The Last Winter (2006), Half-Life (2008), and The Thaw (2008) draw on elements of a variety of genres (science fiction, animation, eco-terrorism, action-adventure, to name a few). But all three films center on themes that are connected explicitly with warnings against the negative consequences of rapid climate change.
The Last Winter centers on the KIC Corporation’s attempts to drill oil in a melting Arctic. When the permafrost begins to thaw, an ice road to bring in oil drilling equipment becomes nearly impossible, but the melting permafrost also releases “sour gases” and either hallucinated or actual monsters that seem to fight against the company representatives’ exploitation of Alaskan resources, a battle that turns an eco-terrorism plot on its head. Instead of human actors destroying means of resource exploitation, the resources themselves intervene, attacking humanity with “sour gases” that may cause insanity and, perhaps, supernatural protectors of the Arctic that spring from ancient elements buried in melting permafrost.
The narrative of The Last Winter highlights elements of the action-adventure genre in its scenes of human survival in spite of the harsh environment of the Antarctic. But it also illustrates the pull of an eco-terrorism plot and the, perhaps, supernatural ramifications of humanity’s drive for resources, an environmental theme propelled by a mixed-genre fictional film.
Half-Life, on the other hand, centers on the coming-of-age stories of a precocious boy and his jaded sister, who use their imaginative powers to escape a confining home-life, save their self-destructive mother from her charmingly manipulative boyfriend, and finally reinvent their world in a mind bending conclusion. The film draws on multiple genres to fulfill this challenging conclusion, integrating animation and supernatural elements with generic expectations of the typical family melodrama.
This powerful family melodrama, however, literally parallels the troubling consequences of climate change surrounding them, global cataclysms from species extinction to tsunamis. In Half-Life, the destruction of the natural world is in direct relationship with the destruction of the family. The only escape is the creation of a new world that hybridizes approaches, a point illustrated by the ethnically ambiguous family members and their friends.
The Thaw takes the most direct approach to climate change, highlighting some of the real consequences of melting Arctic ice. In The Thaw, melting permafrost does not cause insanity. Instead, it reveals a preserved mastodon carcass infested with a deadly parasite. The melting ice releases both the mastodon and its parasites, but the film moves beyond a traditional dramatic plotline and integrates both action-adventure and eco-terrorism elements to ramp up the tension. An environmentalist, for example, attempts to transport the parasites back to the mainland, so apathetic Westerners will be forced to react to repercussions of climate change.
Ultimately, all three of these films demonstrate the complexity of issues surrounding climate change. They also showcase the continuing influence of social, cultural, and political contexts on the feature film.