The 2008 science-fiction adventure film WALL-E explores themes of environmentalism and consumerism through the eyes of its eponymous robotic hero WALL-E. Pixar’s trademark skill with CGI creates stunning CGI visuals that depict a destroyed Earth filled with trash and remnants of our civilization. One of Pixar’s crowning achievements with the film is how they mixed commentary on consumerism and the importance of sustainability while still delivering a charming tale that ranks among Pixar’s very best.
With all the sequels Pixar has been churning out lately, one has to wonder if they are ever planning on giving WALL-E another adventure on the silver screen and whether they would maintain the environmental bent of the original.
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006)
Nearly a decade after its release, An Inconvenient Truth is still one of the best films about climate change ever made. Despite being nearly two hours long, it still holds a lot of appeal even for those who wouldn’t necessarily be interested in a two hour lecture on climate change. The film’s star Al Gore is articulate and humorous in his discussion of climate change, and the mixture of scientific facts with Gore’s personal backstory of what inspired him to pursue the topic of climate change make for a very watchable film.
Admittedly, the film wasn’t perfect. Some critics criticized the film’s rosy-eyed flashbacks to Gore’s personal and professional life, but these scenes added a personal level to the film that made it more compelling than just being a simple presentation on climate change. As has been noted since its release, not all of the scientific facts presented in An Inconvenient Truth are still accurate, but the film remains a milestone in eco-themed documentaries.
BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR (2008)
No matter whether you come to it expecting a romantic horror film or a nuanced take on climate change, Birdemic: Shock and Terror is the definition of a bad film. It’s so bad in fact that it’s gained a cult following since its release. In addition to the horrifically bad writing, acting, editing, and directing, there are inexplicable environmental references and the topic of climate change gets tied in at the end of the film.
Whether it was ever intended to have any meaningful commentary on the environment or whether the director threw in some random commentary on a whim is up for debate, but it’s still worth looking at for anyone looking for so-bad-it’s-good films with an eco-bent. Even if you don’t watch the whole thing, there are clips and compilation videos on YouTube that give a good taste of the shockingly terrible special effects and acting and bizarre references to climate change.
TAKE SHELTER (2011)
Take Shelter is the most ambiguous of these films in that it could arguably be about any number of potential doomsday scenarios, including climate change. The film stars Michael Shannon as an oil-worker named Curtis who begins having terrifying surreal dreams of a vague, overwhelming threat that he can’t quite grasp. He sees pouring rain in his dreams with the consistency of oil, but he struggles to understand how he can prevent the threat that he believes is about to ravage mankind. Take Shelter is powerful and dramatic filmmaking at its very best. The performances and visual imagery are exceptional, and the themes explored will stick with you long after the haunting final images fade to the credits.
The ominous apocalyptic undertones running throughout the film are just as compelling as the question of whether Curtis is insane or not. There’s a number of possible interpretations for the film and its ending, but the film takes on some very interesting new dimensions if it’s analyzed in the context of impending climate change and the idea that we may be ignoring those among us who are warning us of what is to come.
Avatar is admirable in how it balances being a soaring sci-fi action adventure film with a passionate underlying environmental message. The struggle between humans and the alien species of the Na’vi over the use of their lush and resource-dense world of Pandora echoes the political battles fought today over the use of our natural resources for uses such as deforestation and mining.
Although a little ham-fisted at times with its environmental themes, there’s a reverence for nature that runs throughout the film and makes it fascinating to look at from an environmental standpoint. It will be interesting to see what kinds of environmental topics director James Cameron will explore in the upcoming trilogy of Avatar sequels set for a yearly release between 2017 and 2019.