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'Planetary' celebrates Earth Day with inspiring visuals and shallow analysis
Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, India, in "Planetary." - photo by Josh Terry
PLANETARY 2 stars documentary about the way our worldview is profoundly affecting life on our planet; not rated but probable G (no offensive content)

We are all in this together. That is the primary message of Planetary, a visually stunning documentary that feels like something of a secular pep talk for Earth Day.

Director Guy Reid divides his 85-minute film into three visual themes. In the first, dramatic imagery of the Earth taken from space suggests that with a little perspective, we can see our planet as a living, changing organism. When juxtaposed against the universe, our cultural, national and ethnic borders melt away.

Things take a darker turn during the second passage of the film, which features imagery taken from Earths vast urban landscape. Numerous aerial shots of New York City and other cities are equally impressive but illustrate the loneliness and abuse of the human condition.

Ultimately, these images give way to the Earths natural, ground-level beauty: running streams, gorgeous coasts and dazzling green forests. Our planet is beautiful both at a distance and from up close, and we have the power and responsibility to make sure it stays that way.

Through it all, various scientists, artists and indigenous leaders offer their two cents of analysis and commentary on the human condition and our relationship to our home planet. The tone is universally hopeful, but the content warns of mass extinction, alienation and the nihilism of a consumerist culture.

This scientific perspective drives an explicit and determined search for meaning. Planetary desperately wants to understand our place in the universe and the purpose of our lives, but interestingly, it dismisses traditional Western religion and its explanations as myths and stories.

The film seems to revere various Eastern religions, and even references an Indian myth about the godhead being placed within all people. At the same time, its commentaries often criticize religious notions such as mankinds divine nature or the biblical idea that the Earth was created for (and entrusted to) humanity.

Instead, nature itself is portrayed as a kind of god. At one point, biologist Janine Benyus articulates humanitys end goal as a civilization functionally indistinguishable from the ecosystem that surrounds it. Planetary is very explicit in its message of unity but prefers that humanity unify itself behind an ecological goal.

Certain perspectives are taken for granted. Scientific theories such as human evolution and the Big Bang are treated as established fact, and concerns about climate change and ecological catastrophe are givens. The message is overwhelmingly hopeful, but it is being preached to a very specific choir.

By treating such subject matter as given, Planetary develops a habit of covering a broad expanse of ground with a very shallow layer of analysis. The result is some gorgeous cinematography and idealistic platitudes, essentially an 85-minute movie version of a motivational poster.

That being said, those visuals might be worth the price of a ticket. Director of photography Christoph Ferstad syncs everything from the space footage to the aerial urban images to the natural landscapes into a stunning visual harmony, all underscored by ethereal soundscapes that provide a mood without distracting from the subject matter.

It makes for a film that is beautiful to watch and interesting to think about if taken with the right grain of salt.

Planetary is not rated but does not contain any offensive content. See for a list of theaters that will be showing it on Earth Day on April 22.

Planetary is not rated but probable G; running time: 92 minutes.