Three movies to watch this summer

Published Tuesday, August 2, 2016 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

Summertime is the perfect time to sit back, relax and watch a movie – so here are three worth watching, each with some pretty important underlying messages.

Documentary: Chasing Ice (2012)

In 2007, National Geographic photographer James Balog got an interesting assignment: go take pictures of a glacier in Iceland, then go back six months later and take more pictures from the same spot to see how the glacier had changed.  

The differences were astounding, and led Balog to abandon his earlier scepticism about climate change.  He established a foundation called The Extreme Ice Survey (www.extremeicesurvey.org), and set out to document the changing face of glaciers by setting up more than 20 time-lapse cameras at locations in Iceland, Greenland and the US.

Balog’s results are breathtaking.  His time-lapse sequences show glaciers coming to life: moving like rivers, breaking off at the calving face, and, unfortunately, thinning and retreating.  His pictures are the only visual documentation we have of many of the subject glaciers. 

Amid those powerful vignettes are woven simple explanations of the science of climate change, supported by superbly clear graphics.

If you’re up for some awe-inspiring ice photography, a little bit of science, a certain measure of discomfort and a spectacular ending sequence, watch Chasing Ice on the biggest screen you can find.  Rated five stars on Netflix, with the declaration, “Nobody comes out of this one in climate change denial.”

Family-friendly: WALL-E (2008) 

For a lighter viewing experience, try this animated Disney masterpiece, whose unsettling messages about consumerism and environmental degradation are wrapped up in a story that’s both fun and compelling.

The movie is set 700 years into the future.  Earth has become depleted and covered in trash, thanks to mass consumerism promoted by a large corporation.  Humanity has had to evacuate to a large spaceship orbiting the planet, waiting for the day it’s safe to return.  

The only inhabitant of Earth is the movie’s title character, WALL-E (an abbreviation for Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth-class).  Of a fleet of trash compacting robots left behind to try to clean up the mess, he’s the only one still functioning.  It’s a monumental job, and it’s lonely; a pet cockroach is his only company.

Circumstances bring WALL-E up to the spaceship, where he discovers humans not frantic to get back to Earth, but relaxing and passing time in hovering chairs.  They spend their days eating, communicating via video screens and watching advertisements, and have become so obese they are unable to move on their own.  

There’s much more to WALL-E and the movie has a happy ending, with – spoiler alert – Earth on the road to recovery.  But despite the lighthearted tone, the underlying messages about consumerism, waste and sustainability are hard to miss.  Rated 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, WALL-E can be borrowed via your local public library.

Drama/biography: Erin Brockovich (2000)

If you like David-and-Goliath battles, you’ll love this true story.

Erin Brockovich is a single mom working as a clerk in a law office in Hinkley, California.  When a big corporation long suspected of polluting local groundwater benevolently offers to purchase the home of a woman sick with cancer, Erin gets suspicious and launches her own covert investigation.  Through dogged perseverance, she eventually unearths a chain of evidence proving not only that the company has been polluting local groundwater for years, but that senior management at corporate headquarters were well aware but did nothing to stop it.  

Erin Brockovich demonstrates the power of one committed individual to make a difference, and is made more potent by the fact that it’s a true story.  Rated R due to language; available via your public library.

Happy – and inspired – summer watching!