Home begins with aerial shots of landscapes so stunning it’s easy to misrecognize what one sees. Painterly to the point of abstraction, these images of the Earth from unusual positions work to mesmerize and (re-)discover the degree of intricacy and hyper-connectedness required for something to be alive. It’s all very dizzying, both visually and conceptually. Are those hippos moving across a marsh field, or dots on a swath of elaborate fabric? Have we really only been around for 200,000 years? Are those wood logs floating on a mangrove, or matches lying on a table mat?
Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s documentary sets out to accomplish the impossible task of telling the history of humanity’s relationship to its habitat in under two hours—unfortunately leaving enough time for the global warming sermon before the end. After wowing us with the spectacle of life, its final “We all have the power to change, so what are we waiting for?” section feels like a buzzkill. The film at first feels like a fresh approach to eco documentaries, presenting us the Earth and its incredible story and breathtaking aesthetics, but gets ultimately tangled up in the didactics of doomsday statistics and other patronizing techniques usual to the genre.
The beginning of Home is worth watching for how engrossing and uncanny it’s able to turn stuff like a patch of grass, canoes, or a bunch of clouds into a masterful exercise in cinematic point of view and scale play. In reinventing the way we look at the taken-for-granted apparatus that renders our existence possible, it makes it seem as if the planet in question is one we have yet to visit—a kind of organic Disneyland handmade by the finest artists, poets, and scientists. Unable to recognize how sufficient the visuals themselves are, its music gets increasingly over-dramatic, epic-like. Is this Earth or James Cameron’s Pandora? By the time Glenn Close, who could make Candace Bushnell sound Shakespearian, announces that some ice cap is 40 percent thinner than 40 years ago, the film becomes something of a bait and switch.