homepage logo

Crusading for environmental issues

By Staff | Apr 28, 2010

When thinking of films with “green” environmental themes, the majority of the movies depict not a palatial future of wind-driven energy and natural food. No, the majority of films issue fiction or true-life warnings to take care of our planet.

From those constraints, the Hollywood hocus-pocus factories have envisioned near future catastrophes often based on, for instance, fossil fuel shortages or global climate running on rewind into a second ice age.

However, “Wall-E,” a lonely little robot programmed to pick up man’s trash, evoked the remnants of a civilization abandoned and this one machine still picking up the trash humans left behind.

What would occur should population growth remain unchecked, leading to a continued runaway consumption of natural resources? Jamie Oliver could have sponsored a screening of “Soylent Green,” while on his American food revolution. Due to overpopulation and poverty, the homeless fill fire escapes and abandoned structures, but nearly everyone — rich or poor — eat processed foods from a conglomerate.

 Based on the novel, “Make Room, Make Room,” the processed soylent red and soylent yellow rations are ballyhooed as high-energy vegetable concentrates. A new flavor — Soylent Green — comes in wafer form. This made from plankton product purportedly taste batter and is more nutritious.

Under the scenario, though, the ultra wealthy have stockpiled “real” food, which often leads their living quarters open to intruders. 

Charleston Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young (as a 24-year-old “kept” woman known in 2022 as part of a rich dude’s “furniture”) and Edward G. Robinson star. This one should be on top of your rental or DVD purchase list. Believe it or not, the near immortal “Saturday Night Live” parodied the film’s buzz phrases. I refuse, though, to tell you the “Soylent” secret, other than appreciate the apples, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, potatoes and beef that we now eat.

Hollywood helped demystify the litigation term “class action,” when legal thrillers found favor. Most have a variation on the infamous Love Canal, in which a community had been constructed over leaky, rushing drums of toxic waste. 

Before the legal thrillers took off, Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon starred in “China Syndrome,” which referred to nuclear power cover-ups and an out of control core reaction that would melt into the earth to China. The 1979 film had scripting overtures to the whistleblower death of Karen Silkwood in 1974, but the nuclear accident on March 28, 1979— 12 days after the film’s release — reinforced a line from the production that an accident could render a state the size of Pennsylvania uninhabitable. A movie on Ms. Silkwood’s death for reporting negligence at a plutonium plant would come to the screen in 1983 with Meryl Streep and Cher in the lead roles.

Julia Roberts’ “Erin Brockovich” (2000) empowered women and an exploited populace as this sassy, single mom paralegal turns up illegal dumping of hexavalent chromium. A gigantic class action suit follows, pitting a small law firm against goliath corporate defense attorneys.  Prior to “Erin,” John Travolta’s “A Civil Action,” fought for compensation for the eight deaths of children from leukemia due to waste from a nearby tannery. 

Interestingly, the American Bar Association, which applauded “Erin” and “A Civil Action” in its Top 25, carefully avoided the legacy of John Grisham, whose thrills tend to pair corporate corruption with legal ethic violations. Nor will you find the Gene Hackman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Laurence Fishburne father-daughter adversary, “Class Action” (1990) on the list, even though it foretells an automobile manufacturing firm covering up a defective design.

Following the popularity of “Super Size Me,” Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” took global warming and pollution reality to the theatrical mainstream. “Food, Inc,” reveals the industrial processed food lines in the United States, while “The Cove” depicts for profit dolphin killing by the Japanese.

Recently, we’ve seen films such as “The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream” (2004), “Who Killed the Electric Car” (2006), “Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age” (2007), and “Inconvenient Truth” spin-offs like “The 11th Hour” or “Too Hot to Handle.”

Negating “Wall-E,” the animated sensation, “Happy Feet” (2006) popularized penguins. Through their sweet and cute antics, a message beyond tapping feet followed — human activity messes up the food chain — to get widespread disbursal without anyone complaining about its “message.” 

Dian Fossey studied Rwanda mountain gorillas and passionately defended their sanctuaries for more than 20 years. Her based on actual events, “Gorillas in the Mist” (1988) featured Sigourney Weaver as the naturalist whose wildlife mantra lead to her murder. (About 20 years prior, the immortal, “Born Free,” told of people parents adopting an orphaned lion cub and raising it in an African compound.)

Depending upon how broad your definition of “green” is (i.e. does “environmental” themes qualify?) the list of ecological flicks is endless.

Post apocalyptic films — generally from a nuclear war, such as “On the Beach,” “Omega Man,” “The Day After,” and “Panic in Year Zero,” — all strongly caution about Cold War themes (did I neglect “Dr Strangelove?”).

Others vary the calamity that alters nature and /or climate, ranging from a virus (“Andromeda Strain”), to water, water everywhere (“Waterworld”). Let’s not forget preserved prehistoric civilizations (“The Lost World,” “Jurassic Park”) and a frozen coastline (“Day After Tomorrow”).

Stretch the environmental ruined world further and you find an endless amount of horror-themed movies that mostly avoid any ecological preaching or pitching in favor of gore, blood and lust. 

Some depict society under Big Brother (whatever the catalyst), like the more subtle  “Fahrenheit 451,” “Gattaca,” “Sleepers” and “THX 1138,” to darker imaginings such as “Running Man,” “Road Warrior,” “Escape from New York,” “Rollerball,” “Terminator,” “28 Days Later,” “The Postman” “The Road,” and “Book of Eli.”

Last (only because it has garnered such a strong theatrical run and mounds of publicity), James Cameron’s “Avatar”  pits us greedy inhabitants of planet Earth against the Nav’i on their eco-friendly planet waiting to be squeezed for the sake of profit and energy.

For all the imaginings of terrible futures, a phrase from the classic “On the Beach” sums the warnings best —and, even though the ‘bomb’ threats have subsided, the statement applies to environmental, ecological or cleaning up nuclear waste buried and leaking at many locations throughout America: ‘THERE’S STILL TIME… BROTHER (and SISTER)…”