'Wetlands' More Promotion than Documentary
by James Bates
Los Angeles Times
April 24, 1999 -- p. F-11
The opening moments of "The Last Stand: The Struggle for
Ballona Wetlands" tell you everything you need to know about
where it's headed when you hear Joni Mitchell singing, "They
paved paradise and put up a parking lot," from her song "Big
This is billed as a documentary, but it's really an infomercial.
The transparent purpose of "The Last Stand" is to promote
the position of opponents of the Playa Vista development where
DreamWorks SKG (director Steven Spielberg, Hollywood executive
Jeffrey Katzenberg and mogul David Geffen) plans to build a studio.
Unfortunately, it's also largely about promoting themselves.
And that's why it ultimately fails.
Which is too bad. The frustration of the piece is that when
it does touch on an important issue that television might handle
creatively--land use issues surrounding such a large development,
whether really wealthy people should get tax breaks for developing
projects or whether restoring a wetlands is better or worse than
simply leaving it alone--"The Last Stand" deteriorates
into a narcissistic home movie about marches and protests. You
get the feeling you're in the living room of Woodstock veterans
watching videos from their summer vacation of protest.
See the lady in the frog outfit talk about her anti-DreamWorks
performance art. See actor Martin Sheen help put a chain around
a door belonging to the developer. See a guy's microphone get
shut off at a city council meeting.
What attempts there are to get across any other side of the
story, particularly the job-creation issue championed by local
unions, are patronizing. Those who support that side are made
either to look sleazy or misguided.
There's also a hit-and-run aspect to "The Last Stand"
that makes one feel as if one main purpose is to settle scores--notably
with rival environmental groups that support Playa Vista and Councilwoman
Ruth Galanter, who Playa opponents believe are sellouts. There
is only the most feeble of attempts to be fair in telling other
sides of the story.
The final chapter of the documentary, narrated by actor Ed
Asner, is titled "Solutions." Here's one: Next time
let PBS' "Frontline" handle the job.
James Bates covers entertainment for The Times Business section
and has covered DreamWorks' efforts to build a studio.