Icarus Films DVD release of the 2013 Bullfrog Films documentary "Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch" makes me yearn to love the film. Icarus awesomely fulfills its mission of making "innovative and provocative" documentaries available, and the Bullfrog productions that Icarus releases have always achieved the genre ideal of being equally entertaining and educational. On top of that, the subject matter of the incredible ecological harm from the massive mishandling of plastic waste is important.
Two of numerous examples of Icarus and Bullfrog making a dynamic duo include the reviewed film "Utopia," the also reviewed "Just Eat It," and the equally good "Xmas Without China." "Paradise" simply shows that not everyone is perfect.
The sad truth is that actress Angela Sun makes several rookie mistakes in this first (and only) attempt at filmmaking that are too frustrating to let slide. Her heart is in the right place and makes countless excellent points; she simply unduly emphasizes propaganda over substance.
As an equally initial matter, the "Paradise" DVD coming in a standard plastic DVD jewel box sealed in equally typical plastic indicates that Sun follows the principle of do as I say, not as I do.
"Paradise" starts strong with a good mix of visuals and science via talking heads that explain how enormous masses of plastics end up in a region of the Pacific Island before washing ashore on Midway atoll of WWII fame. An analogy involving flushing a toilet aptly helps the audience understand how this comes to be.
Footage of Sun dodging albatrosses on Midway before obtaining a first-hand look at what seems to be accurate images of the aforementioned huddled and unwashed masses of household goods still are well within the "safety zone" of good documentary filmmaking.
It ironically is when Sun tries to present the historical context of the problem that she fails to learn the lesson of the past that Michael Moore and similar documentarians who emphasize sizzle over substance teach us. This slide into sensationalism begins with well-known footage of Hitler ranting at a huge rally even before the accompanying narration begins.
Sun shows the Nazi rally to illustrate the point that the production demands of WWII create a greater need for plastic that continues growing decades later. Aside from the absurdity of adding garbage island to the enormous list of valid horrendous crimes of the Nazis, the argument of Sun ignores the fact that the Nazis did not launch the Pearl Harbor attack that plays a significant role regarding the U.S. entering the conflict.
The dual aggravations of being made to feel like an environmental criminal when requesting plastic bags and living in a community that staged a successful campaign to ban those bags made a "Paradise" segment on that topic particularly irksome. (Your not-so-humble reviewer uses plastic bags for a purpose such as scooping kitty litter, lining a waste basket, or keeping garbage in the refrigerator until trash day and NEVER tosses them in the street.)
The campaign leaders in my former community not recognizing the absurdity of advocating getting paper bags at the check-out counter AND buying plastic ones for purposes such as collecting pet waste or lining waste baskets is one example of the flaw of such a system; the other defects include not recognizing the value of not revoking the freedom to choose paper or plastic and separately educating litter bugs about the harms associated with not properly disposing of plastic bags.
As a further aside, the bag ban only prompted shopping one town over and gathering more bags than needed in case that supply of cat poop and liner bags ran out. This resulted in throwing out a large quantity of plastic bags on moving when not living under a ban would have prevented that waste.
The portion of "Paradise" that deals with the links between cancer and the chemicals in plastic ventures much deeper into propaganda territory. A prime example of this is suggesting that these products are the sole cause of increased breast cancer. On a common sense level, both the greater percentage of women getting regular mammograms and the advances in that technology seem to be the primary reason for increases in diagnosing that condition.
The rest of the picture is that water quality and many other factors contribute to breast cancer; as is the case regarding most sub-topics in "Paradise," plastic is not the root of all evil.
The uber-element of propaganda regarding the discussion of plastic and cancer relates to a "Paradise" segment in which a university researcher shows a link between that disease and the plastic coating on receipt paper. He has Sun (who comments on this method) tightly grasp receipt paper until there is white coating on her hand. This fact and Sun including this incident in "Paradise" makes the results that show an elevated level of a substance tied to cancer much less surprising than if the test came back negative.
Anyone with enough interest in the subject of "Plastic" to still be reading this review has enough intelligence to know that requiring Sun to grasp the paper absurdly hard for a ridiculous period of time skews the results.
The icing on this sweet-and-sour cake revolves around Sun crashing a chemical industry conference after interview requests go unanswered; the inevitable footage of the "suits" ousting Sun after she aggressively confronts attendees on camera is an old manipulative trick on which Moore has relied at least as early as the "Roger and Me" documentary that he made when Sun was 9 years old.
A desire to conclude this review on an entertaining and educational note (and to avoid toxic hate email) requires stating awareness of the extent of the underlying issues in "Paradise" and to laud any effort to increase public awareness of them. The problem with the film is that the heavy use of propaganda makes many of the presented arguments far less durable than the plastic sailing the Pacific.
Anyone with CIVIL questions or comments regarding this take on "Paradise" is welcome to email me; you alternatively can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.