2001-2010BooksPat Brereton

Pat Brereton – Hollywood Utopia: Ecology in Contemporary American Cinema (2005)

The fruit of years of painstaking study, Pat Brereton’s Hollywood Utopia is a landmark in the emerging field of ecological media criticism. The more urban human societies become, the more our media reflect upon the landscapes, the animals and the fragile unities of our planet. Of no media formation is this more true than of Hollywood, as Brereton argues in this meticulously researched and carefully organised work. Far from trashing the planet, Hollywood films have, Brereton claims, a tradition stretching back to the 1950s of care and concern for humanity estranged from its roots, and a world at risk of destruction. Through innovative analyses of Jurassic Park, Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, Star Trek, Terminator 2 and Blade Runner among countless older and newer films, Brereton traces a utopianism often overlooked in traditional film criticism. Not only films with explicitly Green agendas like Emerald Forest and Medicine Man, but in films noted for far different qualities exhibit the saving grace of nature.Films like Dances With Wolves or the towering spectacle of the tornado’s heart in Twister provide grist for an original and far-reaching account of the place of nature in contemporary popular cinema. Dissent and disorder emerge in science fiction films of the 1950s and blockbusters of the early 21st century. The book traces complex negotiations with the meanings of nature and humananity’s place in it through costume dramas and high-tech special effects bonanzas, always with an eye to the telling contradiction and the emergence of a generalised and liberal but nonetheless impressive and perhaps heartfelt need to restore the bonds that have been sundered between humans and their environment.

Utopianism, alongside its more prevalent dystopian opposite together with ecological study has become a magnet for interdisciplinary research and is used extensively to examine the most influential global medium of all time. The book applies a range of interdisciplinary strategies to trace the evolution of ecological representations in Hollywood film from 1950s to the present, which has not been done on this scale before. Many popular science fiction, westerns, nature and road movies, as listed in the filmography are extensively analysed while particularly privileging ecological moments of sublime expression often dramatized in the closing moments of these films.

The five chapters all use detailed film readings to exemplify various aspects of this ‘feel good’ utopian phenomenon which begins with an exploration of the various meanings of ecology with detailed examples like Titanic helping to frame its implications for film study. Chapter two concentrates on nature film and its impact on ecology and utopianism using films like Emerald Forest and Jurassic Park, while the third chapter looks at road movies and also foreground nature and landscape as read through cult films like Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise and Grand Canyon. The final two science fiction chapters begin with 1950s B movie classics, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Incredible Shrinking Man and compare these with more recent conspiracy films like Soylent Green and Logan’s Run alongside the Star Trek phenomenon. The last chapter provides a postmodernist appreciation of ecology and its central importance within contemporary cultural studies as well as applying post-human, feminist and cyborg theory to more recent debates around ecology and ‘hope for the future’, using readings of among others the Terminator series, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element and Alien Resurrection.


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