Monday, March 12, 2007

The Environment Strikes Back

Well, if the environment is capable of defending itself, then what does it need me for?

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 Hollywood villains of the past — drug lords, aliens, North Korean dictators, even the news media — for an environmental bĂȘte 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,” with Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, exerted on the nuclear power industry when it came out in 1979.

Where to begin...

'The environment fighting back' is hardly a new theme. There is a genre of film called 'monster movies' that is almost entirely dependent on the idea. Godzilla and the ants from 'Them' were both created by stray radiation - and so were Spider Man, the Hulk, and a host of other movie characters.

Second, I have to chuckle at the notion that this is likely to prove a great mechanism for movie success. It didn't do much for The Day After Tomorrow, which earned $186 million at the domestic box office - nothing to sneeze at, but hardly a powerhouse. I suspect that whoever or whatever the bad guy is in a movie, it tends to be the movie overall that succeeds or fails.

Third, associating this idea with M. Night Shyamalan may be setting it up for failure. I think Unbreakable was excellent and underappreciated, and Signs was underrated. But clearly he's not the genius people thought he was after Sixth Sense, and Lady in the Water damaged his reputation. I hope that the Happening turns out to be much better.

Fourth, why doesn't Hollywood try a villain that is underused and has potential - Islamic extremists. Film makers are always saying they want to be topical and challenging. Well guess what. Islamic terrorism is both of those things, while environmental threats are trite, boring, and easy.

Read Ace as well.


Grimlock said...

Hey, how are Robots changing into giant SUV, tractor-trailers and tanks to fight on Earth an environmental message?

I am just asking.

Anonymous said...

The earth will adapt to global warming.

The people on Earth, not so much.