Is Global Warming Hot Again in Hollywood?

As I wait patiently for the premiere of The Hunger Games – that violent, post-apocalyptic take on Coal-Miner’s Daughter based on the young adult science fiction novel by Suzanne Collins, I was excited to read Alyssa Rosenberg’s post over at Think Progress about two new projects with climate change themes.

First up is J.J. Abrams' Revolution, which was just picked up by NBC. Described as a new “high octane action drama . . . following a group of characters struggling to survive and reunite with loved ones in a world where all forms of energy have mysteriously ceased to exist.” I was happy to see that Lost’s Bryan Burk will be executive producing alongside Abrams.

An early logline for Revolution describes it like this, “In this epic adventure thriller, a family struggles to reunite in a post-apocalyptic American landscape: a world of empty cities, local militias and heroic freedom fighters, where every single piece of technology – computers, planes, cars, phones, even lights – has mysteriously blacked out . . . forever.” Hmm. Sounds a little like Lost meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I’m in.

The other project is Snow Piercer, an indie science-fiction flick set to star Tilda Swinton (Alyssa, you’re right, Swinton is from the future) and The Help’s Octavia Spencer. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Snow Piercer, is set in “a future where, after a failed experiment to stop global warming, an Ice Age kills off all life on the planet except for the inhabitants of the Snow Piercer, a train that travels around the globe and is powered by a sacred perpetual-motion engine. A class system evolves on the train but a revolution brews.”

Interesting that this is another “global warming ends in an Ice Age” movie – the previous one being The Day After Tomorrow released in 2004. I guess, psychologically, Ice Ages must resonate as more unpleasant to the reptilian part of our brain. Oh, and as for that “sacred” perpetual-motion machine, we already have two – they’re called the sun and the wind. That said, I'm still in.

On a related note, for anyone watching Luck on HBO, it’s also reported that David Milch (NYPD Blue, Deadwood) has been tapped to write the screenplay for Heavy Rain. Based on a video game, Heavy Rain centers around the hunt for a murderer known as the Origami Killer, who drowns his victims on exceptionally rainy days and leaves behind folded paper calling cards. Four characters over four days track down leads in a desperate attempt to prevent the killer from claiming a new victim and each character's decisions affect the plans of the other three (the scientific term for this is a “feedback loop”).

I can’t help but secretly hold out hope that Milch, who writes in a Shakespearean style and talks openly of his interest in telling stories about redemption and cooperation – might decide to bring in a little climate science. The global warming/extreme rainfall connection (and check out this great video that explains why climate change is like steroids for the atmosphere) is solid and it fits nicely with the theme of feedbacks.

Of course, movies with science themes can be tough to tell. Back in a 1999 essay in the journal Science, Michael Crichton cautioned scientists that “showing the scientific method presents genuine problems in film storytelling. The problems are insoluble. The best you will ever get is a kind of caricature of the scientific process.”

I’d like to think that our best storytellers, like Milch and Abrams, are able to show complexity without falling back on caricature. After all, at the heart of scientific discovery sits fundamental questions about how we might live together on this increasingly crowded planet without destroying it in the process.

In any event, I hope the folks working on these projects will connect with scientists via groups like The Science & Entertainment Exchange – a program of the National Academy of Sciences that “connects entertainment industry professionals with top scientists and engineers to create a synergy between accurate science and engaging storylines in both film and TV programming.”

Here’s to seeing some science (fiction) on the big screen . . . and the little one, too!