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‘Cli Fi’ Rising to New Hollywood Heights (Guest Blog)

”Godzilla“ and other cli-fi blockbusters are gently pushing the emerging genre into the spotlight

It’s not every day that Time magazine follows what NPR and the New York Times set in motion, but the May 19 issue of the weekly magazine does just that, and with aplomb.

Reporter Lily Rothman went even a step further in her summer movie preview in the culture section headlined “Godzilla, ‘Into the Storm’ and More Summer ‘Cli-Fi’ Thrillers,” gently pushing the emerging genre of cli fi directly to the titans of Hollywood.

Steve Tisch, are you following? John Blumenthal, savvy screenwriter and comic wit, are you reading? Christopher Nolan and Shekhar Kapur, will your new movies follow the cli-fi clarion call, too?

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Hollywood has long shown an interest in climate-themed movies, from “Solyent Green” to “Noah.” But as the world continues to warm up miniscule degree by miniscule degree and puts the very existence of the human species at a very grave risk, cli-fi film directors have their work cut out for them. There is a whole new world of cinema to explore, and while sci fi has served Hollywood well — and vice versa — here comes cli fi to wake up the world.

“A surge of summer movies reflect our environmental anxieties,” Time’s copy desk subheadlined Rothman’s thoughtful piece, and so they do, so they do. “Snowpiercer” (a cli-fi movie from South Korea due for a limited release in North America on June 27) stars Captain America’s Chris Evans as he tries to cope with “societal strife in a new ice age,” as Time defines the movie’s focus.

Rothman doesn’t mince her words adding, “Some say films like these are helping define a new subgenre:’cli-fi,’ or climate fiction. It’s a timely subject for the summer [of 2014], given that the National Climate Assessment released May 6 found that the U.S. is already seeing the effects of climate change. Though the havoc in each film is wreaked in its own way, all of them use environmental destruction to raise the stakes.”

Also read: Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ Set to Flood ‘Cli Fi’ Zone (Guest Blog)

No, Godzilla doesn’t wear ”a Greenpeace logo on his back,” as Rothman writes in one of the best lines in her 1500-word article. But ”Godzilla”’ producer Thomas Tull tells Time while he didn’t want the movie to hit audiences too hard with a too-green message, he still hopes the Japanesey flick will resonate with a global audience as the world’s nations grapple with climate change and man-made global warming over the next 100 years.

“Snowpiercer” distributor’s spokesman Tom Quinn told Rothman that he “can reel off a whole list of themes he thinks come up in the [Korean-helmed] movie set in a post-climate-change world, from social class to income inequality.” Sure, it’s just a movie, but at the same time “Snowpiercer” pierces through the climate denialists’ misinformation tactics like a hot focused laser.

“There’s a truth to this film that I think can extend beyond the tentpole movies of the summer,” Quinn was quoted as saying, adding that “Snowpiercer” could be “a Trojan horse for a younger audience that frankly might not want to talk about that stuff.”

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“The Day After Tomorrow,” as readers old enough to remember will recall, came out 10 years ago, and in many ways elbowed Hollywood into exploring climate-related issues and themes. Next up in the fall is Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” which according my sources, has a strong cli-fi theme. And after that there’s Indian director Shekhar Kapur’s futuristic water-wars themed movie titled “Paani” with John Travolta attached in 2015.

In Hindi, “paani” means water, and Kapur has a screenplay and a production concept for the film — to be shot on location in India and to feature water resource issues dividing rich and poor in a near future setting — that will blow a lot of earlier climate movies out of the water, he told me in a recent email.

I believe such current and future cli-fi movies will succeed in helping audiences to confront environmental issues, much the way Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel ”On the Beach” — and the subsequent movie directed by Stanley Kramer — dramatized the horrors of nuclear war and nuclear winter and helped raise global awareness of the issues involved.

In my crystal ball, as I told Rothman in a phone interview for her magazine piece, a new Nevil Shute is going to arise somewhere in the world, maybe even in Australia again. And he or she is going to wake people up with a powerful cli-fi novel which will later be turned into an even more powerful movie. It’s now time for Hollywood to go cli fi, and I think it’s happening.

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Godzilla director Gareth Edwards, 38, knows a thing or two about the power of the Hollywood dream machine to foster awareness of controversial issues.

“Sci-fi and fantasy have always reflected the fears of the time,” he told Time, adding, “I think that films like ‘Godzilla’ are like the fantasy punishment for what we’ve done. The real punishment will happen if we keep going this route. Films like this help remind us not to get too complacent-and that we should really try and fix some of these things that we’ve done before it’s too late.”

Before it’s too late. Underline those key words: ”Before. It’s. Too. Late.”

Dan Bloom is a freelance writer based in Asia since 1991. During a five-year stint in Tokyo, he covered the triumphs (and occasional failures) of Hollywood movies in Japan and interviewed American actors passing through Tokyo on film promotion tours, including Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Kevin Costner.