Plastic Planet -- Film Review

Disturbing, cautionary documentary that will make you rethink the products with which you surround yourself

NEW YORK — You’d be well advised not to sneak that water bottle into the theater if you see "Plastic Planet." Because long before this impassioned documentary by Austrian/German filmmaker 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 realize, 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 a myriad of health problems, ranging from cancer to heart disease to infertility.

The filmmaker takes a wide-ranging approach to his topic, traveling to many far-flung locations and interviewing scores of subjects ranging from plastics industry executives to experts in such fields 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 filmmaker. He was denied access to 53 domestic factories bre 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 filmmaker, 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 realizing the extent to which plastics have infiltrated your surroundings.

Opens: Jan. 14 (First Run Features)
Director/screenwriter: Werner Boote
Producers: Thomas Bogner, Daniel Zuta
Executive producers: Tom Glaser, Ilann Girard
Director of photography: Thomas Kirschner
Music: The Orb
Animation: Peter Hoehsl
Editors: Ilana Goldschmidt, Cordula Werner, Tom Pohanka
No rating, 99 minutes