V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Hollywood Armageddon

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, December, 2008.

Forget for a moment that the recent remake of the sci-fi movie The Day the Earth Stood Still is cringingly bad.

Set aside the wooden, robotic performance of Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, the alien being sent to warn Earth that otherworldly civilizations have been watching humans chart a course towards self-destruction -- and they don't like it.

Consider instead the message of the movie: That director Scott Derrickson decided to update the 1951 original -- which at the time was a commentary on the Cold War anxieties of nuclear warfare -- and shifted the focus on man's ecological sins.

In the original movie, Klaatu is sent to warn humans to stop their violent, warmongering ways or risk mass extinction, a reflection of the times. In Derrickson's version, 57 years later, Klaatu is sent as a "friend to Earth" and must decide if humans, who have abused, plundered and polluted the planet, are worth saving.

"I came to save the Earth," Keanu says in his trademark lifeless, monotone delivery.

Derrickson chose to revive an old science fiction classic with the spectre of environmental catastrophe. According to Hollywood moviemakers, the state of our ecology is threatening enough to warrant a big budget film -- and riveting enough to prey on a moviegoer's fears and stoke suspense.

It's not the first time the environment or climate change has excited the imaginations of blockbuster moviemakers. In the 2004 film, The Day After Tomorrow, a climatologist played by Dennis Quaid tries to save the world from the catastrophic effects of global warming and rising greenhouse gases. The planet experiences the sudden onslaught of a new ice age, and hell really does freeze over.

The movie provoked a healthy dialogue among fans and scientists: Fans began to question the idea of an ecological Armageddon while many scientists called the premise a load of malarky and scientifically implausible.

But at its release, Al Gore was one of the most vocal proponents of the film, not for the Hollywood version of science, but for its power to raise awareness of global warming.

In Waterworld, the titanic flop of a movie released in 1995 starring Kevin Costner, the polar ice caps have completely melted and the planet is drowning in water, with little land mass left. Throughout the film, it's suggested that global warming, extreme climate change and man is to blame for the characters' watery grave.

Meanwhile, the Hollywood studio which brings us the ultra-right wing news show Fox News, decided to make The Day the Earth Stood Still its first "green" production.

Storyboards went paperless, set materials sourced from recyclable and biodegradable materials and lumber from sustainably managed forests. Hybrid vehicles were used and crew members had to abide by an "idle-free" policy. Environmentally friendly solvents and dyes were used while wardrobe items were either sent back to the 20th Century Fox studios for reuse or donated to shelters.

It's all part of News Corporation's "global energy initiative" to become carbon neutral by 2010. News Corp owns Fox studios and launched its mission in May 2007. In 2006, News Corporation's carbon footprint was 641,150 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents and was measured across the 52 countries in which News Corp. has activities.

In a way, it's a great irony: Hollywood is perhaps the last bastion of excess, decadence and unapologetic gluttony. And yet here's a major movie studio that has committed to consciously lighten their environmental footprint.

While heartening, here's something else to ponder.

In the opening scene of The Day After Tomorrow, climatologists are drilling for ice core samples in the Larsen B Ice Shelf when a huge chunk breaks off from the rest of the Antarctic continent nearly killing the scientist.

A year after the movie's release, satellite images showed an iceberg about twice the size of Dallas had broken away from the Antarctic. It was the same one depicted in the movie: the Larsen B ice shelf.

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