‘Planet of the Humans’ Movie Review: Harrowing Eco-Documentary Full Of Hits – And Misses
If you’re looking for good news, look elsewhere. The debate around documentarian Jeff Gibbs‘s first feature Planet of the Humans is a strong one, and both sides are rightfully preaching more than a little doom. There have been a glut of documentaries since 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth about mankind’s disregard for and desecration of the environment, and Planet of the Humans pulls no punches about the damage people are doing to the ecosystems that support them.
Collapse of the natural world is not Gibbs’s primary concern, however, and it’s when he wades away from this subject that his claims get especially contentious. The primary thesis of Planet of the Humans is that the once-grassroots environmental movement has since been fully co-opted by corporate powers, and anti-climate change campaigners the world over now sit snugly in the pockets of fossil fuel titans like the Koch brothers.
It’s pretty hot stuff, and I applaud Gibbs for being willing to call out what can often seem like the one movement capable of saving life on Earth. The film does indeed expose some distressing truths, particularly in regards to how “renewable” energy sources such as biofuel really are. Supposed saviors of the natural world such as Bill McKibben and Al Gore come out of Planet of the Humans looking more than a little worse for the wear.
Far too often, though, Gibbs focuses his lens on the inefficiency and inviability of popular renewable sources such as wind and solar energy. While the efficacy and capabilities of these sources have historically been up for debate, Gibbs willfully cherry picks out-of-date data in order to drive home his point. They’re unfortunate missteps in what would otherwise be a must-watch for the next generation of environmentalists.
What truly holds the film back isn’t even its occasional peddling in misinformation as much as it is the lack of alternatives being offered. Gibbs’s interviewees (and Gibbs himself) often despair at how questions of consumption and population levels are left out of the discussion — a valid concern — without at all elucidating what solutions to those issues may look like. Enforced veganism? Mandatory sterilization? Genocide?
Gibbs offers no answer, ending the film with a truly traumatizing sequence of deforestation and habitat destruction. Harrowing? Sure, but because the film is devoid entirely of explicit solutions, it’s impossible to walk away from Planet of the Humans with anything other than abject despair. In the absence of a real alternative, the film’s point is moot — surely some mitigation of climate change is better than the solution-less future offered by Gibbs.
The film itself found an executive producer in Michael Moore, and the maestro’s influence on Gibbs is painfully obvious. Gibbs’s filmmaking talents have yet to fully bloom, and his deadpan narration is an emaciated imitation of Moore. The film is rhetorically effective simply because of the audacity of its message; both technically and scientifically, Planet of the Humans bubbles away under the light.