Documentaries have a two-fold issue to confront as movies: is the subject interesting and is it presented in an engaging way? Planet of the Humans has an interesting subject but its presentation? That’s where it falls on its face.
Planet of the Humans, produced by provocateur Michael Moore, asks some hard questions about the green energy movement. Director Jeff Gibbs, a long-time collaborator with Moore, has been following different green energy ventures for years and the documentary is a culmination of everything he’s investigated over the last two decades.
His conclusions are not pretty. Gibbs digs deeply into how many outlets of alternative energy still rely on fossil fuels and even continue to prop up fossil fuel endeavors like coal and natural gas. Gibbs also looks at how corporate interests have capitalized on green energy for less than noble reasons. Planet of the Humans is on a mission to look at green energy with a critical eye, but it comes from a place of wanting alternative energy to be a viable and permanent replacement to fossil fuels. As far as the intentions behind the documentary, they are well-meaning and it’s good to see a subject like green energy get picked apart with a fine-toothed comb.
However, when it comes to how it relays that information to the viewer, Planet of the Humans is a snore. It makes sense that it debuted on YouTube because it’s about as engaging and well-constructed as most amateur documentaries YouTubers put together on their own. Gibbs’s narration is dead in the water, giving the whole doc a sleepy feeling that does the subject material a disservice.
With Michael Moore’s name attached to Planet of the Humans, there was an expectation that this would carry the same over-the-top tone of his documentaries. Regardless of their political feelings, Moore’s films understand the importance of entertainment and smart filmmaking decisions in regards to getting audiences onboard with their subjects. Gibbs’s film has none of that flair, creativity, or even an attempt at shocking the audience through filmmaking. Gibbs believes the material is enough on its own.
And it should be. While Planet of the Humans is a slog, the material it’s exploring is important. Though Gibbs is all about critiquing instead of looking for solutions, it’s still vital to take a deeper look at these green energy ideas before just blindly following them. Unfortunately, his way of displaying these findings is outright boring. Whether it’s tons of sourced news footage or low production interviews, things never grab your attention. Even slight attempts at energetic presentation like a montage about how minerals get mined and refined can’t inject the necessary energy into the proceedings.
If Gibbs could have found a stronger narrative throughline or a specific character to take through these issues, Planet of the Humans could have the filmmaking impact that its subject material has. As it stands, it plays like a documentary your science teacher would’ve put on in high school so that they could catch up on grading some papers. It will put some of its viewers to sleep, most will outright ignore it, and maybe one person will take it to heart. That’s not enough of an impact with material like this.