Sunday, May 20, 2012

"One Day on Earth"

 4.5 / 5 

Full disclosure: The director of "One Day on Earth" is a former co-worker, who provided me a complimentary DVD copy of the film, and my name is listed in the "Special Thanks" section of the film's end credits.  I've done my best to not let that affect my views, though I find the film easy to recommend.

One Day on Earth began as a concept, an experiment to see if it was even possible to get film and video footage from every country in the world, shot on a single day.  But just ask Gun Van Sant, who wanted to see if it was possible to remake a Hitchcock film shot for shot using the original script -- movies made from experiments often don't turn out well.

So it's a small revelation that One Day on Earth is a stunning film, a movie made with craft and artistry that doesn't have a linear plot, but nevertheless tells a strong and compelling story with flair and style.

Director Kyle Ruddick conceptualized One Day on Earth, and two people, Michael Martinez and Mark Morgan, are credited as editors -- along with hundreds of other contributors, who have worked in concert to pull off a spectacular cinematic feat, culling thousands of submissions into a coherent vision.

By contrast, longtime filmmaker Ridley Scott and noted director Kevin MacDonald devised a similar project called Life in a Day, piecing videos submitted on YouTube.  The result was tedious and obvious, like being subjected to 90 minutes of home movies from people you don't know.  While there were moments of undeniable humanity, Life in a Day took its title far too literally, including a five-minute montage of people brushing their teeth and peeing in the morning, and an interminable six-floor ride up a parking-garage elevator.  There may be beauty in the mundane, but Life in a Day didn't find it.

One Day on Earth soars.  There are mundane things here, like a woman and her little girl on a blanket in a park, but they're brought together in astonishing ways. This film benefits from a clear vision, a desire to prove, as the song says, it's a small world.  Helpfully, NASA contributed footage of the docking of a Soyuz capsule to the International Space Station, offering a view of our quiet, still planet from above.

With 3,000 hours of footage shot in every country (including North Korea and the South Pole), One Day on Earth could have been a visual cacophony, but instead there are many moments of artistry and ambition, and the movie is edited with precision, care and style from that crazy-quilt of submissions, each shot on the same day: Oct. 10, 2010 (or, colloquially, 10/10/10).

The movie takes care to let the viewer always know where a shot took place, a small detail that Life in a Day overlooked but that makes a huge difference.  And, most importantly, One Day on Earth smartly divides itself into thematic segments -- birth, love, war, youth, marriage, animals, etc. -- which means although there is no plot and very little dialogue, the pace rarely flags. If One Day on Earth is a bit long in the end, it's a forgivable excess; there's a lot to tell.

Interspersed throughout are facts that serve as segment dividers but also lend remarkable perspective: How many people were born, how many died, how many married, how much money ($172 billion) was spent, how much was produced -- and how much was wasted -- on that single day.  There's every reason to anticipate boredom in a film "project" like this, so it's an honest surprise that the movie is as good as it is and offers unexpected pleasures, especially a standout sequence about music around the world.

One Day on Earth never preaches, but patiently allows the mind to wander, to make our own connections, relate the images to our own view of the world, our unique, individual experiences.  There is, at times, great sadness and regret on display, but not exploitation.

One Day on Earth is equal parts Animal Planet, Koyaanisqatsi, MTV, Fantasia and even 2001, but for a concept at once so simple and almost academic, it's has a genuine voice. The makers of One Day on Earth have an infectious, endearing affection for this odd little planet we live on.  Immerse yourself in their view of the world, and so will you.

Viewed on DVD -- May 18, 2012

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