Sunday, August 17, 2008

Polar Cities Project meets "THE ROAD" (the movie)

Imagine a movie titled "Polar City Red", directed by a Hollywood ace and written by a veteran screenwriter with an eye for sci fi and climate scnarios. Here is what a critic might write of the film production process:

POLAR CITY RED comes to the screen

Macall Polay / Dimension Films

THE DIRECTOR: John Hillcoat viewed the tale as “a thrilling evocation of human endurance in the far distant future.”

Director John Hillcoat and colleagues, in adapting the sci fi book, have toiled to weigh hopelessness against faith.

August 17, 3008

Barrow, Alaska -- The father and son struggling to stay alive in "Polar City Red" understand that everything they know is coming to an end.

Ext. ROAD -- DAY

In the burnt, barren landscape, through swirls of soft ash and smoggy air the MAN appears dressed as if homeless, a filthy old parka with the hood up, a knapsack on his back, pushing a rusted shopping cart with a bicycle mirror clamped to the handle and a blue tarp now covering its load. The little BOY, similarly dressed with a knapsack on his back, shuffles through the ash at his side.

Screenwriter Joe Penhall's adaptation of the bestselling novel POLAR CITY RED opens with the two survivors of global warming in 2525 enduring an earthquake, witnessing a forest fire, stepping around a severed human leg and discovering a family of three who have hanged themselves -- all before Page 8. In Penhall's script, father and son also encounter a man stumbling along in near blindness, his hair singed, his flesh charred; run from a pack of gun-toting cannibals; and find a crudely painted billboard proclaiming, "Behold the Valley of Slaughter."

The world -- and everything in it -- is dying, and the Man and the Boy are determined to keep moving, knowing that if they stop, some horrible fate will claim them. The shopping cart's mirror isn't for decoration: It's to see if anyone is gaining on them. In such dire circumstances, the least comfort -- fresh food, clean water, a blanket -- is magnified into the greatest luxury, and that has made the scene that "Polar City Red" director John Hillcoat was filming on a late spring day even more difficult to execute.

The idea was to ground the story in American reality whenever possible rather than where-in-the-world-are-we "Mad Max" fantasy. Hillcoat hoped that one of the film's most distressing images would be a field of snow covered with blood and bloody footprints, inspired by a picture the director saw from a Bosnian Serb slaughter of Muslims.

With so much death, though, audiences may need a little life too, and that's where the relationship between Mortensen and Smit-McPhee will be critical. If the story's father dies before he can bring his son to a safe place, he knows that his young child will at best have to face this unforgiving world alone and at worst suffer a horrible end at someone else's hands.

If the father can somehow remain alive long enough, his son -- and, by extension, the human race -- might just be able to make it. Since the Man (likely a doctor) is dying of some unknown ailment, he needs to know that the Boy will still "carry the fire," as the author memorably put it, and try to build a new and better world in the days and years ahead.

Hillcoat hoped that his movie's closing image will be an extreme close-up of the Boy's face, filled not with dread but optimism. "It's like first contact," Hillcoat says. "You can literally see the wheels of his mind spinning. The human story is what has to be the most intense."

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