Manufactured Landscapes (Blu-ray)

Juxtaposing nature and man’s effect on it through photographs.

Edward Burtynsky (Water: Our Thirsty World) and director Jennifer Baichwal (Payback) teamed up in 2006 to shoot Manufactured Landscapes (Blu-ray). The film which followed Burtynsky as he traveled across China, shooting photos of large-scale manufacturing elements. If you listen to the included interview, you’ll learn the idea behind this project was one of deliberate ambiguity. In that, they mostly succeed.

The idea was to leave the photos to essentially speak for themselves so people to will draw their own conclusions about the subject matter. Neither Baichwal nor Burtynsky wanted to make a political statement about man’s impact on the planet, and neither wanted to preach about how individuals should react to the idea of people forever changing the face of the Earth.

Burtynsky and Baichwal expand the subjects behind the photos, providing video which documents things like workers in a Chinese factory as they toil on an assembly line. They hope to provide a furthering of the context of Burtynsky’s photos to enable the viewer to react however they will. However, a key component is left out. They have forgotten the crucial elements of hindsight and foresight. There are no images of these areas as they stood before the landscape was remanufactured by human development. Nor are there projections (or updates, given the time lapse between shooting and this release) for the future of the landscapes. Thus, for those unfamiliar with the geographic region, part of the mission is lost. Burtynsky’s photos remain works of art, but there is a distance between viewer and subject that does not need to exist.

Manufactured Landscapes (Blu-ray) feels like it’s missing a piece. The idea was to show what is, while allowing for rumination on what has been and what will come. Yet the failure to include either of those elements in this film cuts the noble notion off at the knees. What remains are truly beautiful pictures, without a doubt, but the desire for more of a reaction is restricted to that of the pictures as art.

The video portions are at times some of the worst I’ve seen anywhere, as if the feed was overlaid with static. The palette has some rich blacks but otherwise is surprisingly pale. The audio is way more than it needs as most of the film is silent.

The special features are hit and miss. On the hit side are the interviews with Burtynsky and Baichwal, along with the segment featuring cinematographer Peter Mettler (The End of Time). Burtynsky and Baichwal have a definite idea for what they want this film to do yet they contradict themselves somewhat. It’s an interesting piece. The miss goes to the extended scenes. There was definitely a reason they were shortened so go ahead and skip them.

Speaking of skipping it, that’s my recommendation for the film as a whole, too. I honestly got more out of just looking at Burtynsky’s photos than I did combining them with video. It’s an admirable notion to try and expand one medium into another, but it missed the mark. If you’re a fan of Burtynsky, seek out his photos. Manufactured Landscapes (Blu-ray) does not delve into the whys and hows of the man behind the pictures, nor does it offer a comprehensive look at the effects of globalization.

THE VERDICT

Guilty.

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