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How movies like Contagion or San Andreas can help us prepare for the next natural disaster

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Actor Dwayne Johnson at the premiere of San Andreas at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood, on May 26 2015.


Frank Trapper/Corbis by way of Getty Images

Back in March, when COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders have been imposed in California, I noticed it was the excellent event to lastly watch Contagion. And if the story depicted on display ever turned actuality, I’d need to be Matt Damon‘s character in the film. Or his daughter’s. They make it until the finish largely unscathed. 

The 2011 movie directed by Steven Soderbergh depicts a pandemic with a flu-like virus similar to the one we face at present (however far more deadly). Damon’s character seems to be immune, however he makes certain his teenage daughter takes all the precautions to not catch it: isolation, mask-wearing, avoiding contact with others in any respect prices. I wasn’t alone looking out solace in Contagion, it turned considered one of the most watched movies on iTunes.

It’s only a film, however I discovered quite a bit about illness transmission and prevention from Contagion. Not for nothing — it was praised for its scientific accuracy. It obtained me considering: What else may we study from natural disaster movies? There are movies that cope with earthquakes, like San Andreas or The Quake. Movies about tsunamis, like The Wave or The Impossible. We even have movies that function the influence of local weather change, like The Day After Tomorrow.

“Do we learn anything from them? Obviously not. I mean, Contagion was made some time ago,” says Professor Phyllis Nagy, Head of Screenwriting at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & Television. She additionally factors out that when the 1974 movie Earthquake was launched it did not transfer the needle by way of preparedness in California. “It was launched in theaters with one thing known as Sensurround. When you sat in the theater, you really felt the earthquake.”


Robert Rodriguez/CNET

“Hollywood’s first job is to entertain people,” says Ann Merchant, the Deputy Executive Director at the Office of Communications of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. 

Merchant leads The Science & Entertainment Exchange, a program connecting filmmakers, producers and screenwriters with a database of greater than 2,400 scientists and engineers. 

“Even if you live in an earthquake-free kind of area,” says Merchant, “you can get a sense of what it is to live through one, watching a movie where an earthquake takes place.”

“Film and television are a form of accidental curriculum,” she says.

The disaster film tropes

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Kathrine Thorborg Johansen in The Quake. 


Magnet Releasing

Nagy, who was nominated for an Oscar for her 2015 screenplay Carol, breaks the method most natural disaster movies are constructed on. “Some people die. They die heroes and the protagonist of the movie lives”, she says. “It provides a sense of comfort that there’ll be a survivor. And you’re the survivor of your own narrative.” 

Contemporary disaster movies can’t be hopeless: “Earth and the people of the Earth have to survive. Even if the hero — and this is a variation — dies saving the world.” 

Nagy additionally believes disaster movies must ship on the “disaster”.

“If it’s an earthquake movie, there must be an earthquake. You need the spectacle,” she says.

Think about the 2015 movie San Andreas. The movie starring Dwayne Johnson as a Los Angeles firefighter was certainly a spectacle, portraying a number of huge earthquakes that struck Los Angeles and San Francisco. But even with all the fallen skyscrapers, the film did not present the hundreds of thousands of deaths that may have resulted from such devastation. At the finish of the day, The Rock’s character reunited along with his estranged spouse, they rescued their daughter and located their pleased ending.

The energy of science

Merchant acknowledges movies do not all the time get the science proper however there are advantages to cinematic portrayals even when they include scientific inaccuracies. Professor Thomas Jordan, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, consulted on San Andreas. When the film was launched Jordan was interviewed by a number of media retailers about the actual science of earthquake security. “It received national coverage,” says Merchant. “He got his science out to an audience that might otherwise not have heard from him.”

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Silje Breivik and Kristoffer Joner in The Wave.


Magnolia Pictures

The Science & Entertainment Exchange launched in 2008 and so they’ve consulted on round 3,000 movie and TV properties, San Andreas and Contagion amongst them. The analysis exhibits that movies have an effect on the scientific concepts of the viewers and this program desires to take full benefit of that. “We’re the National Academy of Sciences, we didn’t start this program because it would be fun to go to Hollywood,” she says. “We started this program because the literature search demonstrated the effectiveness of this strategy.”

It wasn’t a film that lastly pushed Professor Nagy to get an emergency package, although. It was a chat from a security officer who defined what may occur throughout a +7.zero magnitude earthquake, particularly for somebody like her who was dwelling in a high-rise constructing at the time. 

After greater than seven years dwelling in the Bay Area, I nonetheless do not have an emergency package. I’ve been that means to get one for the entire seven years. 

The many natural disaster movies I watched and rewatched these previous few weeks of lockdown have taught me about the want for them and a lot else. Whether it is earthquakes, hurricanes or tsunamis, you want to concentrate on the specific perils of the place you reside. Get journey insurance coverage, have an evacuation plan, select an out of state contact, take a first assist class. And I can’t stress this sufficient, positively discover ways to swim if you have not.

Because at the finish of the day, like Merchant says: “I do not assume anybody thinks that The Rock goes to brush down in a helicopter and pull us out of a yawning chasm to avoid wasting us.”

Pity.

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