More Gore At The Movies

2 comments March 12th, 2007at 11:15am Posted by Eli

Hopefully this is good news…

Tired of abuse by mankind, the earth is angry. Worse, the planet is out to even the score.

Audiences can expect a story along those lines when M. Night Shyamalan’s film “The Happening” reaches screens in the next year. The project, to which 20th Century Fox signed on last week, imagines a planet that is starting to act like the vigilante Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver.”

“The Happening” will not be the only big-budget studio film to test a new kind of villainy, in which the real victim is the environment, and, whatever the plot variations, the enemy is all of us. Beginning this summer and for months after, movies as diverse as the “The Simpsons Movie,” “Transformers,” a remake of “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” and James Cameron’s “Avatar” will take on environmental themes.

Dumping popular Hollywood villains of the past — drug lords, aliens, North Korean dictators, even the news media — for an environmental bête noire carries risks for studios that don’t mind frightening viewers, as long as it’s all in fun. But it also hints at the possibility of more sophisticated entertainment, and perhaps even the kind of impact that “The China Syndrome,”Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, exerted on the nuclear power industry when it came out in 1979. with

That an environmental consciousness should be slipping into the film industry’s prospective blockbusters is not surprising in an era when Al Gore and friends have picked up an Oscar (and hefty box-office returns) for their global-warming documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and when the debate it fed has largely slipped its partisan moorings.


While acknowledging the delicacy of making all of us somehow responsible for villainy — will viewers squirm at the notion of humanity as a monster? — Jon Landau, who is producing the film with Mr. Cameron, described the twist as a natural one. “Good science fiction plays as a metaphor for our current world,” he said.

At the same time, Mr. Landau stressed that Mr. Cameron’s lifelong approach has been to treat social lessons as secondary to entertainment. “People who see the theme will get an important message” as something of a bonus, he said.

(A similar ploy succeeded in “The Day After Tomorrow,” Roland Emmerich’s 2004 thriller that initially generated controversy with its climate-change theme, but did well for Fox.)

An environmentalist China Syndrome that keeps people scared after they leave the theater would be ideal, but I don’t think any of these movies are going to do that. The China Syndrome was grittily realistic enough that viewers could easily imagine it happening in real life (as indeed it almost did), while this new crop of films are escapist fantasy, and will register on the consciousness as such. They are really not all that different from the nuclear monster movies of the fifties or the man-vs-nature movies of the seventies.

Even so, they should still move the needle a little bit, and start people to thinking about the environment more than they used to. My biggest worry is that we’ll learn the wrong lesson, and start viewing the Earth as an enemy to be defeated and subjugated. Assuming we’re not already there.

Entry Filed under: Environment,Movies


  • 1. Ruth  |  March 12th, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    With you, I am hopeful that a real heightened sense of values will be promoted, but fear that there will be a downside – potential for ridiculing the ‘tree hugger’ caricature and downplaying the earth’s value. But let’s see, it could be good.

  • 2. Eli  |  March 13th, 2007 at 8:49 am

    The best outcome will be environmental values absorbed into popular consciousness, with lots of brave environmentalist heroes opposed by evil corporate exploiters and government deniers.

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