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Eco-disasters, caught on film!

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By Jevon Phillips, Patrick Day, and Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

On Earth Day, we look at a handful of eco-centric films in which characters do battle and/or lose the war against Mother Nature.

Whether dealing with natural, man-made or otherworldly disasters, insolent humans have to take into account how we affect and react to the environment around us. Or else.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Eco-disaster: Global warming (or cooling)/greenhouse gases melting the ice cap

Solution: None. Dennis Quaid, as a paleoclimatologist, predicts the events but doesn’t think they’ll happen for years. Arctic storms hit New York, tornadoes toss L.A. -- there is no stopping “momma.”

Pictured: Jake Gyllenhaal (Twentieth Century Fox)
12 Monkeys (1995)
Eco-disaster: Killer virus wipes out the human population of Earth, driving survivors underground.

Solution: A prisoner in the year 2035 (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to stop the outbreak of the virus. He fails at his assigned task and only succeeds in getting killed in front of his younger self, thereby enduring self-made nightmares into his future. At least this world-ending virus didn’t result in zombie-vampires like the plagues in “I Am Legend” and “28 Days Later.” (Phillip Caruso / Universal)
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Eco-disaster: Ground pollution, specifically (toxic and carcinogenic) chromium 6.

Solution: A little lady with a fighter’s spirit educates herself, takes on the big guys and wins. Following a true story, Brockovich (Julia Roberts) learned the legal and chemical ins and outs and got Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to pay up after poisoning the land and the residents surrounding their company. (Bob Marshak / Universal)
The Mist (2007)
Eco-disaster: Opening portals into other dimensions.

Solution: Just call in the military. After all sorts of huge bug-like alien creatures pour into our reality, killing many and even causing a man to kill his child, military units sweep through, brandishing flamethrowers and other weaponry to save the day. (Van Reddin / The Weinstein Co.)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Eco-disaster: Global warming.

Solution: Slide shows! Slide shows, when deployed strategically, can help to defeat the menace of global warming. Pacing onstage during slide shows gives giant Al Gore a trimmer physique, less need to consume. Surprisingly high box office and an Oscar win also aid in garnering worldwide notice. (Eric Lee / Paramount Pictures)
Soylent Green (1973)
Eco-disaster: Overpopulation

Solution: Take all those extra dead bodies and turn them into “soylent green,” the green food ration chips supposedly made from high-energy plankton. Credit a homicide detective, played by Charlton Heston, to be the spoiler to this efficient recycling system by informing the unwitting public, “Soylent green is people!” Sounds like a warning, but could also be an ad slogan. After all, flavor trumps everything. (Los Angeles Times file photo)
Sunshine (2007)
Eco-disaster: Dimming sun

Solution: Launch a spaceship armed with a massive nuclear weapon to detonate on the sun, hopefully re-igniting that big ball of gas. Also hope that the crew doesn’t pick up a crazy astronaut or that they won’t go crazy themselves during the journey. It should be noted that despite the presence of “28 Days Later” director Danny Boyle at the helm, no zombie-vampires make an appearance. (Alex Bailey / Twentieth Century Fox)
Happy Feet (2006)
Eco-disaster: Overfishing is decimating wildlife in Antarctica.

Solution: Our wingless protagonist teaches his penguin pack to dance; the dancing is filmed by scientists who determine that the penguins are trying to communicate. What are those feet saying? Stop over-fishing the waters, humans. Real-life solution? Sustainable fishing laws and enough money to enforce them. (Warner Bros. / Associated Press)
Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
Eco-disaster: Global warming, melting of an ice wall that threatens to destroy the home of our heroes.

Solution: There is no solution for our beloved protagonists -- Manny, Sid, Diego and assorted friends they met along the way -- except to escape the valley and find a rumored boat to carry them to safety. (Blue Sky Studios)
On Deadly Ground (1994)
Eco-disaster: Oil company corruption/killing the land

Solution: For Steven Seagal, a cool demeanor, a bit of stealth and lots of fists. An ex- CIA agent stumbles upon a plot to take the land from the Eskimos, and he’s put in danger because of it. Environmentalists thought there was too much violence, industrialists thought the anti-machinery message was wrong. Regardless, Seagal’s character got the word out about corruption. (Warner Bros.)
Armageddon (1988)
Eco-disaster: An unexpected and disastrous asteroid shower comes out of nowhere and decimates New York. Scientists then discover that an asteroid the size of Texas is heading toward Earth. If it hits the planet, all of Earth’s inhabitants will be destroyed.

Solution: There’s only one thing to do in a situation like this -- blow that space object up with a nuclear warhead. Bruce Willis and his group of misfit drillers to the rescue. (Frank Masi / Touchstone)
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