It’s GREEN week at Trespass and I imagine we will be looking at the many ways Man is destroying the Natural World. For the film section’s first Green piece, I don’t want to victimize Nature; instead I’m going to look at the Top 10 Films where Nature fights back. Now I am in no way suggesting that animals and the environment started it, obviously Nature is just on the defensive, letting Man know every so often that they can bite back, literally.
10. JAWS (1975)
Jaws is a suspense classic that sees a giant killer shark terrorising the community of the fictional Amity Island. After reports of a prowling great white shark, the powers-that-be, reliant on summer tourist trade, refuse to close the beach on the season’s busiest weekend with tragic results. Martin Brody (Roy Scheider, Naked Lunch), the land-loving Police Chief, goes to great lengths to stop the man-eating fish. The film also stars Robert Shaw as a hunter with a very personal reason for hating sharks, and Richard Dreyfuss as an easy-going marine biologist.
Jaws was the first summer blockbuster film, grossing over $100 million at the US box office. Unfortunately the film’s success also imprinted on the public consciousness a very negative view of sharks, creating a sense of hysteria and paranoia about them that has never really gone away. The author and screenwriter of Jaws, Peter Benchley became an active shark conservationist after seeing the film’s impact.
9. ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (1978)
This spoof B-movie has had many spin-offs including the memorable 1990s animated series of the same name (well I remember it from my childhood). The film follows the exploits of homicidal tomatoes, and the specialist team put together to stop them. Whilst this cult film doesn’t really have any ecological lessons, I like to think you can ascribe an underlying message about tampering with fruit and vegetables (as the tomatoes are controlled by the evil US Press Secretary) and that organic farming is best.
8. DANTE’S PEAK (1997)/ VOLCANO (1997)
Released within two month of each other, Dante’s Peak and Volcano are both (not surprisingly) concerned with the potential pandemonium of a volcanic eruption on mainland America.
Dante’s Peak was the first to be released and is generally considered to be the better of the two. Centred around a fictional town called Dante’s Peak in Washington, the film follows the build-up to an eruption as authority figures refuse to acknowledge the impending danger (I sense a theme here). Starring Linda Hamilton (Terminator 1 & 2) and Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye) the film’s tagline reads: The Pressure is Building. Personally I think Volcano’s has a little more pizzazz with: The Coast is Toast.
Volcano stars Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive, In The Valley of Elah) as the head of the Office of Emergency Management in L.A., who really should have known something terrible was going to happen when his 13-year-old daughter turns up. This is a disaster film and tragedy always strikes on parental visitation weekends. Ramping up the potential death-toll by placing a volcano smack-bang in the centre of Los Angeles, the film also stars Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) and Anne Heche (Six Days Seven Nights).
The message of these films is loud and clear, when Mother Nature is ready to explode, you get out of the way.
7. JURASSIC PARK (1993)
Adapted from Michael Crichton’s science fiction novel of the same name, Spielberg’s action blockbuster looks at the consequences of meddling with Nature. Multi-billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, Brighton Rock) sets up a theme-park with real life dinosaurs on a small island off Costa Rica. The dinosaurs have been brought back from extinction by genetic engineering. When the park has a few teething problems, Hammond brings in palaeontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill, The Piano), palaeobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, Wild at Heart) and chaos theorist (a rather worrying inclusion) Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, The Fly) to help reassure investors.
The arrogance of human behaviour is highlighted by the park’s production of carnivorous dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptors, who go on to prey on the park’s human residents. Despite the park’s best laid plans to only produce female dinosaurs, nature always finds a way – and the dinosaurs start reproducing on their own, just like this film which produced many sequels.
6. THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004)
Disaster movie maestro, Roland Emmerich, takes it to the nth-degree with his end-of-the-world flick. Speeding up the results of climate change, the film sees a series of extreme weather conditions bring on a new ice age. With Dennis Quaid (Innerspace) as Jack Hall, a paleoclimatologist, and Ian Holm (From Hell) as a climate research scientist, the two work out that the polar ice caps are melting. Hurricanes, tidal waves and freezing weather ensue with many Americans (ironically) being forced to illegally cross into Mexico. Whilst most of the Northern Hemisphere is wiped out, as is common practice in disaster films, the plot focuses on families and follows Hall’s attempt to get to his son, Sam (Jake Gyllanhaal, Donnie Darko) who is in New York.
5. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)
The original film, made in just two days, is a classic B-grade film. Set in a florist, the black comedy revolves around a weedy shop assistant called Seymour and a pot plant with a taste for blood. The Venus Fly-Trap plant bred by Seymour and named after his co-worker Audrey, grows increasingly big on a diet of Seymour’s blood, and starts attracting customers to the failing shop. The plant also grows in intelligence and appetite and demands more food from an anaemic Seymour, who finds himself inadvertently killing people and then feeding them to his plant (as you do).
This story of horticulturalism gone mad was turned into a Broadway musical in 1982, which was then turned into a film in 1986. This incarnation has proved far more successful than the original film. Directed by Frank Oz and with a superb comedic cast including Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, John Candy, Bill Murray and Christopher Guest, the musical version changed elements of the original film’s plot, making the murderous pot plant, a self-labelled ‘Mean Green Mother from Outer Space’ planning to take over the world as it buds.
4. LONG WEEKEND (1978)
The only Aussie film in the list, Long Weekend was made during the Ozploitation period in Australian filmmaking, when genre films ruled. The film’s tagline pretty much sums up the premise of this movie: Their crime was against nature…Nature found them guilty’.
The film sees a bickering suburban couple, Peter and Marcia, go for a weekend camping trip to the coast with their pet dog. But when the couple transgress against Nature by littering and killing a dugong (amongst other things), Nature decides to teach them a lesson, and they find themselves being attacked by all manner of animal and plant life.
A 2008 remake titled Nature’s Grave stars James Caviezel (The Passion of Christ) and Claudia Karvan (Love My Way) as the selfish couple who go on vacation to try and rekindle their faltering relationship. Unlike some other films on this list, you are much better sticking with the original film than the critically disparaged Jamie Blanks’ version.
3. THE BIRDS (1963)
Alfred Hitchcock’s avian horror movie is set in Bodega Bay, California. The film depicts increasing violent attacks by birds on the residents, with Tippi Hedren (Marnie, I Heart Huckabees) and Australian, Rod Taylor (The Mercenaries, Inglourious Basterds) in the central roles. Hitchcock had thousands of seagulls, crows and ravens trained for the film as well as using mechanical and animated birds. Whilst the original story takes place in the U.K. where seagulls are as big as terriers, the birds in the film are still pretty damn scary. In the final scenes the harassed couple drive away from the seaside village with thousands of birds watching. Unlike many of the animal vs. man genre films, The Birds is one of the few where wildlife truly triumphs in the end.
Hitchcock’s movie never offers any explanation for the birds’ aggression; readings of the film tend to interpret a Freudian message as opposed to any moral about human’s treatment of animals. Personally I think the opening scenes where the central characters purchase caged birds, might have ticked the wild ones off!
2. DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1962)
This film is a second example of evil plants from Out-of-Space in this list, and the third case of murderous vegetation. There is obviously something in the human psyche that fears a botanical take-over.
Day of the Triffids is an English film, based on a novel of the same name by John Wyndham. Although the film takes certain liberties with the original text, the basic premise of human versus mutated plants stays the same. When a meteorite shower blinds 99% of the population, spored space creatures of the humongous plant variety take the opportunity to attack. The film has been derided for its ridiculous ending, but this didn’t stop M. Night Shyamalan using it for the climax of Signs.
The 1981 British/Australian TV series version is considered to be a far superior adaptation of the book and was recently remade by the BBC in 2009. In the TV series, the Triffids are carnivorous plants, which humans farm for oil. These later versions are crammed with social commentary and say far more about human nature than the potential cruelty of the natural world.
1. ORCA (1977)
With a genius tagline that read –The Killer Whale, this story of an animal taking revenge against a human was heavily influenced by Jaws and Moby Dick. Set in Canada the film follows an Irish fisherman, Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) who tries to capture a killer whale, and in doing so kills a pregnant female in front of her male partner. This sparks a series of revenge attacks on the boat’s crew, and Nolan turns to whale expert Dr. Bedford (Charlotte Rampling) and Native American Jacob Umilak (Will Sampson) to help him subdue the vigilante whale.
This eco-horror film feels rather topical given recent Sea World events, surely the message we should take from both is that whales should not be kept in captivity and woe-betide anyone that tries.