Hollywood’s third climate change strike?

You have to take a break from the superb cast and try an A-for-Effort on “Don’t Look Up”.


The failures of the film are due to its subject: that the real catastrophe of climate change would make a terrible major film. It’s already done. Twice. Before a few words on “Don’t Look Up”, let’s go back to its futile predecessors.

Water world

In 1995, “WaterWorld” was released to indifferent audiences. Realistic? Not really. The film takes place centuries in the future. Kevin Costner was a lonely sailor on a flooded planet. He drank his own pee and grew a rickety lemon tree – the vitamin C in citrus fruits helped him fight scurvy.

Oh, and in a big scalable twist, he had gills.

Costner’s character is also unrealistic for a desperado who drinks pee and breathes water. It comes in handy when, on a dilapidated ship, passengers include a Hollywood condition: a comely woman to provide love interest to the lonely hunk with gills.

The woman has a young child with a tattoo on her back which is actually a map of the rumor dry land – what’s left of land after the melting of the polar caps flooded the Earth.

But wait! There is more!

Another rust bucket, which turns out to be the old one Exxon Valdez, is piloted by evil pirates determined to kidnap the Inked Kid. The late Dennis Hopper played the swashbuckling and maniacal skipper like only he could.

Either way, Costner defeats “The Smokers”, finds Dry Land, and gets the girl. Alas, there is nothing he can do about climate change. The end.

“WaterWorld” published six years after NASA scientist James Hansen’s powerful congressional testimony on the dangers of global warming. It was thought that Hansen’s spooky storyline would be, to use today’s most hackneyed cliché, a game changer. But almost 34 years later, the game has barely changed.

“WaterWorld” received an Oscar nomination for sound editing. He didn’t win. At the box office, it barely broke even.

Two days later

“The Day After Tomorrow” debuted in 2004. It featured multiple climate impacts expected by scientists over decades. To make storytelling easier, the script makes them unfold in about 72 hours.

Waves hit the Statue of Liberty’s navel, and unholy cold hit much of the northern hemisphere. You cannot hail a cab in Midtown Manhattan because taxis have less than 15 feet of ice. A group of young people trapped in the upper floors of New York’s main library warm up by burning books. A trio of tornadoes have hit Hollywood (while Hollywood tornadoes are virtually unheard of, there is no consensus on a climate change-tornado link).

Dennis Quaid played a climatologist trying to save both Earth and his marriage; dreamer Jake Gyllenhaal played his son, locked in the scorching library of books while trying to ignite a romance. And burning books isn’t the film’s worst brutal metaphor: a vice president who looks and talks a lot like Dick Cheney, the former oilman and current vice president, is played by Kenneth Welsh.

“The Day After Tomorrow” made nearly a quarter of a billion in production costs. You’d think that’s a pretty good Hollywood motive to kick off a few other climate films – good, bad, or in between. But the December allegorical satiric “Don’t Look Up” is the first in 16 years, and it doesn’t even mention the weather.

Do not seek

The real Leonardo DiCaprio devotes a great deal of his time and money to causes close to his heart. Meteors or comets hitting Earth were never one of them. But as a dreamy astronomer whose dream doctorate. Student candidate (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a ‘planet-slaying’ comet two months from a direct hit on Earth, Leo and J-Law struggle to convince talk show hosts and dull politicians that Earth is in peril.

Film buffs like me need to make the connection with climate change: It won’t pose a deadly threat in just a few short months like Comet Leo. But there.

Don’t tens of millions of us have enough trouble spitting out the reality that the 2020 election was not rigged? Or that the COVID-19 vaccines are not a massive effort to steal our breath?

In its first few weeks, “Don’t Look Up” was a hit with viewers. Beyond his headliners, the all-star cast includes Meryl Streep as the cynical US president; Jonah Hill as his more cynical son and chief of staff; Ariana Grande and Cate Blanchett.

I’m just not convinced that his dark humor “Doctor Strangelove” vibe will get many more climate converts to jump the line ahead of the pandemic and its vaccines, MAGA, the economy, Putin, infrastructure and God. knows what else is ahead of the hopper of immediate disaster.

Does it change the game? I’m afraid not.

Peter Dykstra is our editor and weekend columnist and can be reached at [email protected] or @pdykstra.

Its views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo: “Do not look up high”. (Credit: Youtube screenshot)

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