December 8, 2008

"The dopiness of so-called ecotainment -- environmentally virtuous entertainment -- rises in direct proportion to its message-mongering."

Writes Scott Brown, who generally loves "movies about the environment, especially ecological-disaster flicks—oh, the hilarity!"
From the atomic-paranoia-fueled Pandora's boxes of the '50s (Them!, Godzilla) and the hapless "nature's revenge" flicks of the Love Canal era (The Swarm, Piranha) to the budget-busting disaster epic (2004's The Day After Tomorrow, best remembered for a scene in which Climate Change implacably pursues Jake Gyllenhaal), commercial attempts to put a high-minded, hortatory gloss on schlocky genre cinema are always good for a guffaw. My favorite would have to be Frogs, the 1972 "thriller" whose trailer intoned, "Suppose nature gave a war ... and everybody came?" (That's good, but it should've read, "Suppose Hollywood covered aging Oscar-winner Ray Milland in confused, nonunion amphibians ... and everybody laughed?")

75 comments:

knox said...

I enjoy these movies too. They couch the subject of anthropological global warming within the proper arena of science fiction.

Darcy said...

Oops. I thought Frogs was pretty scary! I definitely didn't laugh at Milland, who I always thought was sort of scary, too!

I don't enjoy ecotainment much, especially if I'm watching with my son. I can't laugh it because he's usually taking it all very seriously.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Was anyone unfortuante as I was to sit through M. Knight Shamalama ding dong's The Happening?

Up to the point I went to the theater to see that, I thought Shakes the Clown was by far the stupidest movie ever made.

Not anymore.

This movie was so over the top stupid with it's eco-message that it made Day After look like a well thought out documentary. I say that because Mrs. Hoosier and myself were actually laughing out loud during scenes of supposed intense suspense.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

I recently saw a preview for the new The Day The Earth Stood Still. Reeves' tremendously sucky acting made his environmental declarations sound so overly earnest, I laughed. I'm hoping the screenwriters are pulling our collective legs and it turns out that Klaatu doesn't give a shit about the environment and is distracting us while his under-funded, under-equipped, army takes over. Now that would be funny.

PS. The original movie is crap. Unfortunately it doesn't fall into the so-bad-its-really-funny category.

Darcy said...

Hoosier Daddy: I'd read about the movie and discouraged my son from seeing it because of reviews like yours. However, he managed to rent it this weekend. I did once again successfully avoid us veiwing it , but I believe he's determined. Arrgh.

On another note...I adore the movie Them! I don't care if it is ecotainment it still holds up well!

SteveR said...

Just as I have to suspend disbelief when I see movies with rockets, loudly zooming around in Outer Space, the same for Ecotainment. But they, at least, they don't pass themselves as off as documentaries, like An Inconvenient Truth.

Darcy said...

The original movie is crap.

Whoa. Loved that movie. Though pretty much anything with Patricia Neal is great entertainment for me.

I think I might have to quit reading this thread because I'm not sure I like what it is saying about me. LOL.

Jon said...

I thought the remake of TDTESS looked pretty cool from the trailers, until I saw a clip last night in which Keanu/Klaatu revealed he was here to save the planet by wiping out humans. That's just dumb. Why would aliens who cared about preserving tree frogs and such, have no qualms about destroying a civilization of intelligent beings? Why would they care about our environment at all? And it's not like the planet is actually in any danger from us anyway. The very worst global warming scenarios envision the Earth warming by a few degrees and sea levels rising by maybe a couple dozen feet, over 100 years. The aliens are prepared to journey for light-years across the inconceivable vastness of space, in order to ensure that our coastlines don't change a little? Totally ridiculous.

Original George said...

"Night of the Lepus" was the worst of that early 1970s spree....crazed giant killer bunnies. Starred Janet Leigh.

Ray Milland also starred in "Panic in the Year Zero" as a father who flees LA at dawn with his family and watches a mushroom cloud devour the city in his rear view mirror. Then his family is terrorized not by mutants but by cloth-jacketed hoodlums. (The link above takes you to "Conelrad," a site specializing in Cold War-era post-nuke flicks.)

Wired also recently reported that we will soon be inundated by post-apocalypse movies, including Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" At least eight in the next 12 months, not including the film '2012' in which a tidal wave swamps the Himalayas.

(Incidentally, the original "Day the Earth Stood Still" is great fun with a little boy showing the Jesusy "Mr. Carpenter" Washington, D.C., and teaching him about American history. Also, great scenes with Sam "Zorba" Jaffe as a Einsteinian professor astounded by the alien's intellect.)

vet66 said...

One can only hope that any manifestation of global warming caused by humans hits Beverly Hills first. Can you imagine Rodeo Drive without electricity? The Horror! The Humanity!

Come to think of it, I wonder what the ecological repercussions of silicone and plastic surgery have on the environment? How big is the carbon footprint of botox? What tax can we put on the gasbaggery of politicians and psychophantic Hollywood types who destroy our environment with films about humans engaged in destroying our environment?

I'm getting dizzy just thinking about it!

Hoosier Daddy said...

Hoosier Daddy: I'd read about the movie and discouraged my son from seeing it because of reviews like yours.

Generally I have enjoyed several of his movies, The 6th Sense, Signs and even The Village. Then he seemed to go off the deep end with Lady in the Water which is horrible and then The Happening.

The key element in most of those 1950's flicks was based upon us testing all those nukes. If it wasn't implicit such as in The Amazing Collasal Man and Them it was implied as in The Incredible Shrinking Man. But it still went back to the environment although I don't think Hollywood was trying to send a message as much as they were simplu cashing in on a new theme.

vet66 said...

I think hell just froze over. I actually viewed a snippet of President Bush kissing Barbra Streisand on the cheek at some function. Maybe he was going for the vampire kiss on her neck.

I think she actually enjoyed it. Can you brush your teeth with Purell?

Hoosier Daddy said...

One of the first movies I ever saw Ray Milland in was The Uninvited which is hands down the best damn ghost story I have ever seen. I always thought he was just a class act. Absolutely great in Beau Geste too.

Darcy said...

Oh, yes! That was a good one, Hoosier Daddy. I also liked him in The Lost Weekend and Kitty, among others. He was in at least one memorable Night Gallery episode too, that I recall.

SteveR said...

Tes, Night of the Lepus, when filmaking was at its finest

Simon said...

These movies aren't even the worst of it. The worst of it will be that there will follow, hot on their heels, a bunch of "spoof" movies after the fasion of "Meet the Spartans" and "Superhero Movie." To be sure, there used to be a time where "spoof movies" were great fun - they used to be things like "The Naked Gun" and "Airplane!" Those days are gone; don't for an instant make the mistake of thinking that the crass gunk that is labeled - mislabeled - "spoof movie" these days has anything to do with the genre as it used to exist. The people who are now churning out this trash genre need to be thrown to the ravenous bugblatter beast of traal.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthony said...

The subject matter simply resists Hollywood idiocy: Environmental problems are complex and holistic, whereas mainstream movies thrive on conspicuous good/evil dichotomies that flatter our binary human minds. To oversimplify: Nature is Gore-ville; blockbusters are Bush country.

Um, yeah, Gore and his ilk are just soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo interlecshul in their fear-mongering.

Theo Boehm said...

Jon: All that global warming is going to TOTALLY spoil Gstaad. I mean, where else in the Universe can you get that skiing, not to mention the super-hot women, the service and everything else? Global warming would melt the place!

Of course Aliens would travel hundreds of light years to save it. I hear even President Beeblebrox shows up in disguise after Christmas, a bit like the late Pope, to get a little skiing in. Aliens LOVE the place, and they're not going to let a silly thing like human economic activity spoil it.

You know, it's either the mountains or the beach for vacation, and global warming is going to spoil the beaches on Earth, too. Santraginus V is a LONG way to go to the beach, so middle-class Aliens love Earth beaches, too. Just hope the damn Vogon tourists, with their ugly caravans and umbrellas and too-skimpy shorts, don't show up.

Sofa King said...

Does Soylent Green count as ecotainment? What about Omega Man? Jurassic Park? Star Trek IV?

Are we talking about any story involving Man's hubris causing unforeseen consequences? Or is this something more specific, where "nature" "fights back?"

Freeman Hunt said...

Was anyone unfortuante as I was to sit through M. Knight Shamalama ding dong's The Happening?

Yes, and I share your sentiments. That movie was hilarious. All the shots of "menacing" trees and shrubs, chase scenes where the wind is in hot pursuit of the characters, and the ending where, for some reason, after plants have tried to murder people, everyone loves plants and has them everywhere. (Had The Happening really happened, there wouldn't be a bit of green left alive within eyesight of civilization.)

The only good part was the part with the old lady, and that had absolutely nothing to do with the main plot.

madawaskan said...

Dudes!

Could you NOT tell from the previews alone that The Happening was going to be a dud?

For chrissakes they had Mark Wahlberg running around saying-

"Whom"-and I can't even remember how-now had they had him running around in his undies....

Jeebus people!

{OK, OK-I did sit thru I think SIX hours of Lust, Caution....so umm ya,,,}

madawaskan said...

Oh ya and I sat through The Mist-

Can't even tell you what that was about except Marsha Gayharden or however you spell it chewin' up the scenery-and they actually reeled in a guy's body....or parts of it anyway-after using him as bait.

Have these people never been fishin'!?

Original George said...

Mada--

Ah, "The Mist"....

Winner of "The Worst and Most Depressing Ending of Any Movie Ever" prize.

Trooper York said...

The absolute worst movies are the ones that are hard science fiction and still contain a hideous monster.

The worst I ever saw was Exit to Eden where Rosie O’Donnell was supposed to be sexy and dressed in a black leather domantrix rig.

I still have nightmares.

Hoosier Daddy said...

chase scenes where the wind is in hot pursuit of the characters,

Yes, that was when we started laughing when Mark Wahlberg said they need to run and stay ahead of the wind.

Ah, "The Mist"....
Winner of "The Worst and Most Depressing Ending of Any Movie Ever" prize


Oh no kidding. Like no one saw THAT coming.

The worst I ever saw was Exit to Eden where Rosie O’Donnell was supposed to be sexy and dressed in a black leather domantrix rig.

Now that Trooper admitted seeing it I too can come forth and admit my guilt as well.

Trooper York said...

Hey I only rented it because of Dana Delaney. There is nothing better than an hot Irish girl who wants to degrade herself.

Trust me, that's how I spent the 1980's.

Bob said...

One might have hoped for their investors sake that Hollywood would have focused on entertaining rather than message movies. The string of box office duds on Iraq war and war on terror is pretty long.

Chip Ahoy said...

* looks up hortatory *

Freeman Hunt said...

As a connoisseur of bad filmmaking, I rate The Happening as bad enough to be funny and worth watching.

madawaskan said...

Trooper-

Dana Delaney? Obviously I don't get that...on many levels.


George-

I laughed my arse of at The Mist. It was that bad.

All Stephen King adaptations have been down hill since The Shining but being an optimist I keep getting suckered.

Speaking of which I know Valkyrie is going to suck-big time-But I'm still going to go see it...

Maguro said...

Speaking of which I know Valkyrie is going to suck-big time-But I'm still going to go see it...

Yeah, Valkyrie is going to blow. Claus von Stauffenberg is turning over in his grave now that the weirdo who jumped on Oprah's couch is going to play him on the big screen.

If he'd have known that, he probably wouldn't have even tried to kill Hitler.

Joe said...

Who dare criticize Dana Delaney? Thems fightin' words.

madawaskan said...

Maguro

Seriously-it's exactly that.

Why not-speaking of Irish I'd like to see naked-

Daniel Day Lewis, or Liam Neeson?

Instead we're going to get tthat midget.

Hell I'd even go English with Ralph Fiennes...

madawaskan said...

Joe-

Well...

You lace curtain types are hung differently, just sayin'.

Trooper York said...

Dude haven’t you been watching Dana rock it on Desperate Housewives?

Think of her full bodied Irish porcelain skin…. maybe in a full nun’s habit old school circa 1965 restraining her perky breasts ….a novice unsure of her vocation….always touching your uniform and straightening your tie…..brushing off non-existent lint …. You just reaching puberty but a six foot tall bean pole that is confused about signals….staying late after class to clap the erasers……eh…never mind…I will be right back.

PatCA said...

If you get a chance, rent 10.5! It was TV but is a pure, (I believe intentionally hilarious) classic.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0364146/

Trooper York said...

You know the movies I see in my head are always better than the movies I see on the TV.

Freeman Hunt said...

No love on the Internet for Tom Cruise. So unfair. I submit that he has never turned in a bad performance. Never. Always well-prepared; always hyper competent onscreen; always takes pride in his craft. He's been in bad movies, but they've never been bad because of him.

madawaskan said...

Dude haven’t you been watching Dana rock it on Desperate Housewives?

Look, I'll see your Dana Delaney and I'll up you a Liam or a Daniel Day

I bat for the other team.

ballyfager said...

Every cloud has a silver lining so it is said. When the evolving economic crisis gets bad enough, all this green shit will be defenestrated.

Trooper York said...

Sorry Dudette, I forgot.

But Daniel Day Lewis? Man that's one greasy dude. I don't know about that.

madawaskan said...

Freeman-
True but this is a big but-

I'm going to have to spend half of the movie saying- crap it's Tom Cruise-The Midget.

I mean come on-

Some guys have more screen presence and gavitas-

like-

Liam.

Ralph.

Daniel.

[hubba-OK damn it they're hotter...]

madawaskan said...

Trooper-

Oh I could wash him up!

madawaskan said...

Jeebus-

I gotta go get some work done...gah!

Maguro said...

No love on the Internet for Tom Cruise. So unfair. I submit that he has never turned in a bad performance.

Tom is OK when he plays to type, but he is in no way believable as a German officer. He just looks goofy with that eyepatch.

John Stodder said...

The new James Bond movie has an eco-theme, but in that one, the villain hides all his evildoing behind the facade of being a global environmental hero. And the big explosion/rescue scene at the end takes place as a fuel-cell powered hotel where the sustainable hydrogen is ignited and causes a horrific fire.

It's anti-ecotainment, although an enviro can certainly enjoy it. It's anti-greenwashing if you want to view it and keep your Sierra Club membership.

John Stodder said...

Dude haven’t you been watching Dana rock it on Desperate Housewives?

She was a kid in my neighborhood. Some time later, but before her big TV breakthrough on that show about nurses, she was filming a movie of the week at the LA mayor's office when I was working there, so I asked to see her. We had an awkward conversation, awkward on my end because she was so stunningly beautiful. I wanted to see her, but I wasn't sure what to ask her about except her parents and, "uh...do you still like gum?"

Original George said...

John--

Both my teenagers (boy and girl) have seen "Quantum." Both say it was terrible, as in one of the worst movies they've ever seen. Incomprehensible, they said.

Mada--

Don't forget "The Dead Zone" with President Jed Bartlett: "Hallelujah...Hallelujah."

Trooper York said...

So now it comes out.

John Stodder was giving the young girls in the neighborhood candy.

Dude you shouldn't talk about stuff like that on the internets. It can go on your permanent record.

Trooper York said...

Plus everybody knows you are supposed to give them cigarettes and beer.

She probably just thought you were cheap.

John Stodder said...

I guess I didn't make it clear: Dana Delaney and I are roughly the same age. If I had any candy back then, I wouldn't have given it to an icky girl, I would've eaten it myself.

Dana went to private school, so I only saw her when the kids in the neighborhood gathered to play sports or perform mischievous acts. Her parents were very wealthy. I think her grandfather invented the toilet.

hdhouse said...

He lost me at Godzilla. Read your mythology. Call me in the morning.

John Stodder said...

I had heard "Quantum" was supposed to be bad, but I liked it. Go figure. It's incomprehensible mostly during the fight scenes where the quick editing makes it hard to figure out what's happening. The same style was used in "The Dark Knight," and it didn't bother me there either.

There wasn't much sex in it. Could be that was the problem for the teenagers. When I was their age, the sex to violence ratio in Bond movies was much more balanced. In this one, he never touches the really sexy woman, and the other one is only on screen briefly for a quickie before the bad guy kills her (by drowning her in crude oil, an homage to "Goldfinger" I have to figure.)

Original George said...

John--

If you Google "Dana Delaney plumbing," your question will be answered.

The other 1980s TV vixen 'Northern Exposure' pixie Janine Turner is a descendant of the last president of the Republic of Texas.

Both from fine families.

Trooper York said...

I thought he made it pretty clear he tried to google Dana Delaney's plumbing.

Darcy said...

I liked "Quantum" too, John. Not as much as "Casino Royale", but quite a bit. It was dark and not very "gadgety", like the trend in "Casino"...I'm getting used to that. (I wonder how much this has to do with my infatuation with Daniel Craig, though. Hmm. :))

Anyway, the only disappointment was that there was no romance with the hot babe. Kind of left it sort of unfinished, I think. But maybe more realistic.

And poor oil slick chick. Wow.

(Ok, I do have a small quibble about the portrayal of CIA guys, but...I don't know, I can chalk that up to just the one guy being
an idiot. We all know those types.)

blake said...

Oil slick chick.

Went by the name Fields.

Refused to say her first name.

"Strawberry." (Per the script.)

blake said...

I enjoyed Quantum of Solace and The Mist (except for the ending), even if it's not up to Darabont's usual standards. I was clever enough to avoid The Happening though I'm looking forward to riffing it on cable.

Enviro-wackiness was really just a pretext in the '70s. Lepus, Frogs, Squirm, Phase IV, Kingdom of the Spiders, Empire of the Ants, Swarm, The Bees, etc.--for the animal-based disaster flicks--and the Irwin Allen classics for man-based and nature-based disaster flicks.

By the end of the '70s, nature was just out to get us. Movies like Meteor and When Time Ran Out not only assured us that Nature was going to kill us no matter what, but also that the disaster film had run its course.

Exiting that era you have movies like (the satirical) Piranha which parodied the genre, and (the sleazy) Humanoids From The Deep which managed to unselfconsciously turn eco-horror into traditional '50s-style horror, but with boobs. (cf. 1979's Prophecy which had a near identical eco-cause: mercury and/or other toxic waste in the water.)

Humanoids and Prophecy are the only "mesasges" I can remember: Don't dump crap in your water. (Same plot as last summer's Simpsons movie, come to think of it.)

Most of the rest of the causes are incidental. Tacked on, one might say. And the best of the bunch, Jaws, offers no explanation whatsoever.

blake said...

The Day The Earth Stood Still is classic '50s-era paranoia sci-fi, on a par with Invasion of the Body Snatchers (and actually ranked higher on IMDB). Director Robert Wise would go on to direct West Side Story and Sound of Music. (Of course, Snatcher's Don Seigel was no piker either.) Only the The Thing From Another World comes close.

Despite (or because of?) lurid titles, the '50s-era features some pretty good film-making with a pulp feel. Them! has been mentioned; I'm also fond of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers; It! The Terror From Beyond Space was the spiritual ancestor of Alien. And things were always coming at us from deep under the sea or high in the air.

Atom boms were often the culprit, or some imagined escalation, but they weren't necessary. The universe was a dangerous place.

Darcy said...

blake, did you like Quantum of Solace as much as Casino Royale?

Thanks for the tidbit about Fields. Pretty lady. I read some comments by her that she was awestruck by Craig. Said she loved kissing him. Oddly, I don't remember a kissing scene!

I really liked Forbidden Planet, speaking of old sci-fi.

veni vidi vici said...

The DVD set of 'Forbidden Planet' has a special-feature documentary about the atomic-age sci-fi paranoid films, with comments/interviews of Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron and others. It is very interesting, with lots of great snippets of all those nuke-testing-paranoia-effect-on-nature films of the era.

veni vidi vici said...

The best part of the old Day the Earth Stood Still is when the boy takes Klaatu to the Lincoln Monument, particularly Klaatu's overwhelmed reaction to the inscription ("a GREAT MAN wrote those words...").

I'm not expecting anything nearly as enlightened or enlivened as that from the Ken Reeves remake.

Darcy said...

veni: Thanks for that. I have a few people on my list that would love that DVD set.

sonicfrog said...

Here's a good ecotainment movie - "The Road Warrior", and it's prequil, "Mad Max" the un-dbbed version. It's post apocalyptic fun. i think I would include "Silent Running" - the Bruce Dern one - on the list.

Now for the not so fun apocalyptic bombs:

Waterworld.
The Happening
TDAT
Inconvenient Truth (this belongs)

... the ending Of "Volcano" really was stupid.

My favorite cheesy eco-movie would be "Slugs"

The tag line was:
"The Slime. They Ooz. THEY KILL!"

OK. I never saw the movie. But just the thought of slugs killing people... One death would consist of a girl screaming for a few hours, then watching for days as the slugs devour the victim at a snails pace!

blake said...

Darcy--

No, Q of S was not--Casino is really a masterpiece. This one lacked a lot of the first one's edge and "realism". Bond is not really supposed to be the strongest, the smartest, the fastest--at least I don't think so. If he's a superlative, it's charming, clever and/or ruthless. Maybe even lucky. And certainly tough.

Solace had him a little too super-powered, and detracted from the realism with too many far-fetched situations.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed it, and I don't think I'll be embarrassed by that 30 years from now (cf. Moonraker). But it's not on the same plane as Casino.

And, yeah, Craig makes a really good Bond. He's got the right combination of charisma and borderline-psychotic.

blake said...

Sonic--

My top 10 post-Apocalypse films. I wouldn't put Max Max on there because I much prefer the sequel.

And, I'm pretty sure I've seen Slugs or parts of it. As I recall, the real problem was creating menace with the slow moving, highly-vulnerable creatures. Much like Squirm you end up with people off-screen unloading buckets of invertebrates onto hapless would-be actors. (Suzanne Somers in Squirm, if memory serves.)

blake said...

Oh, and I enjoy Volcano. Not because it's a good movie but because who doesn't want to see a volcano come up through Wilshire?

sonicfrog said...

Blake, I agree with most of the list, but would find room for "Omega Man" on there somewhere.

John Stodder said...

If you Google "Dana Delaney plumbing," your question will be answered.

Really, we were much too young when we knew each other to be googling around with the plumbing. I moved away from Connecticut when I was 12.

Now I'm married and she's a cougar, so it's too late.

blake said...

I find Omega Man rather dated.

Plus, the '70s. Yuck.

Original George said...

And let's not forget "I Married a Monster from Outer Space"

Tagline: "The Bride Wore Terror"

Ecotaining only in the sense that, as I remember, the aliens came for our planet's water because they were of a dying race of a dying world polluted by yabbada yabbada.

Darcy said...

Agree with that comparison of the Bond films, blake. Q of S was a very entertaining movie. Not perfect in any way.

sonicfrog said...

Eco-Villains are weak. I'm going to kill you for destroying the planet? Why single me out! Everyone's doing it!

On Q of S: Why is is that Bond can kick the living shite out of other highly trained assassin-ninja agents armed with judo, guns and machetes, yet when facing some wimpy pseudo eco guy who can't throw a punch and only has a sprinkler pipe, Bond gets pummeled.

There's a reason why the Joker is Batman's main dance partner and not Poison Ivy. I mean, come on, who is afraid of Julia Butterfly Hill. Her only weapon is the stench of not showering for a year.

There's a Captain Planet reference here somewhere, but I won't do it because i am trying to convince my conscience mind that that show never existed.