The documentary “Aftermath: Population Zero” ponders what the earth would be like if humans suddenly disappeared. It promotes the theme of the interconnectedness of human life and nature. Multiple times, the documentary emphasizes the fact that humans are so dependent on nature. To the point where we control the force of nature to serve our needs until it reaches the issue of global warming. But unlike humans, nature is not dependent on human life as it can sustain itself and go through positive changes without us. Thus, the purpose of this film is to remind us how disruptive our lifestyle could be toward other beings such as plants and animals.
The knowledge and information presented in the documentary are factual and align with the actual history of the earth. It supports and could be used as examples of the theories learned in this term’s Individual and Societies class. One of the examples mentioned in the documentary is the landform of the Colorado River that has been manipulated by humans to be used as a hydroelectric power plant, known as the Hoover Dam (History.com, 2020). This Dam causes the river flow to be not as heavy compared to how it was before. The change in the river flow affects the topography of the canyon that surrounds it, and it further proves human activities impact the environment.
Despite the constant inquiry of what the whole earth would be like if we disappear, the documentary only focuses on the northern hemisphere countries. The setting only centered around the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and some other major European countries. Meanwhile, other regions such as Australia, as well as South American, Asian, and African countries were not mentioned in the film.
This is a missed opportunity for the screenwriters to introduce more geographical landforms and wildlife/biological diversity that may respond differently to human activities. Especially considering that the top 10 biodiverse countries on earth are mainly from Asia, Africa, and South America (Buttler, 2016). Having these countries go unnoticed and choosing to only focus on European and North American countries might reveal the film’s screenwriter’s eurocentric bias. When this eurocentric bias is enforced—whether accidentally or on purpose—into the documentary, it not only shows the screenwriter’s ignorance of the global context of environmental issues but also reduces the amount of information & knowledge that could be fit into the film.
Another element of the documentary that could be criticized is the film’s direction and production value. While the production of the animation itself looks very realistic and accurately mimics the ambiance of a post-apocalyptic world, the problem lies in its narration. The narration and plot of the documentary film are too repetitive as it gradually moves to a longer and longer period after humans disappeared; 3 days, 1 week, 10 months, 10 years, 1 century, etc. While the concept is interesting, it quickly gets boring when it is forced into a one-and-a-half-hour film. It is worsened by the monotone narrative voice and similar-looking scenes of animals or plants being repeated over and over again which makes the plot seem to go slower than it is.
In its current state, the documentary film might not be interesting to most young people. One possible solution would be to change the format of the film documentary into a Netflix-style documentary show. It means that the documentary could be divided into smaller chunks, around 20 minutes per episode, to explore each time period after humans disappeared. The shorter duration for each episode would make it easier for the viewer to retain the information. It would also give the screenwriter more opportunities to delve deeper into each time period and how it could happen in different parts of the world aside from the northern hemisphere countries. Interview scenes with related experts could also be added to the documentary to add to the reliability of the facts and the variety of the scenes.
Besides some of the weaknesses such as a lack of geographical and biological diversity and the narration being too long, the documentary “Aftermath: Population Zero” is still very informative and gives a new perspective on how humans have been negatively affecting the planet. It taught the viewers how resilient nature is and how much we humans need to appreciate and protect nature more as we rely so much on it. Small but meaningful actions that everyone could do to help protect nature could start as small as recycling household waste or switching to eco-friendly products. Because all in all, what this documentary taught us is that any of our positive or negative actions, no matter how small, could have a widespread impact if done by millions of others.
Notes: This essay is written for my Individual & Societies class summative assessment in the 2nd semester of Year 10, when we were learning about geography and how it was affected by human activities.