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People of Earth (2012)
Tonight's Short Presentation

PEOPLE OF EARTH (2012)

Starring: Phil Pavlosky, Ashley Hinson, Joseph Kohlhorst

Written and Directed By: Robert A. Palmer

See It Here: (currently making film festival runs)

Production Website: http://www.saygoodbyetomankind.com

The Story

We begin by looking at the desktop of someone’s Mac, for which the background image is a large UFO conspiracy style newspaper headline.  Quicktime is opened, and a video starts to play.  A guy calling himself Kurt9 (apparently played by himself) checks to see if his webcam is on, and starts to tell you what’s going to come next.  He says that it’s a video file he got anonymously via email with the subject line “This is what you’ve been looking for.”  He says that it may or may not relate to his experiences (the computer’s desktop picture leaves little doubt as to what those probably are), but that he never the less thinks it’s real and important.  After this intro, the cursor on the screen clicks over to another movie – we assume it’s the one Kurt9 was talking about – and it’s… a road trip video?  Or is it more than that?  The truth is out there…

The Rundown

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

OVERRIPE.

It was just allowed to go on for too long.


Pairs Well With...

BUD LIGHT.

I cannot imagine the people in that car having any better taste than a fridge full of Bud Light, and that’s just sad.

“Don’t pull over, dude.  Dude, don’t pull over.  Don’t pull over.  Keep driving.  I’m not kidding.  Keep driving the car.”


I want to like People of Earth.  I really, really do.  I’m even its target audience.  I think that alien conspiracy movies are fun by default.  If this flick is on trial, its lawyer looks at my personality profile and begs for me to be on the jury.

And yet, whatever predispositions I might have toward liking this kind of movie, after having watched People of Earth multiple times, I cannot bring myself to like this movie.

I am quite convinced that People of Earth could and would make an excellent five and a half minute film.  The premise is interesting, the cast has talent, and what happens at the climax really is out of this world in all sorts of ways.  Unfortunately, People of Earth is a sixteen and a half minute film.  A very long, very unfocused, and occasionally annoying sixteen and a half minute film.

Let’s start with the framework that is all of the stuff that plays out on the Mac, which is completely unnecessary.  I’d be able to buy into it if there was some kind of payoff to having it there – after all, conspiracy stuff is fun – but there isn’t one.  You see the intro speech from the conspiracy theorist, the “found video” plays, and then you see the cursor click to quit Quicktime, and a line from the intro speech replays without anyone needing to click anything.  That makes for nothing substantial on the back end.  Payoff value: zero.  Instead, the computer screen framework is betrayed for what it really was in the first place, with all of its value at the front end: an introductory carrot to let the audience know ahead of time what the “found” video will end up being about, and thus an incentive to put up with the near pointlessness that is that first eleven-ish minutes of said video.  It is, in effect, a bet against the patience of the audience, and a guarantee that no matter how interesting the climax turns out to be, it will no longer have any chance to shock.  It is also a bet that backfires, and a cumbersome non-solution to a problem that would have been better solved by whacks in the editing room.

This brings us to the “found” video.  I know that many people are predisposed to eyeroll at this choice of narrative device – let’s face it, Blair Witch practically killed it out of the gate, and it’s been done to death and zombie afterlife since then – but it actually works quite well here; or would, with some chopping.  Unfortunately, most of what comes before the final two minutes-ish falls flat from two perspectives.

First, it’s just too long and too unfocused.  I understand the idea of introducing the characters and setting the scene, but this video has an intro to action ratio of more than 5:1, and precious little of that intro has any relevance whatsoever to what the audience is actually waiting for.  Instead, most of it is an aimless assembly of arguments and tangents that collectively do far less to generate any empathy for the characters than they do to generate a desire for them to just shut the hell up.  It takes less than a minute for things to degenerate into a profanity-laden “yo mama” argument, complete with Wal-Mart references and “you wanna go?” posturing.  This is not a promising beginning, folks.  And while one can at least say that it never gets any worse, it also can’t seem to stay better for long.  Just when things look to be worth watching, it turns into a bitch fest again.  The press materials for People of Earth describe this argumentative yo-yo as creating “tension [that] reaches epic proportions,” but the only tension I felt was an urge to scream “get on with the damn movie already!”  With the exception of the “yo mama” argument, any single one of these disputes coupled with a minute’s worth of sincerity and the “steal-etto” pitch (which is genuinely hilarious) would have counted as great character building and a good lead-in for what’s to come, but the entire package is just too much.  More than half of the “found” video could easily have decorated the cutting room floor, and People of Earth would have been better for it.

The second issue with the “found” video is that it suffers from way too much post-production prior to the climax (at which point it’s understood that some post-prod is in order).  This is, after all, supposed to be a raw video found in camcorder discovered on the ground next to a collection of abandoned cars.  Raw video does not get edited.  And yet, as one goes along, it quickly becomes apparent that the video does not play in chronological order and that many snippets repeat themselves.  The occasional glitch effect to disguise a cut is one thing, but virtual time travel and across-the-map repetition is another.  (Plus, People of Earth goes to the glitch well far too many times; an effect that’s supposed to add realism instead becomes very clearly unreal.)  One also comes across scenes wherein the camera suddenly changes position even though it’s supposed to be sitting quite still on the dashboard.  You know no one picked it up; it’s a clean jump cut.  And yet the dialogue plays right over the change without missing a beat.  That’s called editing, and again, that doesn’t exist in “raw” camcorder video.  (As a bonus, at this point, our intro character of Kurt9 can be called a stooge, because there’s no way this footage hasn’t been doctored.)  If a filmmaker chooses to use “raw, found” footage as a narrative device, that’s great, but then make it play as “raw, found” footage.  If the intention is to edit the hell out of it anyway, then what was the point?

The unfortunate thing is that while there really is a point, it only plays out in the last two minutes of the “found” footage, after the film has already done as much as possible to wear down the lines of patience and turn the audience off to its characters.  Suddenly, it’s all focused.  The character moments are sharp: they say and show exactly what needs to be said and shown for maximum impact; no more, no less.  (Indeed, the last time you see and hear the main characters on screen is nothing short of beautiful.)  The visual effects are excellent, the jostling of the camera becomes a great conveyor of action, and the final result is all the more powerful for the efficiency of the scene.  One can look at these last two minutes of the “found” footage and legitimately wonder how something this great could come on the heels of something which had up to that moment been so frustrating.

And then the disappointing letdown of the computer screen framework comes back into view, at which point one says “oh, yeah; that’s how.”

It’s worth noting that none of the frustration with the characters comes as a result of the people playing them.  All three actors – Ashley Hinson, Phil Pavlosky, and Joseph Kohlhorst – do a fine job with what they’re given, and make it clear that they’re capable of more when presented with the opportunity.  Any and all problems with People of Earth originate behind the scenes and in the editing room.  Sadly, that still makes for a lot of problems, and too many to overcome without a major overhaul.

Bottom line, as much as I wanted to like People of Earth – and still do, really – I just can’t.  The movie is nearly three times as long as it needs to be, and there’s way too much going on in post production that bogs down the story.  The enthusiasm of the filmmakers is apparent and commendable.  (Go ahead and look at their website to see what I mean.  They’ve developed the narrative of what’s going on in even more detail than this overlong film shows, and it has potential to be expanded into future projects.  I especially like the site’s Easter Eggs.)  However, for the purposes of the story that's being told in this short, it’s just too much.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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