Sundance Channel // 2007 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 5th, 2008
A hero of the 21st century.
Bottles, milk cartons, jars, and cans. These are things that can be recycled. Beyond recycling these items and using them for various craft projects, there's not a whole lot else you can do, right? That's not the opinion of conservationist Michael Reynolds, who is determined to recycle all of these items himself. He thinks that all of this trash can be used for architectural purposes, and has created numerous homes out of old junk. Some folks think old Michael is just a crazy extremist, but that's not going to sway him one bit. Michael is just going to keep on building houses out of beer cans. In fact, he has been living in a house made out of beer cans for 27 years. There is no heating or cooling system, but Michael and his wife are okay with braving the rough temperatures. He's helping out the world.
While I wouldn't necessarily recommend Michael's plan for the average human being, I do have some admiration for the man. He has a genuine passion for saving the planet, and he is willing to make personal sacrifices in order to make the world a little bit better. He has to endure some very cold winters, and his home is really kind of ugly from a purely cosmetic standpoint. Michael brags about the beauty of individual portions of his homes but, I don't know, they're more or less eyesores. Additionally, I have serious doubts about the strength and durability of homes (um, Michael demands that we call them "earth ships") made out of beer cans mortared together. Anyway, if Michael and his pals are bold enough to try such things, more power to them. I'll keep sticking my cans into the little green bin for now.
The point of this review is not to determine whether are not Michael's architectural ideas are valid, but whether his story is interesting enough to serve as the subject of a feature-length documentary. I'm going to have to say no. Sure, the material is initially intriguing, but the film wanders as if it's trying to fill time. Obviously director Oliver Hodge wants people to know about this guy and his wild idea, but Michael Reynolds just isn't terribly interesting. He's a typical good-natured hippie with some well-intentioned and slightly flawed ideas about architecture. But he just isn't compelling enough to carry a film like this. As an environmental film, it lacks the urgency and fascination of An Inconvenient Truth. As a character study, Reynolds lacks the urgency and fascination of someone like Timothy Treadwell.
Garbage Warrior is not completely without merit, though. The midsection of the film is particularly intriguing, as it centers on Reynolds' legal battles with county government officials. Michael breaks numerous rules and laws in the construction of these homes, and his architect license is stripped away. Michael finds this exceptionally exasperating: "Officials and their rules, man. Rules were made to be broken. We got lots of people who can't see any bigger than the rulebook, and beyond the rulebook is global warming."
Even the interesting portions of the film suffer from poor direction -- or rather, a lack of direction. Garbage Warrior is practically crying out for some tighter editing and a stronger sense of narrative. Instead, the film just kind of wanders slowly from place to place, without any real rhythm or structure. It's not exactly 87 minutes of raw footage, but it could be a lot sharper than it is. I also have another small disappointment. This is the sort of film that might inspire some interesting conversation about recycling and conservation among middle-schoolers. Unfortunately, the film is quite foul-mouthed, making it inaccessible to younger viewers.
Another unfortunate fact is that the transfer here is pretty crummy. There is very little detail, as much of the footage is blurry and somewhat unfocused. There is a good deal of color bleeding, and a the darker scenes tend to be very murky. Audio is similarly mediocre, with a bit of distortion and notable lack of sharpness. The nature-themed score by Patrick Wilson is frankly uninteresting, and it can't seem to decide whether it wants to be subtle or obtrusive. In terms of supplements, we get a few deleted scenes and a brief conversation with Michael Reynolds and Oliver Hodge. There are lots of good intentions here, but I recommend passing on Garbage Warrior.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Sundance Channel
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site