Just a cigar

June 18, 2008

(SPOILER alert)

I haven’t seen “The Happening” yet, so I want to be careful not to seem to be praising it (with Shyamalan, it can go either way). But I’ve been a little annoyed at some of the criticism of the movie, especially from my part of the political spectrum. It’s lousy science, kind of “The Day After Tomorrow” on steroids, the critics say, putting environmental concerns above human beings. One even said something like “it’s the most morally reprehensible movie ever made.” (Whew!) Reason’s Hit&Run has the right answer to all this hot air, in a post headed “It’s About Zombies, Dummy, Not Global Warming”:

The talking head scene at the end of the movie, in which an environmental expert explains the event as nature’s way of defending itself and warns that the event was only a “prelude” to a more catastrophic attack, reinforces the critical sentiment that The Happening is a really, really, bad environmental movie.

But there are some aspects of the plot that suggest the environmental aspects are only a means for scaring us for the sake of scaring us, and not a strategy for raising environmental awareness.

I submit as evidence one of the movie’s more explicit ironies: The few characters in the movie who are modeled after green freaks die horrible deaths. The greenhouse owner, who is the first character to suggest that it’s not terrorists releasing the toxin, but plants, shoots himself, as does his equally earth-friendly wife. And the old lady who lives off the grid, grows her own crops, and doesn’t own a car, ends up being bat-shit insane, killing herself by repeatedly headbutting the side of her earth-friendly house.

If a movie claims to be science fiction, I expect it to be at least partly an extrapolation from what is known to what is possible. But I don’t expect solid science from fantasy/horror/monster/disaster movies. I’m gonna pan “Night of the Living dead” because there’s no such thing as re-animating corpses? “King Kong” is bad because there are really no giant apes? I just want to be scared and/or entertained. The people who made “The Day After Tomorrow,” I suspect, did have pretensions of saying something “serious,” and the science was lousy. But in the end, it was just a disaster movie, and it can be judged on that basis — it was a lousy disaster movie. It may in fact have been the most poorly constructed disaster movie I’ve ever seen. All the exciting stuff — the “That blowed up real good” scenes– came in the first 45 minutes. The rest was just a long, boring slog through ice and snow.

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