At the risk of a pop culture flogging, I thought that someone over at the Natural Security blog should put out some commentary on the seemingly messianic piece of 3D cinema known as Avatar. On a personal note, it was a movie you readily want to hate, but actually proves to be pretty solid, despite its sadly obvious symbolic language (e.g., the hard to find, harder to extract mineral Unobtainium, or the dangerous celestial setting of the film, the planet Pandora), three hour run time and near unprecedented number of fans, the sadly obsessive, the geeky and the freaky.
For anyone who has seen Avatar, it is clear just how readily the plot lends itself to issues of Natural Security. For those that haven't, I'll spare the internet the burden of serving as a host to yet another film summary (suffice it to say that it evokes the spirit of the theatrical offspring of Dances with Wolves and FernGully) and hit on the great Natural Security bits.
In the film, Earth is in an energy crisis due to its entrenched investment in finite energy resources. This brings both mining and military forces (all represented by American personnel mind you) to a distant land, where the resident Na’vi people sit atop one of the most vital and valuable energy resources known to humankind - Unobtainium. It's at this point that you might begin to doubt James Cameron's cinematic subtleties and wonder why he didn't simply name the planet Iraq, and ditch the term "unobtanium" for "oil." I must admit, I was waiting for a "Mission Accomplished" banner the whole time, which (*spoiler alert*), never did materialize.
While initially the film's concept of an energy war may seem to be nothing more than a glaring indictment of some current issues, it does offer a little more. The reason Unobtainium is worth all this trouble is that it not only provides a hyper-efficient and sustainable (ignoring the side effect of killing the planet Pandora) answer to Earth's energy woes, it also allows for the energy capabilities for interstellar travel, trade and pioneering. So really we’ve switched our dependency on one resource for another, something we advocate against at the Natural Security blog since dependency on one resource can lead to struggle and potential conflict over it. Just ask the Na’vi.
Scientists have come up with many wacky ideas in the search for new forms of energy. The Department of Energy has even decided to throw money at people with off-the-wall ideas in the hopes that some of them will work. This creative impulse has also inspired filmmakers who need a good plot device to set a thriller in motion (see The Man with the Golden Gun and Will's forthcoming review of Chain Reaction). Today I'm reviewing 1997's The Saint, which deals with cold fusion, an energy process that would theoretically allow for a limitless source of nuclear energy created on small surfaces at room temperatures.
Val Kilmer stars as Simon Templar, an orphan turned thief-for-hire who uses the names of Catholic saints for aliases. That doesn’t seem like a terribly sophisticated system, but man, does he have those Scotland Yard detectives stumped. Simon is proficient in the usual Hollywood superspy skills: hand-to-hand combat, defensive driving, high-tech gadgets—everything except firearms, to which he seems to have an aversion. Rade Serbedzija is on hand as Ivan Tretiak, a now-familiar type of villain—the former Soviet apparatchik now flush with oil and gas money in the new Russia (see The Bourne Supremacy for a more recent example). Tretiak is impressed with Simon's thieving skills and hires him to steal the secrets of cold fusion for his own nefarious ends.
There Will Be Blood, a 2007 film very loosely based on the 1927 Upton Sinclair book Oil!, is really only partly about oil. At its core, it's a story of a man who absolutely hates to lose, and who does a lot of bad things to fight his way upward to an empty success. Oil is merely Daniel Plainview's chosen weapon.
By the year 2022, things have taken a decided turn for the worse in New York City – and the world in general, we’re led to believe – in the 1973 classic dystopian film Soylent Green.
In the opening montage, the viewer is presented with a series of images showing an increasingly polluted, overpopulated, and energy hungry world where the streets are full of trash and the buildings – quite literally – overflowing with people. New York City has a population of 40 million and an unemployment rate of about 50%, riots are common, and the climate is discussed as being a “heat wave all year long” thanks to the greenhouse effect. Most importantly, water is extremely scarce – with long queues for access to public spigots – and food as we know it is all but nonexistent, available only to the ultra-elite. In its place, people subsist on manufactured rations produced by the ubiquitous Soylent Corporation. These rations come in three varieties – Soylent Red, Soylent Yellow, and the eponymous Soylent Green, which is ostensibly produced from oceanic plankton, and is by far the most popular of the trio (it’s only available on Tuesdays, and when it runs out, riots break out that can only be controlled by police in football helmets and what appear to be backhoes).