Over the past few weeks, my little home in New England has been buffeted by a couple of major winter storms. In the worst of these, I had to dig my way out of my house through a basement window because all the doors were blocked by snow and I had no other exit. More snow is expected this weekend. This put me in the mood to talk about movies that depict extreme weather situations. In this week’s Roundtable, we take a look at what happens when Mother Nature gets angry.
There are a ton of big budget films to pick from here… anything from ‘Earthquake’ to ‘Twister’. However, my favorite movie about extreme weather is 1997’s ‘The Ice Storm‘, directed by Ang Lee. Set in the 1970s, the film tells the story of broken marriages and the effect that dysfunctional relationships have on children. As the weather turns worse outside these families’ houses, the interactions within the homes (and between the members of different families) swirl out of control. There are no heroes in ‘The Ice Storm’, but there are no real villians either. Ang Lee’s movie never strikes a false note, which makes the tragedy that occurs at the end all the more heartbreaking.
My pick is arguable as an “extreme weather” movie, but the way that this storm’s impending doom is shown throughout the film is the most terrifying and impactful of any full-time weather flick I’ve ever seen. ‘Take Shelter‘ is much more than just a weather movie. It’s just as much about metaphorical storms as it is the physical ones.
The nice thing about having horrible dreams is waking up and realizing that they’re not real, that the physical pain you felt within them doesn’t really exist. But what if you awoke and found that the pain continued, that it didn’t end with the dream? What if the things you felt in your nightmares were just as real and strong as your waking life? Would you act on them? Despite going against his family’s needs and trust, the central character of ‘Take Shelter’ (Michael Shannon) can’t help but react as if the horrifying storm of his reoccurring nightmares is becoming reality. Both Shannon and co-star Jessica Chastain (then relatively unknown) deliver brilliant performances.
Movies heavily focused on extreme weather generally fail to have interesting or identifiable characters, and tend to be populated with everyman stock characters. As a result, films like ‘The Mist’ or the ‘Die Hard’ stand-in ‘Hard Rain’ tower over the less-interesting-than-a-PSA movies like ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, ‘Twister’, ‘Poseidon, ‘Deep Impact’, ‘Daylight’, etc. Nevertheless, one film managed to pair 007 and Sarah Conner against the hot magma that secretly creeps in the still mountains of every awesome place that anyone has ever visited in search of peace. ‘Dante’s Peak‘ keeps it real by killing its characters in ways that make the audience think, “Wow, that character was a stubborn sack of obstinate boredom, but I’m still really sorry to see him/her swept into oblivion, melted by acid from the feet up, or enveloped in hot lava.” Weather, to the extreme.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
My kneejerk reaction was to point to ‘Moonrise Kingdom‘, a terrific film whose omniscient narrator introduces a looming storm-of-the-century in a particularly inspired way. When I stopped to think about it, though, there’s really only one thing worse than a devastatingly violent storm: a devastatingly violent storm that unleashes genetically-engineered super-sharks upon a hapless group of scientists. So, my vote instead goes towards ‘Deep Blue Sea‘. Plus, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ didn’t have LL Cool J talking to a parrot named “Bird” or debunking myths about milk and omelets, a wrong I hear Wes Anderson is going to correct with his next project.
I love snow. Big snow storms. Blizzards. I love ’em. You’d think that I’d be sick of it after going to college in Rochester, NY, but nope, I still get excited when reports start calling for the white stuff. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of my books take place in winter. Something about the excitement of cold weather changing the game plan and forcing folks to hunker down someplace appeals to me. After ‘The Shining’, the best (and most enjoyable) example of this is the snow in ‘Groundhog Dog‘. Every time Phil tries to leave town, the snow moves in, causing him to hole up in a place where the outside world seem to disappears and anything is possible. As I slog through a Seattle winter with no snow, and just drudgery, a day or two in snowbound, other-worldly Punxsutawney sounds pretty damn good.
Yes, ‘Meteor Man‘ might be full of cheese, but the movie’s a lot of fun, and could really happen to any of us. A giant meteor crashes into Robert Townsend, giving him super powers, much like Superman. With his new powers, he sets off to clean his neighborhood of gangs, poverty and other bad elements that have kept the good folk inside, scared for their safety. The movie has a stellar cast and some fun new super powers, such as the ability to touch a book and immediately retain all the knowledge. While the meteor only affected one person for the most part, it ended up saving an entire town.
In order not to spoil the scene’s sublime weirdness for those who haven’t seen the movie, all I’ll say is that Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Magnolia‘ climaxes with a truly bizarre weather event – one that I’ve certainly never seen depicted in any other film. Is the movie otherwise the masterpiece that Anderson wants it to be or a gigantic pretentious mess? I’m honestly not entirely certain. Perhaps it can be both. (That hour in the middle where almost nothing at all happens was pretty problematic when I saw this in the theater, but plays better at home.)
I also have to give an Honorable Mention to ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs‘. Despite finding its trailers underwhelming, this hilariously goofy animated flick won me over in the opening moments and kept a smile on my face for the duration.
Tell us in the Comments about your favorite movies that depict extreme weather.