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Film review: 'Landscapes' imagery is mesmerizing

Published: Friday, Aug. 17 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES — *** 1/2 — Documentary feature about worldwide industrialization; with English subtitles (Asian dialects); not rated, probable G (nothing offensive)

To be honest, at first glance the concept behind "Manufactured Landscapes" sounds about as interesting as a film on the subject of drying paint. It's a documentary record of "landscapes" created or left by worldwide industrialization — particularly in Asia. Hardly the most exciting idea for a feature-length movie.

And yet the stunning imagery alone makes it worthwhile. There are scenes of alien-looking "vistas" comprised of piles of discarded microchips, large machinery, and other equipment or waste.

Better yet, documentarian Jennifer Baichwal's film finds a way to comment on ecological and environmental destruction without bludgeoning audiences with heavy-handed messages. There is a mesmerizing quality to the film, which rarely feels as long as its relatively scant 87-minute running time.

"Manufactured Landscapes" is based on a continuing project of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. He has gone all over the world to record the unearthly "beauty" of industrialization, as well as the toll it has taken on Earth and mankind.

Baichwal and her crews follow Burtynsky to Bangladesh, to watch young workers dismantle — by hand — an old oil tanker. And the teens and twentysomethings stand waist-deep in toxic oil sludge to do so. They also visit China to look at the construction of the massive Three Gorges Dam, and find a mountain of discarded American microchips.

In the five-minute opening scene, cinematographer Peter Mettler circles around a Chinese factory to show the scale of production work going on there.

Obviously, this type of film is not going to appeal to everyone. But for those who have a fascination with photographic journalism, or for those who have a strong interest in the environment, it's definitely worth checking out.

"Manufactured Landscapes" is not rated but would probably receive a G; it contains nothing offensive. Running time: 87 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com