The problem with one of the most disturbing post-apocalyptic settings you’ll ever see? It’s real.
So while films such as The Book of Eli, The Road and — how could we forget? — 2012 employ digital effects and bleached-out cinematography to conjure images of ecological destruction en masse, for Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives of the Alberta Tar Sands, director Peter Mettler needed only to travel to the massive tar sands development of Northern Alberta.
There, millions of hectares of ancient forest have been turned into a lunarscape of toxic waste — all so that a crude oil called bitumen can be extracted from the sand and clay.
And the vision of it — while not mentioned by name in their doomsday calendar — probably would have been sufficient to give the ancient Mayans night terrors.
Of course, exploitation of the oil sands has become a lightning rod for environmentalists, who have long branded the entire enterprise as “dirty oil” on the global stage and painted Canada as among the planet’s most egregious polluters.
Eventually, caution the same critics, the area that is already devastating water, land and the climate could balloon to roughly the size of England; it’s already visible from orbit.
The power and gravity of Petropolis comes from Mettler’s unorthodox but highly compelling decision to bombard us not with endless factoids, but with the sheer visual scope of the project.
Shot from the air, he sails over the haunting, charred vistas of this bizarre industrial wasteland, where gigantic trucks roll over a scorched earth shrouded in a halo of endless smoke.
A talking head, after all, can be argued with — even ignored. But these aerial views are indisputable. The politics, and even the science, can be left for another day, another movie.
In this case, for audiences — staggered and shamed by the epic size of it — a picture is worth 1,000 Greenpeace protesters.
(This film is rated G)