Disinformation Company // 2009 // 76 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // August 7th, 2010
From the producers of Who Killed The Electric Car? and I.O.U.S.A.
Tapped has a bone to pick with you, Mr. Average American. Like tens of millions of your countrymen, odds are good you've been buying plastic bottles of water. If so, Tapped would like you to please knock it the hell off, because you're destroying the entire world. For the next 80 minutes, this film is going to go into excruciating detail about all the reasons in which you suck.
The bottled water industry in America is a multi-billion dollar business, and demand is increasing steadily. Private corporations set up shop in local communities, leeching massive quantities of municipal water for pennies on the dollar, pouring it into some PET bottles and selling it back to the same community at a frightening 1,900 percent markup. Tapped explores the ethical, financial, and ecological impact of the beverage industry from numerous angles: the sustainability of freshwater as a resource, the privatization of water as a commodity, the toxic effects created to manufacture the petroleum byproducts used to make plastic water bottles, and the ever-increasing dumping of plastic bottles into our ecosystem. America -- and the rest of the world -- may be heading towards a water crisis.
Assembled from a hodgepodge of interviews, stock footage, and lamenting shots of recessed lakes, asphyxiating fish, and trash heaps, Tapped fires out condemnation like a loaded cannon, hurling righteous indignation with aplomb and gusto at the beverage industry, the oil industry, local governments, state governments, federal governments, the Food and Drug Administration, lobbyists, industry groups, and even random strangers, Tapped is a firebrand of a documentary. In no uncertain terms, this film makes its message clear: water should be treated as fundamental human right, not a commodity to be bought and sold by corporations.
Selling bottled water to the public -- the very act of getting people to pay for a product essentially available for free -- just might be the biggest advertising coup ever perpetrated. From afar, you have to admire the sheer audacity of it. The more you think about it with your brain, the sillier it sounds. Go back fifty years and pitch the idea to the chain-smoking Mad Men boys, and they'd laugh you right out of the office. Yet today, advertisement and marketing has convinced the public at large that bottled water is safe, while in contrast, tap water is a cesspool of disease and filth. In actuality, the opposite is true; the beverage industry is not government regulated in terms of safety, while municipal sources (tap water) go through rigorous and strenuous testing. By bottling at a municipal source and selling only within the same state, the beverage industry circumvents FDA requirements, allowing self-regulation.
Much of Tapped seems crazy at first glance. In North America, most of us take water completely for granted. We assume we have plenty to go around. It comes out of our taps for pennies on the gallon. Yet the facts and figures brought up during the course of this film are shocking. Tapped argues that our consumer shift towards consuming water in plastic bottles has created a serious paradigm shift, putting control of a key resource into the hands of private corporations which only have financial interests at heart. And then there's the plastic. The staggering waste of plastic bottles in landfills and oceans is terrifying to behold. With over half of Americans lacking access to curbside recycling services and industry lobbyists fighting to prevent plastic water bottles from being included in container deposit legislation, most plastic bottles in America end up in the trash. The environmental impact is incalculable.
Where Tapped gets a bit off track and overextended is dragging the oil industry into the picture. Since PET plastic, the material used to make most plastic bottles for individual sale in the beverage industry is made from petroleum byproducts, Tapped tries to extend the logic full circle by showing footage of sickly people living in the shadows of a petroleum processing facility in Corpus Christi, Texas, blaming their ill fate on America's consumption of water. This guilt by association is a bit of a stretch for a film with as many facts and figures at its disposal as Tapped has. Yet, we spend almost an entire second act examining this element, even dragging the much-beleaguered Bisphenol A (BPA) into the mix.
In the end, Tapped makes a compelling argument, but seems to enjoy the argument too much. The producers go through the motions of objectivity, interviewing talking heads from plastics and beverage industry groups. This "objectivity" lasts exactly five seconds. Tapped then spends the next 20 minutes lambasting and humiliating the people foolish enough to dare contradict its point by lobbing impossible questions at them, showing every agonizing second of their discomfort on camera. I wish more films felt confident enough in their subject matter to truly explore the flip side of the coin, to give audiences a semblance of decision making. This is as one-sided of a documentary as I can recall in recent memory, a personification of the "you're either with us or against us" mantra, except that being "against" Tapped essentially makes you a planet killer.
Tapped sports a handsome if unremarkable anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are slightly saturated, detail level is average, black and white levels are reasonable. As with most documentaries, stock footage clips and other archival material vary in quality, but overall, Tapped has a clean, no-nonsense look perfectly befitting a relatively low-budget documentary shot in HD. In terms of audio, we get a pleasing 5.1 Dolby Digital treatment with clear dialogue and moderate bass response. The rear channels get some action, but nothing particularly exciting -- it is after all a documentary, so we basically get music only in the rear.
We get about 25 minutes of extra material in the form of seven small featurettes: "Central Valley and Agriculture," "Chemicals in the Water," "Infrastructure," "OC Water (Sewer Water Treatment," "Oil and Water," "Privatization," and "World Water Crisis." In typical documentary style, these short features are essentially deleted scenes -- interviews and material that didn't make the theatrical cut. While not exactly an extra feature, Tapped practices what it preaches in the packaging department -- the case is made from recycled plastic and cardboard and comes with a coupon for a stainless steel canteen.
If you believe Marshall McLuhan was right when he said the medium is the message, then most documentaries distributed by The Disinformation Company have the consistent message of an indignant punch in the face from an angry protestor. Tapped is a film angry at its audience for allowing the state of affairs to get so damaging, and wants you to get angry about it too. If you get angry, then the film is a success. Anything less, and you earn that punch in the face.
I agree with the film's premise. I detest purchasing water in plastic bottles. As I type this, I am sipping greedily from a Kleen Kanteen stainless steel water bottle. And yet I found myself disinterested and agitated at the caustic fury of its narrative. It turned me right off the film. There is too much righteousness, anger, and outrage to have an objective conversation here. It hurts the credibility of the film as a documentary. I prefer these kinds of films to be fair and balanced, not so blatantly one-sided.
If you are uninitiated into the world of water management and plastics recycling, Tapped is an eye-opening film, even if it does resemble a recruiting video for grassroots activism more often than an objective documentary. Anger issues aside, the issue facing our society of how we handle water management is as poignant and pressing an issue as any documentary topic you will see this year.
Tapped is a one-sided but strong call to arms. For the curious, this is a very strong rental title.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Disinformation Company
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site