Please enjoy these blogposts, written between 2011 and 2015. Another blog is on the way.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Movies for the End Times

Martin Freeman as Bilbo, puzzling things out.
My husband and I went to see The Hobbit on Friday, opening day, a few hours after I combed through the major online news sites looking for some reason to believe that accounts of what was happening in Newtown, Connecticut were wildly exaggerated. Instead, the news grew worse, and better verified, by the minute.

I'm sorry to tell you that, unlike the Lord of the Rings movies, which I have watched at least ten times each, The Hobbit is long, boring, stupid, and bone-crushingly violent. It is saved only by Martin Freeman, whose lovely face registers Bilbo's moral education step by step, although director Peter Jackson gives this process very little screen time. The film's homicidal mayhem, cheesy as it was, hit me hard on a day when I was already reeling.

The Tolkien books mean a lot to me (as they do to so many) because Victor, 27, my younger son, middle child of the family, fell in love with them when he was seven. I’ve had many excellent days in my nearly sixty years, but those I spent reading these books aloud to him were among the best, because I was reading them for the first time myself, and because I caught a glimpse of who Victor would become as he made sense of the characters and events in Tolkien’s stories. These books helped me raise him. They made the point, although imperfectly--consider the cheap lives of orcs--that we all count, that the choices we make all count.

But that’s not what I want to say here. I’m having trouble getting to the point.

When we go to the movies, my husband and I play a game with the previews. We count how many we have to sit through before the feature begins and then later try to remember which films were previewed. We rarely can. The movies are so forgettable, so indistinguishable, that their titles and elevator pitches fall right out of our heads. I can reconstruct the preview line-up from yesterday, however, without strain, not because the films were more distinct from one another, but because they all seemed to answer the same fear. Here are the previews that preceded The Hobbit in Bellingham, Washington, my home town.

Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman. The tagline for this sci-fi film is "Earth is a memory worth fighting for," meaning, apparently, that earth has been abandoned but hope is not dead. Drone repairman Tom Cruise, while tinkering with old machinery on now uninhabitable Earth, discovers something. Note the word "memory," implying loss, just not total loss.

Idris Elba--Wowsers!--in Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim, starring Idris Elba, the handsomest man alive, who screams during the trailer, "We’re canceling the apocalypse!"--this because the human race has rallied to create giant robots capable of battling the dinosaur-like creatures who have crawled through an undersea wormhole from another dimension (I'm not joking).

After Earth, starring Will Smith and directed by M. Knight Shyamalan. Smith's character and his son's get stranded on  Earth 1000 years after it has been abandoned. Every single decision you make, Smith tells his son, is life or death.
Nicholas Hoult in Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies, starring no one I've ever heard of and John Malkovich. One still-living non-zombie girl teaches a planet full of zombies that love can bring them back to life. At least this is how I understood the preview.

Beautiful Creatures, based on a popular young adult book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Dark magic on what was formerly a slave-holding plantation. The old plantation is as close as we get to a dead earth in this film, unless you count the fact that Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons agreed to star in it.

Aliens attacking earth is a hoary tradition in Hollywood, as are dystopian films like the Mad Max series, Bladerunner, and The Road. But four movies about the looming or already total end of human life as we know it and of the earth as a habitable planet? Surely this is significant. These four films all include a loophole, a chance that our species will continue either here, via what amounts to a miracle, or elsewhere, because when the shit starts coming down, a few people have the good sense to gas up the rocket ship.

And these previews, don't forget, were followed by the transforming of a beloved, light-hearted children's story into image after image of wholesale slaughter.

All of which means to me that, as hard as many are trying to ignore rapidly accelerating climate change,* the message is seeping into our subconscious minds, and Hollywood is answering the need to deal with it obliquely, by offering films in which all is lost, but not quite.

*If you have missed the news that a temperature increase of 4-6 degrees Celsius, which would mean the slow or fast extinction of our species, is possible, even likely, if we do nothing, and maybe even if we act, by 2100, or sooner, if feedback loops kick in . . . you might for a start read this report from ABC News: The braver among us might watch a presentation by Guy McPherson at