a problem is one thing, actually buckling down to work for solutions is another. The major aspects of the film are well-taken care of, its structure and form, its screenplay and theme may be enough to draw up support for the advocacy. But translating this effect into individual commitments by the audience who viewed it is the real challenge. And it is in this department that the film disappoints.
The film producers explicitly said that Home is an extraordinary approach, they will bring it to as many viewers as possible and hope for these viewers to step up and convince their governments and industries to stop energy depletion, forest degradation and economic disparity. But isn’t that a very tall order? Where is the promotion for behavior change? “We all have the power to change,” the movie concludes. But do we really have the power to turn the tide by going against capitalism? Can we ever come between lawmakers and lobbyists and their self-serving agenda? What about global warming science that is not settled after all?
The movie contains several assumptions and many quarters are yet to be convinced. “Humanity only has ten years to reverse the situation and save our planet. ” Says who? What do we make of the latest admission of Phil Jones, a leading scientist and staunch advocate of global warming, that virtually everyone of the points made by global warming skeptics is correct? That there is a strong possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon. And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no statistically significant “warming. Injecting a sense of wonder into the succession of images combined with patronizing narration in the background might win for Arthus-Bertrand millions of believers in his call for saving Mother Earth from jeopardy. People may even regard the film as phenomenal because of the clear and powerful message it conveys and the novel approach it has taken. But the rather sentimental vision of the environment portrayed in the documentary projects lack of objectivity and disinterestedness. This is not to say however that the movie is not factual or a product of years of research because it is.
And it does espouse some principles of science communication particularly universalism. But if the ultimate goal is to mobilize people to bring about change in social and political institutions, then it has not reached that level yet. At best, good intentions can result to planting trees or saving more forests to cut back on some carbon emissions, or banning plastic materials, but we’re looking for turning big trends here. Towards the end, the movie prompts the viewer to do something, but it really doesn’t offer concrete individual measures to take.
So it’s up to the viewer to learn more about the science and magnitudes of the problems presented in the documentary. And there lies the danger of this communication experience being another case of people realizing the gravity of the issues but not doing anything about it. People need to be the change we need now, and Home is clear with that message. But rather than waiting for government and corporations or some-old revolution to make things right, the call should really be for every human being to do his/her part. Now.