'Earth's Golden Playground': Film Review
Andreas Horvath's documentary chronicles the efforts of modern-day gold prospectors in Canada's Yukon Territory.
Jack London used the Klondike gold rush as the dramatic setting for such beloved adventure novels as White Fang and The Call of the Wild. But the writer would be turning over in his grave if faced with the prospect of watching Andreas Horvath's documentary about modern-day prospectors in Canada's Yukon Territory. Concentrating on two disparate figures seeking their fortunes, Earth's Golden Playground squanders the dramatic potential of its exotic locale and subject matter with a soporific style that all too readily suggests the drudgery attendant to the process.
Set in the not quite but almost there ghost town of Dawson City, the film presents us with Corwin, a down-at-the-heels figure struggling with an unreliable (unseen) partner, financially crippling child support payments, and a hopelessly low-tech method of prospecting for gold. His bete noire, Timothy, struck it rich several years ago. Now happily spending winters in the Philippines with his much younger girlfriend, he employs elaborate machinery and a team of operators in further pursuit of the valuable mineral.
Shuffling around his ramshackle dwelling while perusing a copy of the Yukon Trapper's Manual and muttering to himself, "Where's that gold?" Corwin provides a sharp contrast to the self-satisfied Timothy, who says at one point that "I can't complain about my lifestyle."
Eschewing narration or much in the way of explanatory text, the verite-style doc, for which Horvath is credited with virtually everything but the catering, features seemingly endless sequences depicting the digging process in all its laboriousness. Accompanied by his ponderous musical score — John Carpenter he isn't — the proceedings also document the efforts of a big corporation, aptly dubbed Golden Predator, which doesn't much concern itself with the environmental ramifications of its destructive methods.
The footage reveals that even the workers toiling away seem bored, as evidenced by one heavy-machinery operator who playfully blows a kiss to the camera while waiting for something to happen.
The Austrian filmmaker — whom the press notes proudly mention was described by Fox News as "a notorious provocateur" as a result of his 2004 documentary This Ain't No Heartland, about the attitudes of people in the Midwest toward the Iraq War — would have benefited from employing a little more provocation in this ponderous effort that falls far short of striking cinematic gold.
Director/screenwriter/producer/director of photography/editor/composer: Andreas Horvath
No rating, 106 min.