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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » American Experience: Earth Days
American Experience: Earth Days
PBS // Unrated // April 20, 2010
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Preston Jones | posted August 28, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Long before Al Gore toured the world with his slick slideshow detailing just how perilously close the planet was to irrevocable destruction, a determined band of eco-activists was attempting to effect change upon a country unwilling to give up its comforts for a cleaner, healthier Earth. It's these pioneers upon whom director Robert Stone (Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst) focuses in his PBS documentary, Earth Days. Chronicling the first two decades of the environmental activism movement, Stone illustrates how the recent rush to reduce, reuse and recycle has struggled to find its footing since the days of President John F. Kennedy.

Originally broadcast on PBS as part of its invaluable "American Experience" series, Stone's film relies upon archival footage and interviews with many of the key players in the nascent environmental movement, including Stewart Udall, Dennis Meadows, Paul Erlich, Pete McCloskey and Hunter Lovins. In lieu of a narrator, Stone instead decides to employ a loose structure, using his interviews to hold everything together. It doesn't always work -- a narrator could've provided a little more context for the overall film, as well as guide those who weren't alive at the time of these events -- but the cumulative impact is sobering, as well as enlightening.

Beginning in the early '60s and moving through to the middle of Ronald Reagan's presidency in the mid-'80s, Earth Days charts the ups and downs of those who would have Americans lead more sustainable, responsible lives. Stone gives a definite flavor of the ad campaigns mounted by organizations like the Sierra Club and even provides glimpses of the infamous "crying Indian" public service announcements. The population boom, the threat of nuclear war, the oil embargo of the early '70s -- all of these cultural touchstones are threaded into Stone's narrative.

Earth Days doesn't try to hide its politics. More than one interviewee suggests governmental change -- a few isolated instances notwithstanding -- is all but futile, leaving the people as the only agents of change. Sadly, little has changed in the intervening decades, even as rhetoric among candidates about environmental responsibility has only ramped up in recent years.

In particular, the discussions about less reliance upon fossil fuels has a cold resonance in light of the recent BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The American public just hasn't reached its tipping point yet -- an idea addressed by several in Stone's film -- but there's hope that point is reached before it's too late to reverse course.

Of course, not every American is bent upon destroying the planet and availing themselves of every last natural resource to the point of excess. But, as Stone's film illustrates, the cost of waiting until the situation becomes dire has dogged activists for many decades (in a surprising revelation, Stone shows that environmental activism was first discussed in the mid-'50s, well before the flower power generation came along). Earth Days is quietly determined, not alarmist, but also not complacent. The planet is not as it once was for our parents and our parents' parents. If we, as a people, are to have a future upon Earth, it's up to the current and future generations to do something about it.

The DVD

The Video:

Earth Days arrives on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As the film is pieced together from a variety of sources, the quality of the image varies throughout. That said, all of Stone's newly filmed interviews and scenic footage looks immaculate, befitting a recently filmed production. Any flaws are inherent in the archival footage; overall, Stone's film looks clean, crisp and free of visual defects.

The Audio:

The English, Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack doesn't have many opportunities to show off, as Earth Days is primarily dialogue-driven. The minimal score, by acclaimed composer Michael Giacchino, fills in nicely without intruding upon the interview subjects' thoughts. As with the visuals, there are instances of aural hiccups, but those are inherent in the director's selection of footage, not the DVD itself.

The Extras:

Stone contributes a thoughtful commentary track, expanding upon why he wanted to make the film and also providing some further background on his interview subjects. It's a great companion to the film, fleshing out what can, at times, become a little academic and factually dense. A short film -- three minutes, 49 seconds -- is included as well. Titled Pollution, it is Stone's first-ever production that he created in 1972 at the age of 12 with a few of his childhood friends. He provides commentary for the short as well, saying his interest in eco-activism began when he was young.

Final Thoughts:

Long before Al Gore toured the world with his slick slideshow detailing just how perilously close the planet was to irrevocable destruction, a determined band of eco-activists was attempting to effect change upon a country unwilling to give up its comforts for a cleaner, healthier Earth. It's these pioneers upon whom director Robert Stone focuses in his PBS documentary, Earth Days. Chronicling the first two decades of the environmental activism movement, Stone illustrates how the recent rush to reduce, reuse and recycle has struggled to find its footing since the days of President John F. Kennedy. Not every American is bent upon destroying the planet and availing themselves of every last natural resource to the point of excess. But, as Stone's film illustrates, the cost of waiting until the situation becomes dire has dogged activists for many decades -- and continues to do so. Recommended.

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