Tuesday, April 9, 2013

10 Best Earth Day Films


I was seven-years old and in the second grade, when in 1970 Senator Gaylord Nelson inaugurated Earth Day in the United States. That event changed how we see the Earth and our affect on the planet. Looking back, I see that my film watching experiences also changed as well. The socially conscious culture of 1970s gave Hollywood executives the excuse they needed to capitalize on a problem of growing concern to the typically relaxed Californian lifestyle. As a kid, my dad, and I watched, films that served to not only raise our conscious but also provided us with opportunities to bond as father and son. Most of the films I selected for my 10 best movies to watch on Earth Day have not only a green awareness, but also a cinematic warm and fuzzy feeling, remembering when my dad and I sat in his Ford Falcon at the drive-in watching these little gems.


1. Silent Running (1972)
Top on my list from 1972 is a Science Fiction film in the true sense of the genre. Silent Running, starring Bruce Dern as the caretaker of the last of Earth's forests and nature reserves, sheltered from destruction by over population on the forestry spaceship Valley Forge orbiting Earth. Bruce Dern's character Freeman Lowell, upon hearing the destruction order from a government tired of paying the upkeep of the forests and wanting to put the ships back into commercial use, goes insane murdering the other two members of his crew. Slipping deeper into insanity, Dern depicts the hippie attitude and mentality that defined the 70s and type casted him forever. Still a groundbreaking film today, with over 6,816,989,768 people and counting based on the Population Institutes website, http://www.populationinstitute.org/ compared to 3,665,855,530 in 1970 according to Nation Master's website http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/peo_pop-people-population&date=1970 we have doubled the Earth's population in only 40 years.


2. Andromeda Strain (1971)
Unlike the monster movies of the 1950s like Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and Gamera, the 1970s focused not on nuclear destruction but on biochemical warfare. In 1971 director, Robert Wise gave us the Andromeda Strain. Based on Michael Crichton's 1969 novel of the same name, this spooky story of extra-terrestrial bio-chemical warfare left an impression on generations of story writers and filmmakers to come. The story is still relevant and although the original movie is dated by the technology of forty years ago, the story is socially conscious enough that Hollywood gave us a recent update with a mini-series in 2008. I actually saw this as a rerun in the late 70s, once again with my dad who also missed it at the theaters.


3. The Omega Man (1971)
Along the same lines of an out of control viruses, and released in 1971 is Charlton Heston starring in his third movie concerning the last days of man on planet Earth. The Omega Man is essentially Richard Matheson's I am Legend, with enough changes in the story that the writers did not to mention Matheson's story as the source material. Robert Neville (Charlton Heston) the last normal man alive on Earth due to his immunity to biological weapons waged between the superpowers. The rest of the population have turned into light sensitive albino psychotic killers, known as the Family have turned into a cult of anti-science, anti-technology fanatics. The reference to cults and the Family are clear references to Charles Manson and his group of followers also known as The Family. The film is a classic Heston vehicle made during the peak of his career, highlighting Heston's ability to carry a movie on his own. Let's face it, Heston IS the last man on earth.


4. Deliverance (1972)
Getting away from Sci-Fi for a bit lets turn to water conservation and population growth for a moment and consider 1972s classic offering of four men looking to capture for one last time nature and majesty of unspoiled mountains and lakes of their youth. Deliverance starts innocently enough with Burt Reynolds, John Voight, Ned Beatty, and Ronnie Cox as four city slickers desiring to canoe a river before the construction of a dam and the flooding of the valley. Men out of their element they encounter the dangers of the wild and of course the back woods in-bred rednecks that inspired movies like Wrong Turn. The movie is memorable not so much for the battle that men have with the rednecks... “Squeal like a pig!” However, the battle the men have against the forest and the river. The movie is haunting and retains a certain something that pulls viewers back for another look.


5. Soylent Green (1973)
The Earth Day pick for the year 1973 returns us to Sci-Fi genre and Charlton Heston with another movie of over population, poverty, pollution and its affects on society. Starting out as a murder mystery, Heston's character Robert Thorn, a police detective set in the year 2022, Thorn takes advantage of the dead man's situation, helping himself to the riches of a hot shower, the man's liquor, and most rare of all in this world, food. While investigating the man's murder, Thorn determines that the man was an executive of the Soylent Corporation, and that the murder was an assignation. Going home to enjoy his ill-gotten gains, Thorn gives a copy of the Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, to his partner Sol. Enter the Soylent Corporation, makers of Soylent Yellow and Red, food wafers that the population exists off. The Soylent Corporation, in the process of introducing and marketing the new and improved Soylent Green, had a secret to keep, and the killing of the executive is about keeping that secret. The murder mystery thickens and the Thorn follows the clues, his partner Sol Roth played Edward G. Robinson after researching on his own determines the awful truth, and decided that he want to go to a "home" to die. Sol Roth, like Robinson, dies at the end of the film (this was Robinson's last film; he died that year.) Soylent Green is one of those movies that you remember not so much for the Heston's acting, but for a single line, Heston screams at the end of the film... "Soylent Green is people! We've got to stop them somehow!"


6. Prophecy (1979)
Closing out the 1970s is the released in 1979 and starring Robert Foxworth and Talia Shire in John Frankenheimer's film of man upsetting the balance of nature of science. Native Americans, noticing a higher mortality rate amongst their people. The EPA sends Dr. Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth) and his young pregnant wife Maggie (Talia Shire) to investigate the mortality rate. Racial tension already on edge, this Dr., and his wife find themselves in the middle between the Paper Mill Corporation dumping toxic waste into the river the loggers use to transport their logs to the paper mill. Not only are the Native American birth rate had dropped, loggers were starting to go missing. The missing bodies eventually show up, torn to pieces by wild animals. Finding substantial mercury deposits on his wife’s boots, Dr. Verne determines that the amounts dumped in the river is causing mutation in the animal life in the surrounding area. The creepiest part of the film is the mutated bear creature that terrorizes the countryside. Actually not seeing the creature is a good thing, Frankenheimer teases with far shots and shots too close to do anything more that give us that horrified sense of what the creature really is. Watch the film, and you can claim to have seen the eighth best movie for Earth Day.


7. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
This science fiction show was a bit before my time, but once again re-runs to the rescue. This is the original theatrical release starring Walter Pidgeon, Robert Sterling, Barbara Eden, Peter Lorre, and Eden's husband, Michael Ansara. The nuclear submarine Seaview is on a race to save the world from the Van Allen Belt pierced by meteor causing the belt to catch fire, causing global warming. THe intrepid crew race to the Marianas to position the submarine at the right place, calculated by the Admiral to launch a nuclear weapon, breaking up the fire in the belt. There is a fanatic onboard bent on the destroying the world as it "God's Will." Once again, this film reminds us that our position on this planet is precious and tenuous at the same time.


8. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
My final three picks, are films from this last decade that follow the same criteria of man screwing with the natural order of the world and Mother Earth taking revenge on the perpetrators of those sins. Based on the book, The Coming Global Superstorm, by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber, they describe a global freezing that takes the world into a massive ice age. A direct story of global warming, The Coming Global Superstorm, predicts the possible consequences of our actions. The All-star cast makes the characters believable, identifiable, and come alive. The story, based on speculation by former talk show Art Bell and his frequent guest Whitley Strieber, provides a bleak picture for planet Earth. The special effects, limited for that time period, still helped significantly in telling the story and music sent a chill down your spine. The Day After Tomorrow, is a keeper for many Earth Days to come.


9. Resident Evil (2002)
Zombies for a new millennia, Paul W.S. Anderson brings us the video game to the big screen for an action, adventure, horror film that brought Zombie movies back to life. Starring Mila Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, and Eric Mabius, this film puts the groove back in Zombies. Once again, a big corporation, The Umbrella corporation devise the T virus and let it loose upon the world. A great cast, believable special effects, and Mila's character make this a memorable film for Earth Day or for any occasion.


10. Avatar (2009)
I left the best for last. 2009's Avatar, released on April 22 2010 on DVD, brings this epic tale of conquest, love for a world, love for the plants and love for the creatures of that world home, and man's darker nature to destroy what they cannot have. Good casting, believable acting, wonderful special effects, and gorgeous scenery bring this metaphor of the Amazon rain forest to our TV screens and to our hearts.
I am leaving The Stand off this list although it follows the formula of a man made virus running amok contrary to the laws of nature, because in a lot of ways Stephan King is just retelling The Last Man on Earth, I am Legend story with his own twist.