Environmentally flavored nonfiction films are, to put it kindly, on the upswing. One of the more recent is Plastic Planet, a so-so offering that succeeds almost in spite of itself. Director Werner Boote’s film is a personal-journey documentary loosely in the vein of Mitch McCabe’s Make Me Young, which was a look at the $60 billion plastic surgery industry through the prism of her father, a onetime surgeon. Boote’s target of inquiry is plastics in general, and whether they are safe for human use in the degree and fashion that we have embraced. The director’s personal background — his beloved grandfather was a German manufacturing businessman who made his career in plastics — greatly informs his genial, rambling quest for answers.
Original music by the Orb helps give Plastic Planet an easygoing rapport, as do occasional animated segments featuring an avatar of the director amidst polyurethane pellets and molecule trains, even though the latter seem included out of some ill-informed sense of peppy obligation. Boote seems a true innocent, which is a quality not without its advantages, but often not particularly suited for pressing academic inquiry. To the degree that Plastic Planet succeeds, then, it does so almost in spite of its maker’s intentions rather than because of them.
The structure of the film doesn’t originally lay out a central set of questions to be answered, nor does it truly dig deep enough into Boote’s personal history to give his quest a stand-alone, seductive personality all its own. So the result is herky-jerky, and filled with stuttering asides that find Boote wasting screen time (flirting with a personal trainer at a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon’s office), or coming across as ill-prepared in various interview segments. When Boote gets out of his own way and turns the movie over to the hardcore statistical analysis of scientists, it blossoms in unsettling fashion, with worrisome details about polycarbonate baby bottles and how dangerous phthalates release from plastic products with repeated (but routine) use.
There are also some amazing and thought-provoking visual moments and details, as when Boote joins volunteers for the clean-up of a Japanese bay; trawls the deep sea with an oceanographer; and visits the world’s largest trash dump, in India, where “rag pickers” sort through the debris for the payoff of a handful of rupees per day. These moments, as well as the unsettling revelation that American food and beverage manufacturers are typically in the dark about the particular plastic content and ingredients of their packaging, help Plastic Planet achieve a roundabout emotional impact, despite much meandering and dawdling.
Housed in sturdy paper/cardboard, 100% green-certified sleeve from Oasis Disc Manufacturing, with 99 percent vegetable-based and eco-friendly inks, Plastic Planet comes to DVD presented in a 16×9 aspect ratio, with a stereo audio track, in English and occasional German, so hence with English subtitles. Its supplemental features consist of four deleted scenes, one of which features Boote eliciting understandable discomfort from a Mattel PR representative when he outbids her at a public auction for an old, collectible Barbie, and proceeds to try to get her to lick the doll, in a socially clueless attempt to get her to appreciate the difference in taste/smell of the older plastic. A DVD-ROM press kit and resource guide is also available if you slip the disc into your computer or laptop. Nice packaging in keeping with its environmental commitment gives this title a slight bump, but it does seem curious that there isn’t more Boote (an interview or commentary track) on the bonus slate, given the degree to which the film trades in personality. It isn’t available until April 12, but to purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Movie) C+ (Disc)