Energy Films

Energy in Film Take 2: Sci-fi, comedy and drama

Energy old and new in the Crows Nest Pass, Alberta, Canada. © J. Ashley Nixon


Previously, in Energy in Film Take 1, I made reference to the work of Dr. Michael E. Webber and his team at the University of Texas at Austin, who are researching the role of film in the further understanding of energy, society and the environment. On their Energy at the Movies blog site, there are about fifty (and growing) films described for their relevance to energy. Looking over this selection compelled me to fire up some of my own film/energy synapses and come up with six favourites taken from sci-fi, comedy and drama genres. Which films would you select?

Cloud Atlas (2012)

This is a Sci-fi film and drama around six interconnected stories. Each narrative has the same actors playing different roles set at different times including Tom Hanks, Hayley Berry and (a favourite actor of mine) Jim Broadbent. One episode is around a nuclear power station conspiracy in the San Francisco area in 1973. Directed by the Wachowski’s (who directed The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (who also directed Run Lola Run), adapted by the book of the same name written by David Mitchell.

Local Hero (1983)

This British comedy/drama is about the desires of an American oil tycoon/developer (played by Burt Lancaster) to build a refinery near to a remote Scottish village, and his dreams for something else. His plans take an interesting turn in this film directed by Bill Forsyth who made some other classic comedies in the early 1980s including That sinking feeling and Gregory’s Girl. Stars also include Denis Lawson, Fulton MacKay and Jenny Seagrove, who literally dips in and out of the movie. This is a movie that can be watched over and again with, amongst several gems, a catching glimpse of the distant Inner Hebrides and a beautiful soundtrack written and performed by Mark Knopfler (formerly of Dire Straits). For younger Doctor Who fans, check out for Peter Capaldi, the latest Doctor, playing Oldsen.

Doctor Who (1963-present)

Arguably the best television-based popular (and often comic), sci-fi show to have run. Certainly the longest-running, still at it after over fifty years, and no signs of fading away. I have lived with this BBC show all my life. The Cybermen first scared me as I peered, eyes between hands, half-hidden behind the sofa.  Decades later, and with more sophisticated sets and effects, new generations of viewers are hooked on the stories around a Time Lord who periodically regenerates his appearance while travelling through time in the Tardis, saving planets and fighting off monsters. There is almost an alphabet-full of energy forms (Artron, Bekaren, Chronon through to Zytron energy) to be found amongst the planets or the power sources for sonic screwdrivers, Daleks or other combatants. What a great thesis for a Ph.D.!

Edge of Darkness (1985)

This TV series (6 x 55 mins) from the BBC was very popular at the time and is still regarded as one of the most influential British television dramas ever made. The plot involves the murder of an environmental activist working for GAIA (big influence from James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis here), crime detection and complete nuclear conspiracy fall-out in the NW of England. Starring Bob Peck and Joanne Whalley, the series has another gem of a soundtrack composed and performed by Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen. There was a film remake of the TV series in 2010 (not seen).

How Green was my Valley (1941)

An oldie but a goodie to throw in the pit. The film of the book by Richard Llewellyn was directed by John Ford and won five Academy Awards. Based on life and death and coal mining in the Welsh Valleys (which meant the same thing in those days). Interestingly, the film was not made in Wales (due to events during World War II)  but on a specially made set in Malibu Creek State Park, California, a movie ranch used as a location for dozens of films when it was owned by 20th Century Fox. The energy costs of making films is another story in this series ….see Take 4 coming up soon.

Brassed Off (1996)

Finally, this is one of my all-time favourite films, whatever the theme. Set in my home county of Yorkshire, this is a British comedy-drama directed by Mark Herman, with a quite remarkable blend of humour, pathos and political insight into the troubled times of the (fictional) pit village of Grimley during the Miners’ Strike in 1984-85. It is a must-see for moments where you laugh and cry at the same time. See, for example, the linked clip featuring Stephen Tompkinson as the miner turned not so good clown, Mr. Chuckles, although you really need to see the whole film to get the context to what he has to say. Headlining the film as Mr. Chuckles’ father/Brass Band conductor is the late, great Pete Postlethwaite. Also starring are Tara Fitzgerald and Ewan McGregor. Oh, and once again, the soundtrack is excellent, as played by (the real) Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

Which energy-related films are your favourites?

Energy in Film Take 3 will look at the influence actors may have on energy policy and public perceptions.

Thanks for coming to take a look.

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