Movie: Lifting the lid on our plastic planet

2011-01-21 00:00

YOU would be well advised not to sneak that bottle of water into the theatre if you go to see Plastic­ Planet, because long before this impassioned documentary by Austrian- German­ film-maker Werner Boote finishes unspooling, you’ll have thrown it away in disgust.

For the director, the subject is rather personal. His grandfather was an early plastics manufacturing executive, and delivered lengthy lectures — shades of The Graduate — extolling its virtues to his young grandson.

Unfortunately, as Boote later came to realise­, the many practical benefits of plastics­ come with a heavy price both in terms of the environment and health. The substance, which is made primarily of crude oil, stays in the ground and water for hundreds of years, slowly releasing chemicals (such as Bisphenol A) that may contribute to myriad health problems, ranging from cancer to heart disease to infertility.

The film-maker takes a wide-ranging approach to his topic, travelling to many far-flung locations and interviewing scores of subjects ranging from plastics industry executives­ to experts in fields such as biology and genetics.

Needless to say, none of the latter have anything very positive to say about the way plastics have come to permeate modern society­.

Alleviating the occasional dryness of the proceedings are numerous clever visual touches, such as the repeated shots of ordinary families sitting on their front lawns, surrounded by the seemingly endless products­ made of plastics gathered from their homes.

The industry, which remains unregulated to a remarkable degree due to the secret, “proprietary” formulas they use in their manufacturing process, hardly proved cooperative to the film-maker.

He was denied access to 53 domestic factories before being granted admittance to a Chinese plant, although even there he was prevented from having full access.

Fast-paced and episodic, the film at times provides such a torrent of information that it becomes more wearisome than enlightening. And the film-maker, who occasionally engages in Michael Moore-style confrontations, sometimes undercuts the film’s seriousness­ with such relatively trivial segments as his interviews with a California plastic surgeon and one of his physically enhanced patients.

But there’s no denying the ultimate power of this disturbing effort, which will have the effect of making you recoil upon returning home and realising the extent to which plastics have infiltrated your surroundings.


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