Racing Extinction


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Documentary charts the problems of mass extinction.
"It's as if we're being asked, once again, to believe that rock n' roll will really save the world." | Photo: Oceanic Preservation Society

It's no secret that, in the Anthropocene Age, we are facing a major extinction event; we could lose half the species currently present on Earth within the next few decades. Some people deny it; they're not the sort of people who are likely to go and see a film like this anyway. Others feel deep concern but are not in the least bit sure what to do about it. These are the people Louie Psihoyos is trying to reach, though he may not be going about it in the most practical way. This isn't a film about planting a more bee-friendly garden or putting solar panels on your roof; it's aimed squarely at convincing people to become committed eco activists.

Psihoyos' approach is to try and make activism glamorous, to make it exciting to the young. The film is full of dynamic feature journalism, sting operations which involve genuine risk but hype it up in a way that feels uncomfortably self-conscious and depletes its impact. Like his previous venture, The Cove, it's painfully twee in places and overloaded with sentiment, which is a shame because, again like that film, it contains material that would be very strong if not hampered in this way. Viewers should be aware that there are some very distressing scenes, all justified by context.

Copy picture

The biggest problem with the film is the way it leaps around from one subject to another with a lot of odd tangents and not much sense of structure. Yes, it's trying to cover a big subject, but others have done so much more successfully. Its strongest work is in oceanography, Psihoyos' own subject, and it would have done much better to concentrate on that. The final scenes, focused on a big publicity stunt, achieve the wow factor but feel rather empty - it's as if we're being asked, once again, to believe that rock n' roll will really save the world.

Where Racing Extinction does succeed is with its stunning nature photography, especially in the underwater scenes. It's a testament to the work of some of the very best National Geographic photographers, and perhaps the film deserves to be seen for that reason - after all, with Rupert Murdoch now in charge, they're in danger of going extinct themselves.

Reviewed on: 22 Nov 2015
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Documentary charts the problems of mass extinction.

Director: Louie Psihoyos

Writer: Mark Monroe

Starring: Elon Musk

Year: 2015

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US, UK, Mexico, Hong Kong, China, Indonesia


Sundance 2015

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