Mike D'Angelo’s review published on Letterboxd:
[Originally written on my blog.]
Wow, Man The Despoiler shows up way earlier than I'd remembered—only 18 minutes in. I'd thought the nature-to-civilization ratio was more or less 1:1. Honestly, though, I can't say I much care what environmental/ecological/Hopi-ass thesis this film is trying to push, as the footage is so mesmerizing that it renders ideology irrelevant. Even if you're the sort of person who's happiest alone in the wilderness, you can't deny that the 20-minute time-lapse aria showcasing humanity's teeming masses renders our mundane lives intensely beautiful; nighttime freeway shots in particular are just breathtaking, with headlights and taillights producing different-colored contrails in opposite lanes. And while I've owned and enjoyed Philip Glass' score for at least 25 years, hearing it again alongside the images it was meant to complement really confirmed its allusive power—"The Grid" can sound overbusy on its own, but perfectly captures e.g. the jittery high-speed hand movements of a little blond kid at a Defender machine. (Embarrassing confession: I was so young when I first encountered this film that I thought the track "Pruit Igoe" must be some Eskimo reference—I guess the words reminded me of "Inuit" and "Igloo." Only much later did I find out about the Pruitt-Igoe housing project, and only now do I see that its demolition appears in the movie. Still not sure where the second 't' in 'Pruitt' went, though.) Not everything compels—some of the early nature footage just looks like typical establishing shots for an outdoor adventure, and I'm not convinced there's any purpose to repeated portraits in which the subjects stare impassively at the camera for an uncomfortably long time—and the unmistakable implication that we should be recoiling from what we're being shown can make the less eye-popping stretches feel a bit tiresome. Overall, though, it's a singular experience, and a welcome reminder of how enormous our tiny home in the universe can seem.