PBS // 2005 // 336 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 27th, 2013
Six PBS documentaries to scare the bacterial bejesus out of you...
If you believe the pundits, our planet is dying. It is perilously close to allowing nature to take itself back from its less than attentive human inhabitants. It's not the fault of the animals or the passage of time. Man, and his desire to procreate and populate, has pushed the very boundaries of our existence to the point where something has to fight back. In the case of these interesting if self-serving PBS documentaries, collected under the common name Rx for Survival, diseases will be our undoing. Indeed, pandemics and the lack of legitimate medical care among nations both first and third world will end up creating catastrophe, the inability to combat these new "super bugs" the first solid step in our eventual extinction.
Of course, it's our own fault. We let non-scientific stuff like religion, politics, and superstition rule our need to vaccinate and treat the unprotected, and as we see throughout the course of this collection, there's very little one can do against a father spouting fundamentalism, or a government that sees certain outbreaks as a "sign from God." Still, we have to try, and as A-lister Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds) narrates, there are some who won't give up without a substantial fight. By putting these six films together -- Disease Warriors, Rise of the Superbugs, Delivering the Goods, Deadly Messengers, Back to Basics, How Safe Are We? -- the public TV giant hopes to answer all questions and calm all concerns while equally inspiring a significant call to arms. The end results may be a bit more mixed however.
We first face such conundrums with Warriors. Instead of meeting with friendly and open arms, these well-meaning individuals try to push possible cures on those who don't even understand the threat. They see their family members dying and just assume that death, as with life in their small part of the planet, goes on. Similarly, Superbugs sees intelligent and well-versed researches throwing their figurative hands up in the air, arguing that overexposure to antibiotics has created a Perfect Storm scenario where, one day, we won't be able to battle these monster germs. By Delivering and Messengers, it all seems so hopeless. It is here where we run into the barriers of belief, squalor, access, political and military power struggles, and the ever-present possibility that some members of our global community are impossible to save. The minute a talking head starts spouting statistics and cost, you see why things appear so dour.
Back to Basics and How Safe Are We? don't really turn things around so much as misdirect our growing unease with some interesting sidelights. The former discusses something as simple as diet and exercise and how many parts of the world don't get a sufficient amount of nutrition and/or advice on same (tell that to a Mother trying to provide for her starving children) while the latter concentrates on the problems of prevention and the early detection of possible pandemics. It's all doom, gloom, warning, welcoming reassurance, and cautionary calm, even as babies with bloated bellies belie the possibility of change. As with almost all documentaries of this type, the threat is sensationalized while any possible treatment is downplayed and diminished. We are interested in some of these doctors see the rise in superbugs, or how foreign leaders are lending a hand to their more backward counterparts, but Rx for Survival seems to stress causes and remedies that we aren't ready to embrace or just can't imagine on such a vast scale. It's the scope, not hope, that gets in the way.
Presented in an excellent HD package, Rx for Survival looks great. While PBS doesn't go out of their way when it comes to filmmaking aesthetics, the 1.78:1/1080p HD image is very nice. The colors are rich and there's some excellent detail. It appears to be an improvement over the standard DVD release. The sound situation is still pretty average, the HD format not offering much of an upgrade. Sadly, the extras all revolve around the educational aspects of this release. If you're a teacher, a fan of weblinks, or interested in what former President Jimmy Carter has to say, this is your set. There's not much else to hang your hat on.
For the most part, Rx for Survival is one of those alarmist doom and gloom presentations that has its heart in the right place and its head ready to rile you up into fits of unbridled anxiety. If we are to believe this bad news overview, the next global pandemic is not a question of "if" but "when." Nothing here will prepare us for that. It will only acts as a combination wake-up call and "I told you so."
Not guilty, but not really something you would consider as "entertainment."
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 336 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Educational Materials