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Review: ‘Anthropocene: The Human Epoch’ delivers a powerful warning of a world in decline

Elephant Tusk Burn, Nairobi National Park, Kenya, ‘Anthropocene: The Human Epoch’
Elephant tusks are burned in Kenya’s Nairobi National Park, as seen in the documentary “Anthropocene: The Human Epoch.”
(Anthropocene Films Inc. / Kino Lorber)

A movie thousands of years in the making, “Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” takes cameras to where our consumptive need has most alarmingly re-engineered the planet. It’s also, in many ways, a document of a spiritual/environmental undoing.

Filming across a dozen countries, Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky continue the visual breadth of their previously observed warning shots about the scope of progress (“Manufactured Landscapes,” “Watermark”) with a reflective tour of excavation, industry and decimation that argues we’ve already moved into a new geological epoch owned entirely by us.

Dotted with alarming facts delivered in gravely intoned voice-over by Alicia Vikander, “Anthropocene” finds the terrible awe in town-destroying terraforming projects in Germany worked by earthmovers of “Mad Max”-like magnitude, the sweeping wretchedness of a city-sized African landfill scavenged by thousands of the poor working alongside sickly looking pelicans, and what the acid-caused bleaching of coral reefs looks like via time lapse photography.

Artfully composed vérité meant to confound and disturb as it gives eye-in-the-sky views of belching factories, hacked forests and vast lithium-extraction ponds while occasionally crashing to earth for a brief testimonial from an affected human, the film isn’t the most cohesive look at startling global transformation. It’s strongest, however, as a dizzying, dimensional tour of scale and time, forcing us to wonder how a sense of earth-centric balance can be restored.

'Anthropocene: The Human Epoch'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: Sept. 25, Laemmle; Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m., Aero Theatre, Santa Monica
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