By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
Two thousand and six may go down in history as The Year We Got Scared. Our hearts began to break for polar bears. Al Gore was redeemed as a revolutionary. And people in polite society began to consider it heresy to question the facts about global climate change (or, for that matter, about Al Gore). Gone are the days when moviegoers happily watched floods submerge Manhattan and drove home in mobile greenhouse-gas factories known as Hummers. In the wake of two seasons of record-breaking heat from France to California, a supercharged hurricane and a movie called An Inconvenient Truth, America — and the movies — started to worry that the state of the Earth may be more dire than we know.
It can be hard to assimilate the information that the once vice president of the United States — the same man who, in his last few months in office, failed to get the United States to ratify an international agreement on carbon-dioxide reductions — has evolved into a beloved pop icon for his performance in an Oscar-winning documentary on climate change. But only in irony does a man find redemption: When An Inconvenient Truthhit the theaters last spring, at the very moment that Bush’s popularity was plunging, it made it possible to forget that Gore spent eight years in office without persuading the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants. It also made it pointless to try to remember: An Inconvenient Truthhas done too much good for the hobgoblins of small minds to niggle over Gore’s hypocrisy. If nothing else, the movie has greened entertainment culture like nothing that came before.
On the heels of Gore and director Davis Guggenheim’s success came the antidevelopment animated feature Over the Hedge; Chris Paine’s documentary on the death of General Motors’ EV1, Who Killed the Electric Car?; and Alfonso Cuar√≥n’s Children of Men, whose thinning Chekhovian forests and global infertility crisis hint at something gone wrong with the ecosphere. Then came Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, full of fears about a waste-hastened fall of civilization, and that other Oscar winner, Happy Feet, George Miller’s batty dance of the fish-deprived penguins, which, in a year less concerned about emissions, might have lost out to the less nonsensical Cars.
Those were just the relatively successful movies. Scattered among them were more small to medium-sized features and documentaries (including Hoot, Our Daily Bread, Manufactured Landscapesand The White Planet) in which, as David Ingram puts it in his book Green Screen: Environmentalism and Hollywood Cinema, “an environmental issue is raised explicitly and is central to the narrative.” Not since 1973 — when Charlton Heston declared Soylent Greenwas people, Charlotte’s Webwooed us to give up meat and Sleeperpredicted a postnuclear future overrun with McDonald’s franchises and ruled by a dictator’s nose — have our worries about our blighted home flashed before us so persistently in the theaters. Even more films starring a poisoned rebel planet are in the offing: In M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, growing green things drive humans to suicide; in James Cameron’s Avatar, set for 2009, humans pillage the solar system to compensate for their own squandered resources. Thanks to Gore, even the Oscars have gone green to the point of absurdity. (Did anyone really think Melissa Etheridge’s bludgeoning theme song was better than anything in Dreamgirls?)
But at the risk of sounding like an ingrate, I worry that there’s something unhealthy about An Inconvenient Truthleading the enviro-movie pack. There’s only one way to stop climate change, and that is to stop burning fossil fuels, stop driving cars that burn gasoline, stop burning coal in power plants and stop flying in so many airplanes. So why didn’t An Inconvenient Truth stand up and say that? Instead, in its parting advice, it offers a number of wan remedies for individuals to pursue (“Turn down the heat!”), failing to acknowledge that arresting climate change will require an enormous, coordinated effort of political will, not mere nips and tucks from individual households.
Happy Feetpromulgated a similar fool notion that the bigwigs who messed up the world will save it. The story of a multiethnic band of birds who persecute one of their ugly-duckling brethren (he was dropped as an egg!) because he lacks the pipes to sing ’70s disco with a girl bird named Gloria, the film manages to eke out a peppy message about dying oceans and depleted fisheries decimated by big-net catches that leave nothing behind for the wild things. But Happy Feetproposes a happy ending that’s hardly more useful than An Inconvenient Truth’s: If only humans knew the situation, they would spring into action in corporate rotundas around the world.
Sadly, unlike the responsible corporate bodies parodied in Happy Feet, real boards of directors generally need to be relentlessly sued and regulated before their shareholders will submit to the expense of treading more lightly on the earth. And unlike Happy Feet’s downy lead character, Mumble, real penguins are mean and smell terrible. Just as digitally realized creatures inspire in most people only a Timothy Treadwell–like environmentalism, in which species have value because we think they’re cute, our favorite enviro-movies inspire only Treadwell-like solutions: Educate the people, goes the cant, and global action in defense of the Earth and its inhabitants will follow.
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