It seems like we're always hearing that the clock is ticking on the planet -- and with good reason. The situation is, in fact, dire: From carbon emissions, to hunting, to the consistent (and consistently overlooked) damage to our oceans, human beings' effects on the planet are intimidating to confront, let alone dismantle.
Yet the urgency -- and horrifying reality of what's at stake if we don't take action -- often gets lost in the panicked translation.
That's the message behind "Racing Extinction," a documentary premiering on the Discovery Channel on Dec. 2 about "the most important story in the last 65 million years" -- that is, the threat of mass extinction. We're racing against the clock, but there's still time save the day.
"The idea is to not just inform people but that it's up to us to prevent it," the film's director Louie told MTV News. "This time we're the meteor, but we can change the direction just by making small changes."
We "human meteors" are staring down a chance at a redemption arc worthy of any blockbuster, but far too often, Psihoyos said, the dry packaging of environmental information doesn't get through to people. He's hoping the fast-paced nature of "Racing Extinction" might change that.
"The movie itself is a thriller, it doesn't feel like a documentary. To me it's more of a Bond movie than a documentary," Psihoyos said, and he's not wrong; the doc includes a freakin' Bond car, as well as impressive feats such as busting a crooked restaurant that was selling illegal whale meat.
Young people are the real heroes of this story
Psihoyos said that by the time today's teenagers become grandparents, the majority of the damage will be done: "This generation coming up is the only one on the planet that can stop it. ... Don't listen to the old people. The paradigms have changed. You can make a change."
Producer Fisher Stevens added, "I tell [Psihoyos] all the time we're in our 50s and we feel grateful to be alive in this time, that we can at least try to stop the madness. We got to live on this great, beautiful planet -- but we have to keep it great."
The activism of the 21st century may have all the right tools to do that. Citing a moment in the film in which the filmmakers teamed up with artist Travis Threlkel to project the faces of several endangered species onto the face of the Empire State Building, Stevens said this kind of hyper-visual modern protest can really make an impact.
The humongous, glowing faces weren't cheap (costing a cool million, according to the New York Times), but they worked in tandem with another prominent tragedy in the animal kingdom -- the much mourned death of Cecil the Lion -- to capture the hearts and attention of the world. The events, which Stephens called a "crazy synergy," had the images of these animals trending on Facebook and Twitter for days.
"Science shows you can't change [people's] behaviors with what they think, their intelligence -- you have to change it based on what they feel," Psihoyos said. "People can sympathize with one animal easily.
The idea of a mass extinction can be overwhelming to illustrate. It's hard to fathom the kind of major changes going down on such a large planet and it's sometimes difficult to stir up the kind of emotional response needed to see real change.
That's why Psihoyos said there's power in the small, poignant moments throughout the film -- the small images, small actions and small but impactful emotions.
He describes one of the more somber, heart-wrenching moments of the film: A male songbird -- the last of his species that mates for life -- performs one half of its ritual mating duet, singing its little heart out to a mate that doesn't exist anymore, and will never exist again.
"You hear the last male of a species singing for a female that's never going to come," Psihoyos said, "and you think this is a science fiction nightmare playing out on a grand scale -- but it first gets your heart."