Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Why doesn’t Hollywood make more mass extinction films? Is that the right question to ask? And are we sure we’ll like the answer?

EcologyWhy doesn’t Hollywood make more mass extinction films? Is that the right question to ask? And are we sure we’ll like the answer?


Hoisted from the comments: Gregor Kalinkat points us to this blog post asking why doesn’t Hollywood make more mass extinction films? As opposed to more numerous climate change films like Don’t Look Up and The Day After Tomorrow.

My first reaction to the linked piece is that I’m not quite sure what the author means by “mass extinction film,” given that the chosen examples include movies as different as Waterworld, Threads, and Avatar. I guess “mass extinction film” here means “movie in which humans almost wipe themselves out, by first wiping out most other life on earth?”

If that’s right, then if you slightly broaden the definition of “mass extinction film” to “films in which arrogant humans bring about disaster for themselves by unwisely messing around with nature,” you’ll find that Hollywood makes lots of mass extinction films. The Jurassic Park movies. Many of the Godzilla movies. Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Rampage. The Happening. The Last Winter. Etc. “Unwisely messing around with nature,” in Hollywood’s eyes, can mean stuff like “genetic engineering” or “building a road in the wilderness.” Not just “driving many other species extinct.”

So I dunno. I guess I’m not sure why anyone but an environmental activist dedicated to preventing species extinctions would care that few Hollywood movies specifically define “unwisely messing around with nature” as “driving many other species extinct.” Heck, I’m not even sure environmental activists dedicated to preventing species extinctions should care that Hollywood doesn’t make many movies dramatizing their cause. Just speaking generally, “We need more Hollywood movies that dramatize my political cause, because that will inspire political change to address my cause,” strikes me as unlikely to lead to either political change or good movies.

My other reaction to the linked piece is, Hollywood makes plenty of “mass extinction” films in the narrow sense of “humans bring about disaster for themselves by overexploiting nature and driving other species extinct.” It’s just that the environmentalists usually are the villains in those films. Kingsman: The Secret Service, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and Aquaman, for instance. In all those movies, and others, a villain decides that humans need to be wiped out, before they do any more damage to nature.

Hollywood also makes plenty of movies in which nature itself is the villain. Rather than nature needing to be saved from humans, humans need to be saved from nature. Because nature is mysterious, powerful, and dangerous. Think of The Birds, Jaws, The Ghost and the Darkness, Annihilation, Long Weekend (1978), C.H.U.D., etc. There’s a whole book about these sorts of movies. Heck, “man against nature” is often listed as one of the three basic categories of conflict in narrative, along with “man against man” and “man against himself”.

So rather than asking “Why doesn’t Hollywood make more movies that dramatize my political cause?”, maybe environmentalists should ask “Why does Hollywood make so many movies that dramatize my political cause in a way I don’t like?” See here and here for more on this point from a professional film critic. Oh, and good luck stopping Hollywood from making movies that portray environmentalists as villains, and stopping audiences from attending them, with scoldy editorials that preach to the converted.

p.s. In case it needs saying, I don’t actually know anything about either making movies, or fostering political change. I’m just an academic ecologist with a blog. So discount everything I just said accordingly! Sometimes I write posts about stuff I know something about, and sometimes I just write posts. 🙂 Here’s hoping our commenters will have more interesting and informed things to say. Our commenters are the best. 🙂

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