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Green Movies Rock It All Night Long

By Staff | Apr 8, 2008

By Tony Rutherford

Let it be shouted from the top of the stadium seats: Hollywood has been mostly environmentally friendly usually by trumpeting eco values or churning out warnings of what could happen on a polluted planet.

Obviously, Al Gore’s Academy Award winning documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” set a plateau for both factual and fictional predictions of nightmarish conditions and creatures that may form … if we do not take proper care of Mother Earth.

During the Cold War nuclear radioactivity fears, filmmakers appeared united against use of “the bomb.” After World War III science fiction dominated the ’50s and ’60s, mostly in the form of smaller budget “B” movies, which focused on intimate narrow perceptions of small groups of people facing a fallout splattered globe.

One of the repeated scenarios of earth’s environment turned hostile comes in various Cold War themed flicks that depicted the aftermath of nuclear attacks. A three-hour made for television epic, “The Day After” (1983), explored the effects of a nuclear blast on Kansas City residents. It ranks alongside such theatrical classics as “On the Beach” (in which deadly radiation has spread to all but Australia yet there’s a mysterious telegraph signal originating in what’s left of San Francisco), or “The World the Flesh and the Devil” (in which three people survive a nuclear holocaust — a white man, a black man and a white woman). Actually, “Day After” came with a warning — the visuals and events had been toned down for presentation on television; a real nuclear holocaust would be far worse.

Smaller budgeted films on the aftermath ran as icons of Friday or Saturday late night television horror movie presentations. They were the kind where a “host” or “hostess” (Elvira) spiced up the showings with cheesy one-liners or had their scenes mocked by “Mystery Science Theatre.” Roger Corwin’s “Day the World Ended” (1955) and “In the Year 2889” (1967) are essentially mother and remake. A group of post-Atomic War survivors have gathered in a valley untouched by radiation where cannibalistic human mutants await anyone who leaves its friendly lead shielded mountains. Similarly, Ray Milland and then teen heart throb Frankie Avalon, starred in “Panic in Year Zero” (1962) in which a family returning from a fishing trip witnesses the destruction of Los Angeles and heads into the wilderness in hope of surviving.

While you’re most likely to find any of these on line as double feature DVDs, premium movie channels often have ran “Miracle Mile” (1988), which fits more into the “disaster” genre, where a man receives a chance phone call alerting him that nuclear missiles will hit L.A. in 70 minutes.

As the U.S. and Russia moved closer d’tente, cinema focused on environmental mutations, rather than bombs. Whether nuclear waste, demented scientists (such as in the James Bond and other “superspy” series), or other menaces to air and water, pollution, filmmakers turned about every insect or reptile into a threat to mankind. “Frogs” (1972 ), “Alligator” (1980 ), “Night of Lepus” (1972), “Prophecy” (1979). And, even, “The Last Woman on Earth” (1960) where a couple goes skin diving while something turns off the oxygen supply on the island (and maybe the entire planet).

Spoofing the superhero genre and campaigning against toxic dumps, Trouma, a legendary miniscule budget B movie company based in New York, even created “The Toxic Avenger” (1985), where a health club mop boy falls into a vat of toxic waste. It inspired three sequels, “The Toxic Avenger, Part II” (1989), “The Last Temptation of Toxie” (1989) and “Citizen Toxie” (2000).

While threats of nuclear annihilation ebbed, cinema has not forsaken nuclear dangers, shifting from mushroom clouds to technological malfunctions, such as out of control reactors and/or experiments. Ironically, “China Syndrome” (1979), which depicted inadequate precautions at nuclear power plants, went into release only 12 days before the Three Mile Island meltdown. Ironically, the Australian made “Chain Reaction” (1980) warned of a similar crisis when an earthquake caused a leak at a nuclear storage facility.

“The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) preceded Al Gore’s global warming documentary. Given the big budget, heavy special effects treatment, a climatologist ties to prevent fast track warming which has triggered a new ice age that descends on New York City. Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Emmy Rossum star.

On a less grandiose cinematic scale, “Rolling Thunder” (1991) takes place in 2040 after all the oceans have been poisoned by industrial waste. Living in a cave, an elderly man tells a group of kids about surfing before the water became contaminated. Kevin Costner starred as a mutilated mariner in “Waterworld” (1995), which took place after the polar ice caps melted, submerging nearly all the planet in water.


Contact Tony at trutherford@graffitiwv.com