A Case Against Oil Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge… and hopefully the rest of Alaska… and the rest of the world

Hello everybody! I’ve kind of phoned it in over the past few weeks, but there’s a good reason for that. What? Did you want me to share it with you? Well I don’t want to, so tough. Live in suspense, my loyal and occasional and apathetic and non-existent readers. Some sweet day you may learn of what has been new in my life and why it’s distracting me from my normal blogging duties, but it is not this day! Until then, be content with the last post before the fourth quarter-annual State of the Season, and see if you can contribute to the change that is necessary to literally save the world.

Last Wednesday, US President Barack Obama’s administration granted permission for Royal Dutch Shell PLC – better known simply as Shell Oil, or that gas station that accepts my Kroger Fuel Points – to begin exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea of Alaska. The intent is to curb the United States’ dependence on foreign oil reserves, yet the economic benefits of this drilling and any drilling are debatable, and the risk of detrimental impact on the environment in the Chukchi Sea and everywhere else is, as Jimmy McMillan says of New York’s rent, too damn high.

When I was in college, I wrote a paper about the problems concerning the potential drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in northeast Alaska. What follows is a paraphrasing of that composition with jokes added in and a list of my references at the end. Please feel free to check them out for greater detail on the debate of whether or not to drill in ANWR. I present this to you all now not because I’m continuing to be lazy in my writing (well, maybe a little) but because I feel it applies to the current situation. I’m a much bigger fan of unlimited and cleaner renewable fuels like solar, wind, and water power than I am of finite and dirty sources of energy like oil, natural gas, and coal. It makes more sense to me to pay the heftier upfront cost of switching over our primary energy sources to the longer lasting and cheaper overall renewables than to continue to run with the polluting power we’ve got for only so much longer. I’ll get more into my reasons for concern in a bit, but first some historical background is in order.

In 1960, one year after becoming a state, Alaska preserved 8.9 million acres of land in its northeastern coastal area as the Arctic National Wildlife Range.  In 1980, 9.2 million more acres were added and it was renamed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and was deemed “off-limits” by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), so that it could not be developed in any way. However, Section 1002 of the Act reserved 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain for oil development if Congress votes for it. This coastal plain is referred to as the 1002 Area. I know, wildly original, right?

Negative impacts on the local environment

As I hinted at before, oil drilling can have detrimental effects on both animals and humans, and the 1002 Area is no exception. Three common impacts on the environment from oil development are: “1.) increased soil erosion and siltation of streams” as a result of deforestation, construction, vehicles, and explosions; “2.) disruption of surface and groundwater flow” as a result of surface compaction, drilling wells, and extracting water for drilling; and “3.) persistent loud noises” as a result of explosions. Furthermore, oil facilities pollute the air and water with: “(a) oil, grease, and other contaminants left on the ground surface, (b) well blowouts and subsequent evaporation or burning of the oil, (c) mudpit flooding or leaching, and (d) pipeline ruptures or leaks”. Surprisingly, one of the most ecological damaging impacts resulting from increased oil production is the roads built in formerly wilderness areas. Roads allow for more vehicles to travel to the oil facilities, but this also leads to more dust and noise being generated as well as more collisions with the native wildlife. Such collisions are usually not fun for either party involved. (Stege et al. 1986)

One example of a species directly affected by the oil development in the refuge is the Porcupine River herd of caribou that travels each year to the 1002 Area to give birth to their calves. There are about 123,000 caribou (that is an actual estimate and not a number made up for convenience, although it is nice and round) that come within two miles of oil equipment, but scientists believe that further oil facility development will push the herd back 30 miles from their normal birthing grounds, gradually reducing their overall herd population. (Kotchen et al. 2006)

Also affected by the activity of oil facilities are birds. A study of shorebirds in the 1002 Area revealed that of the 18 species known to breed in the region: “seven are listed as Highly Imperiled or as species of High Concern in the U.S. Shorebird Conservation plan and updated status lists and five species are listed as Birds of Conservation Concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of small or declining populations”. These birds of concern and other avian species in the 1002 Area suffer from the oil operations through direct effects like “loss of habitat through construction of roads, drilling pads, and associated infrastructure, and exposure to oil from spills”, as well as “secondary impacts from access roads and drilling pads [including] dust, changes in hydrology, thawing of permafrost, and roadside snow accumulation”. It is also suggested that oil development could reduce “nesting effort due to disturbance” and bring about “changes in predation rates” as a result of human influence on the birds’ predator populations. The scientists conducting the shorebird study concluded that based upon their population estimates “under WHSRN (Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network) criteria, the Arctic Refuge coastal plain is an important shorebird breeding area, and the association of many species with wetland and riparian habitats indicates that these areas are of particularly high value.” (Brown et al. 2007)

Humans are no strangers to the effects of oil development either. “Oil workers around the world face significant occupational hazards” such as explosions, fire, and chemical contamination. Humans on and off the rigs can be exposed “to naturally occurring radioactive materials brought to the surface during drilling, as well as through the bioaccumulation of oil, mercury, and other products in mammals and fish that humans consume.” (O’Rourke et al. 2003)

Perhaps the greatest example of human suffering in the ANWR is the gradual loss of culture and resources for the Gwich’in people. Indigenous to northeastern Alaska and Canada, the Gwich’in live in fifteen villages “along the migration route of the Porcupine herd of caribou” . The degradation of the Porcupine River habitat directly impacts its caribou herd which the Gwich’in rely on “for their subsistence and for the survival of their culture”. The caribou are such an important resource for the Gwich’in that the coastal plain in the northern slope of the ANWR where the herd calve their young is considered by them as “the place where life begins”. The Gwich’in refused to receive any money from oil operations in the 1002 Area despite the legal obligations of such companies to reimburse native people for the use of their land under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Instead, the Gwich’in have opted to “maintain their traditional way of life” of living off of the land through hunting, fishing, and gathering, recognizing that “money is no substitute for caribou” due to its use as food, clothing, tools, etc. In addition to the Gwich’in, similar Natives like the Inupiat Eskimo rely on the bounty of the land and the sea in the 1002 Area for household needs. You go Gwich’in and Inupiat Eskimo people! (Oil on Ice 2010)

Furthermore, if anything were to happen to damage oil operations in the 1002 Area, like an oil spill, the resulting impact on the environment would be disastrous. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez, a supertanker, spilled around 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound when its hull ruptured. To pay for the incredible damage it had done to the once pristine ecosystem, “a federal court ordered Exxon to pay $5 billion in punitive damages” in 1994, but Exxon appealed and got the amount severely cut, and has since only paid out $3.8 billion (Billitterri 2010). This serves as a prime example where an oil company has come into Alaska and dealt destruction that is still hurting the ecosystem today and then left the locals to deal with the catastrophic damage. Who is to say that they will not do the same thing in the ANWR? Or for that matter in the Chukchi Sea?

Economic reasons against drilling

In an intensive economic study of the estimates of oil thought to be in the 1002 Area in the ANWR compared with the costs to acquire that oil, Hahn et al. concluded that “such an initiative would likely have only a modest impact on future world oil prices—on the order of 1%” and therefore, little impact on reducing current oil prices. In 1991 it was determined that “the US Geological Survey’s mean estimate of recoverable oil in ANWR is 3 .45 billion barrels. At 1989 rates of oil use, this represents about 200 days’ supply”. Considering that this is based upon estimates from about 20 years ago, it is safe to assume that today we consume far more oil faster than 3.45 billion barrels within 200 days. The same article raises a good point that, unlike its data, still rings true today: expanding the industry for a “depleted resource base” will simply increase the production of greenhouse gases, thereby accelerating global warming and creating more ecological concerns by putting “some of the nation’s most important and sensitive ecosystems at risk for at most a few years’ additional supply of oil” (Kaufman et al. 1991). Thus, even if we could live with harming the ANWR’s ecosystem through the process of oil drilling, the profit from it would be miniscule.

Alternative fuels

It seems that the most logical course of action is not to fight over drilling rights in the ANWR but to lessen, and eventually eliminate our need for oil as a fuel source. How then do we reduce our dependence on oil? The Oil on Ice website encourages higher fuel efficiency standards for cars in the hope that less gasoline will be consumed and the demand for oil will decrease, but this will only briefly alleviate the current oil predicament. The future of fuel is going to have to be something other than oil and coal, which give off great quantities of pollution and are running out. What we need in America are fuel sources that are renewable with clean emissions. Fortunately, such fuel sources do exist. According to chief executive of the Rocky Mountain Institute, Amory Lovins, “Resources like wind are not only widely available in the market but are sufficiently abundant to meet all U.S. electricity, or even total energy, needs” (Cooper 2005). “The earth’s wind resource is so large that it could technically provide five times the total energy consumed by the entire world from all sources. Wind turbines are part of “the fastest-growing energy source in the world” and wind power “has the lowest cost of any form of renewable energy other than geothermal (Gore 2009)” mainly because of the global availability of wind.

Solar power “uses photovoltaic cells to convert the sun’s energy into electricity”.  Since sunlight is available everywhere except during nighttime and cloudy days it is a nearly ever-present source of energy. Because of this great availability, solar power outshines oil, coal, and natural gas as all of the world’s combined amount of all of those “contain the same amount of energy as the earth receives in only 50 days from the sun”. This is significant because solar power can be used in many ways, like generating electricity for buildings, vehicles, factories, and even entire cities. Furthermore, there are no pollutants emitted by solar technology. These advantages over traditional energy sources make solar power a realistic long-term replacement for our current polluting fuels.

Geothermal energy is the natural heat Earth generates in its core and it can be used to efficiently generate electricity so well that it could “match all of the energy available from coal, oil, and gas combined”. Geothermal plants generate electricity by using a system of pressure tanks that hot water from the earth flow through with the escaping steam triggering a turbine-operated generator. Since geothermal facilities do not use any fuel to function they are inexpensive to run, although the construction of the facility is expensive.

You can say what you want about former California governor and eternal Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the man politically paved the way to literally pave the way for a “hydrogen highway” with hydrogen fuel stations throughout the state for cars with hydrogen fuel cells in the hopes that making hydrogen a more accessible fuel will increase the use of hydrogen-powered vehicles. Greater availability of hydrogen fueling stations will increase the interest and practicality of driving a hydrogen-powered vehicle in America where only gasoline and diesel are widely available vehicle fuels. If other states follow California’s initiative then hydrogen could become a serious alternative to these other fuels, and possibly a long-term replacement for them. Hydrogen’s potential as a chief source of fuel for most of America’s vehicles is growing everyday because hydrogen is renewable and oil reserves are diminishing worldwide. All that is needed now is for the rest of America to construct hydrogen highways of their own while manufacturing more hydrogen-powered vehicles.

By taking advantage of developing and using these energy sources, along with simple tasks to conserve more energy, such as upgrading to more energy efficient appliances and cars and better tires (Weeks 2005), we can reduce our emissions and our need to obtain more oil. Thus there will not be any more debates over whether to drill or not in the future if there is no need to use oil.


“Scientists generally agree that the release of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” through combustion of oil and the other fossil fuels — coal and, to a lesser degree, natural gas — causes far more damage to the environment than oil spills. For decades scientists have known that greenhouse gases, most abundantly CO2, cause a warming effect within the Earth’s atmosphere, and thus, they are aware that the constant release of such gases from oil developing facilities like rigs and refineries are a larger problem than the occasional oil spill. “Polar ice sheets and high mountain glaciers around the world are melting faster than earlier predicted, while droughts and erratic weather patterns are blamed on rising surface temperatures” (Cooper 2005).

Joseph Romm, an Energy advisor for the Clinton administration says that a plus 2°C rise in global average temperature is “an enormous risk,” and he elaborates “Global warming is why we should be willing to consider spending a lot of money to develop a whole new energy system” (Cooper 2005). Sooooo, why are we not doing this? The answer is probably related to our concerns regarding oil production lying elsewhere, mainly through selling a coveted resource that is sure to make a profit. Alternative fuels are still not popular enough to sell on a global scale. Why would an oil company stop selling their most profitable resource to promote an alternative they are unsure of the marketability of while there is still oil available? Especially if the competition is still going to drill for oil, why should an oil company stop be the first to stop drilling and risk a major profit loss?

It seems that the greatest incentive to drill in the ANWR is to reduce our dependence on foreign energy, but “the cost of destroying one of the last great wilderness areas on the planet (Kotchen et al. 2006)” to collect what is only a mediocre amount of oil compared to what is collected worldwide is not worth it. There does not appear to be a very great quantity of oil in the 1002 Area, so any efforts to collect the oil that is there will not provide an outstanding profit. Furthermore, even if every last drop of oil is acquired from the ANWR, there still is a limited amount of oil left in the world, too small of a supply to provide the global community fuel far into the future. Therefore, alternative fuel sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and hydrogen power must carry us on in the distant future. Why wait until then to develop them?

Unfortunately for the alternative fuel revolution, as a result of oil discoveries in the North Sea and Nigeria, the price of gasoline steadily decreased over the years after the 1970s shortage, so the American desire to develop alternative fuels died away. It seems that each time alternative fuels started to gain some ground in the U.S., Americans would shift their focus back to oil, coal, and natural gas. The amount of alternative fuel research funding provided by the Energy Plan that President Carter developed in 1977 was gradually reduced to next to nothing during the Reagan years. Federal funding supplied $1 billion in alternative fuel research in 1981, but only contributed $116 million in 1989. Opposing political party battles continued years later when President Clinton proposed reducing “energy consumption” to 30% below 1985 levels by 2005, but was dismissed by the Republican-controlled Congress (Cooper 2005). Thus, many opportunities to advance alternative fuel study and production have been cast asunder by feuding political opponents over the past few decades.


In summary, the negative impacts on the environment greatly outweigh the meager economic profit that could be acquired from oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The production of oil will yield major ecological detriments to wildlife species, like caribou. Moreover, the local human population could be exposed to many harmful chemicals and waste products associated with the oil facilities. The facilities themselves will pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, like CO2, thus accelerating the warming effects of climate change.

Through the composition of this paper it was interesting to learn “the oil and gas industry in the United States alone creates more solid and liquid waste than all other categories of municipal, agricultural, mining, and industrial wastes combined” (O’Rourke et al. 2003). The engineering of alternative fuel facilities, like solar and geothermal energy plants, was also interesting to study.

It is more economically sound to invest in research and development of cleaner and renewable alternative fuel sources for permanent future use, than to pursue a finite and vanishing resource that has a high pollution rate. More research must be conducted to develop globally available renewable fuels, whether they are wind, solar, geothermal, or hydrogen powered. Gaylord Nelson, the Wilderness Society chairman, says “The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard” (Stege et al. 1986). By reducing our dependency on oil and embracing a future of alternative fuels we can lay the foundation for a more environmentally conscience and fuel efficient future. Hopefully, one that future generations will thank us for.

Thanks for reading and thanks for dealing with my short post from last week (although it was a pretty awesome episode of Rick and Morty that I included)! Let me know your thoughts regarding this issue or any other, or simply send me a request for what I should write about next to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Track your way back next week for State of the Season 4 and another sultry picture of Chris Pratt.

Toodily oodily,

Alex

References

Billitteri, Thomas J. 2010. “Offshore drilling: Is tougher federal oversight needed?.” CQ Researcher 20:24. Retrieved October 28, 2010 (http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2010062500).

Brown, Stephen, Jonathon Bart, Richard B. Lanctot, James A. Johnson, Steve Kendall, David Payer, and Jay Johnson. 2007. “Shorebird Abundance and Distribution on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” The Condor 109:1. Retrieved October 28, 2010

(http://www.jstor.org/stable/4122527).

Cooper, Mary H. 2005. “Alternative fuels: Is hydrogen the fuel of the future?.” CQ Researcher 15:8. Retrieved October 28, 2010

(http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2005022500).

——. 1992. “Oil spills: Increasing U.S. dependence on oil imports heightens risk to environment.” CQ Researcher 2:2. Retrieved October 28, 2010

(http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre1992011700).

Gore, Al. 2009. “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.” Rodale Books, Retrieved December 5, 2010

(http://ourchoicethebook.com/chapter0/endnotes/)

Hahn, Robert and Peter Passell. 2010. “The economics of allowing more US oil drilling” Energy Economics, 32:3. Retrieved October 28, 2010 Available: ISI Web of Knowledge.

Kaufman, Robert K. and Cutler J. Cleveland. 1991. “Policies to Increase US Oil Production:

Likely to Fail, Damage the Economy, and Damage the Environment.” Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 16. Retrieved October 28, 2010

(http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.eg.16.110191.002115).

Kotchen, Matthew J. and Nicholas E. Burger. 2007. “Should we drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? An economic perspectiveEnergy Policy, 35:9. Retrieved October 28, 2010 Available: ISI Web of Knowledge.

Oil on Ice. 2010. “Our Communities.” Woodside, CA: Oil on Ice Partners, Retrieved December 5, 2010

(http://www.oilonice.org/explore/community.php)

O’Rourke, Dara and Sarah Connolly. 2003. “Just Oil? The Distribution of Environmental and Social Impacts of Oil Production and Consumption.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 28. Retrieved October 28, 2010

(http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.energy.28.050302.105617).

Stege, Alex and Jan Beyea. 1986. “Oil and Gas Resources on Special Federal Lands: Wilderness and Wildlife Refuges.” Annual Review of Energy 28. Retrieved October 28, 2010

(http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.eg.11.110186.001043).

Weeks, Jennifer. 2005. “Domestic energy development: Will more domestic drilling help meet U.S. energy needs.” CQ Researcher 15:34. Retrieved October 28, 2010

(http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2005093000).

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Pluto is a cold, cold celestial dwarf

In the wake of NASA’s New Horizons mission that recently snapped some racy and revealing pictures of everyone’s favorite dwarf planet, as well as my continuing fight against the powers of evil, I present you my tersest post yet. Once more I steal the oeuvre of those more entertaining than I, but when it’s the best from the bizarre brains of Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon on the week’s eve of the second season opener of their magnificent show Rick and Morty, I feel completely justified in copping out. So enjoy, write back if you want to see something specific appear on this blog in the future (monotrememadness@gmail.com), and read with your TV watching eyes.

http://www.adultswim.com/videos/rick-and-morty/something-ricked-this-way-comes/

Stay scientific,

Alex

What Better Way to Celebrate 50 Posts Than With Wilford Brimley?

Hello everyone! I am pleased to say that Shark Week did an all right job of getting back to its good old days and put together a variety of programming that overall was enjoyable and fairly educational. Way to not fuck up completely again Discovery Communications! Naturally after seeing the sinewy sleekness and athletic capabilities of the mako shark I was reminded how I need to do my best to keep in at least healthy shape and limit the number of nights I run to Taco Bell and shark down some fourthmeal/post-excessive alcohol consumption food. I eat better than I did when I was going to school (nobody eats well in college, but I didn’t even try), and a large part of that is thanks to observing firsthand what it’s like to live with type 2 diabetes mellitus and a lack of healthcare when I had to participate in a service project to complete a requirement in a class I was taking called “Poverty and Disease”. The focal point of the course was to discuss epidemiology, the science of the causes of disease in different populations, but as I found out, it’s one thing to study the statistics on AIDS in Africa; it’s another to see firsthand the effects of something less sinister yet more prevalent in my native country.

I was the first to arrive at South Pointe Hospital that Friday back in my final year of college. There I observed what has to be the most efficient and organized assembly of any hospital event I have ever seen. Everything was in place on tables that ran along both sides of the front hallway and through a side hall. The station I would work at giving hand massages to diabetes patients was the first on the left and it was here that I was introduced to Amy, a nurse at South Pointe who cheerfully greeted me with a smile that showed genuine kindness and appreciation that I was present. I was uneasy how I would explain that I had to leave 20 minutes earlier to attend my Aquatic Resources field lab, but she was so happy that I was ready and willing to help for a few hours that she not only assured me it was alright but encouraged me to leave a full half hour earlier because getting out of the hospital lot would be difficult (it turns out it wasn’t, further adding to my guilt). In addition to the overwhelming benevolence of everyone involved with orchestrating the Diabetes Fair, I was taken by how beautiful the hospital looked. The polished wood paneling, the artistically arranged glass, and especially the abstract chandelier all reminded me this was an institution of the Cleveland Clinic, but made me forget it was a hospital. I was quickly reminded it was though; shortly after my classmates arrived, the first wave of the patients followed and we all started to frantically review the hand massaging technique Amy had showed us minutes before. Yet, our fears were cast aside when we actually performed our first hand massage and realized that there was no need for a step-by-step procedure because it depended on what the patient desired. It was especially easy for me as my first patient turned out to be one of my best friends’ aunts who loved the school we met at. Talking to the patients was very easy to do after that.

All of the patients who came to the fair were older. The youngest I saw were at least in their fifties. As a matter of fact, some were in their eighties. And age did not beget experience with diabetes maintenance though, for many were attending the fair for the first time. Almost all of the patients were women, and some of the few men who were there came along with their wives. Most of the patients were black, and the rest were white; I do not recall seeing any persons of Latino or Asian descent. And most seemed to be poor and probably without health care. Many were overweight, and some had fingers that were so badly curled that I could hardly move them. I cannot imagine what it must be like to live with hands like that. Despite the hardships many of them dealt with as a result of their diabetes, almost everyone was in good spirits and every single person I talked with was polite and very grateful to be there.

Going into that service I was both prepared and unprepared for what I would see and do. I knew people who participated in that specific event before and heard about the hand massages and long lines of people, so I came in with some idea of what I was in for. Still, that was the first service activity I had done through the school service office and I assumed I would come away with something more than just a good feeling of charity. However, I could not have anticipated how it would affect me immediately afterwards. Even as I was hurrying out to my car in a rush to get back to school for my field trip (it didn’t take long to leave the medical campus for my academic one, but I did need to change from my more formal attire to something more conducive to trudging through a swamp), I found myself vowing to be more active and to eat healthier, mainly to reduce my sugar intake. This was more than just another glance-in-the-mirror wish to bring back the more fit body I had for track season during my senior year of high school (God I miss those abs), it was a realization that if I do not establish good exercise and eating habits now, then I will undoubtedly find myself being reluctantly dragged along to a diabetes fair by my family when I am that age. Fortunately, my Aquatics professor prepared a meal that night that was much aligned with my aspirations to eat better, and these past few years have seen me snacking smarter than I had. Work and family obligations may occasionally prevent me from getting outside as much as I’d like, but my desire to do so is greater than it had been in a long time. In addition to my attempts to avoid whatever paths led the patients I befriended that day to suffer the ill effects of diabetes, I also find myself wishing to maintain the same kindness they did when faced with adversity like what some I saw were going through with both physical and financial problems. Considering all the complications they had to deal with, I am surprised at the compassion and optimism they had.

I have been exposed to hospitals my whole life without having to have myself actually cared for too frequently (knock on wood). My mom is a nurse for pre-op and post-op, my sister has special needs because of an assortment of mental and physical issues, and my father had an off and on battle with melanoma from my youth until high school. Point in case: I’ve been in a hospital before. Lots of them. Although I never really given a tremendous amount of thought about the way our health system works in America, I’ve always been privileged enough to know that not only does my family have health insurance and access to health care, but that when I do require care in the hospital my mom knows exactly where to take me and can find one of her friends or a trusted doctor to tend to and mend me. It was strange then for me to see hundreds of people who marched in neatly in single-file order to pick up their free Cheerios and testing kit information as if it was the most medical attention they could obtain until the next like event. I used to complain when I have to wait to see the doctor for a yearly check-up. That’s since stopped. I suppose what I really got out of that experience was a face to put to the name of medical poverty in America. Too long I have been content with seeing the hospitals across northern Ohio, the ones I know best, receive accolades for exceptional care and never realized how many people cannot or will not seek it. You can learn all about epidemiology and see statistics that are simply frightening, but it never really means anything until you see firsthand the people who make up those numbers. Now I have an idea what a social health gradient actually looks like.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully you don’t have to or won’t have to worry about these issues, but if you do I wish you the best in acquiring all you need to live comfortably and healthy. I’m lucky to still be young enough to get a little crazy and go for a taco 12 pack solo without too much to worry about, but it’s important to remember that everything adds up over time and that that is not an acceptable steady diet. If you want to chime in on the conversation, or if you wish to suggest something for me to blabber on about, hit me up at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Until next week, stay funky.

Check your blood sugar and check it often,

Alex

Today We Declare Independence from Silly Shark Pseudoscience!

Call the US women’s soccer team Godzilla because they just destroyed Japan! Hey-yo! How’s that for a birthday present America?!

Hello and welcome to the most wonderful week of the year, as it’s finally being called by more than just myself: Shark Week! Here’s hoping that it actually lives up to that claim. You may recall from my second post on this blog that I am a tremendous fan of sharks and also a great worrier of what Discovery Channel has done in recent years with their summertime spectacular. I’m not the only one to have noticed this downward trend, but Discovery has promised to rectify the situation and bring more actual science back into the mix.

However, I find that it may not be enough for me, and I suspect some others also. Shark Week drifted to the dark side of pseudoscience and flat out manufactured Megalodons in search of higher ratings – and they got them (higher ratings; not megalodons) – but that swim towards the fantastic was brought about by the success of shows like Air Jaws that featured great white sharks breaching the surface while hunting for seals. It was a groundbreaking show from both a scientific observation standpoint as well as a “Whoa! Dude! Did you see that?!” point of view, and it was a smashing success for Discovery’s shark schedulers. As I explained in a recent post about movies, when something works production companies order up more projects like it to capitalize on its success. The same is true with TV, and this is how Discovery determined that the world wanted more leaping white sharks. Every year since we’ve had at least one new jumping sharks special, but that wasn’t enough to satiate viewers lust for more spectacle and eventually Discovery turned to the aforementioned shameful fabrication.

Yet, even with a return to factual programming, the emphasis is still predominantly going to remain on great whites exploding out of the surf after seals. It’s awesome real-world predation by my favorite animal, but it’s not like white sharks are the only sharks. There are over 500 sharks known to man and while Carcharodon carcharias may be the coolest, there is a whole world filled with so many others of interest that most people have never heard of! Once every few years on Shark Week we get a glimpse into the depths at sharks that are only recently known to science in programs such as Alien Sharks, and there are often specials on tigers, bulls, hammerheads, and makos peppered in among the great white daily domination, but that’s too few for me! I want to see the variety of sharks and their fellow fish and prey and predators and habitats and the researchers who study them. I know that’s a lot to ask for, but after 28 years I’d think they can figure out how to make a few shows that don’t completely focus on the great white and other large sharks.

My complaints seem to be similar to a review of Jurassic World I read today that was by a paleontologist. He stated that while the movie was a ton a fun and he could easily suspend his scientific expertise to enjoy its absurdity immensely, he was disappointed in the lack of herbivores. He said the film featured plenty of carnivores, but skimped severely when it came to a variety of the less aggressive and toothy dinosaurs. (You may recall that dinosaurs were basically land sharks that came about around 200 million years after the original sharks began filling the oceans.) Isn’t that how it always goes, though? They didn’t make a stegoceratops hybrid in Jurassic World. Oh, wait, they actually did. But there’s a reason the dinosaur pictured on the right was the bad guy in the movie: it has a shitload of sharp teeth! That’s actually a critical plot point in the climax of the film! I’ve got no complaints because I loved it, but that is one movie in a series of four with the same subject matter, not 28 years of a weeks-worth of television programming with the same subject matter. Discovery has plenty of time to shift gears to the gentle giants that are whale and basking sharks, or spinner sharks and the acrobatics behind their name, or the fascinating photophores of the dwarf lantern shark, the world’s smallest known shark.

So far there has been a show focusing on makos, although it was still flavored with more scary shots of gnashing teeth than the actual research-based reasons that explain why they were looking for makos. This brings me to my next great concern for the future of my favorite week: even with real facts, the shows we do get are focused on the strength and scariness of sharks. Sharks are plenty strong and scary, but they have more to them than what we see in documentaries directed by someone trying to make a primetime cable TV special into the next Jaws. There has been a lot of time spent on utilizing new technologies in recent years, but they are mostly for acquiring the coolest shot of a breaching shark (they have had at least two whole shows devoted to this endeavor) and not used for purposes that are more obviously helpful to advancing our knowledge of these incredible animals.

I don’t anticipate drastic change during the rest of this year’s Shark Week, but perhaps the future will hold more variety within shows rooted in science to show us how we should not fear sharks but have a healthy respect for them and the role they have played for 420 million years so that they may continue to play it for many years to come.

Thanks for reading! Enjoy your Shark Week however you like to do so. Feel free to write me at monotrememadness@gmail.com about sharks or whatever else. It should be fairly apparent at this point that I can ramble about anything, so hit me up with any ideas for future posts. Until next time, chomp chomp.

Happy Shark Week,

Alex

Flags of our Freedom: Everybody Deserves Rights and Respect, Especially Sharks

It was only a matter of time, it was a long time coming, it was justice done for those now and in the future, it was justice done too late for some, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity – oh, sorry, that just happens sometimes when I get started like that. What I mean to convey is that the landmark decision delivered by the Supreme Court of the United States this past weekend regarding marriage equality for all, thereby granting same-sex couples the same marriage rights and opportunities as heterosexual couples, is one that was an eventuality but should have been official for many years prior to now. I can understand how the Founding Fathers didn’t work in a specific section on same-sex couples when they first drafted the Constitution, yet that was a different era and a long time ago. We have come to a greater understanding of the world we live on, the universe we live in, and the differences and similarities between us all since then. Brave people have been fighting this particular fight for equal rights for all for a long time with considerably fewer successes, and many did not live to see the change they so desired to come to fruition. Nonetheless, their lives’ work was not in vain, and I and many others am very happy with the Supreme Court’s ruling, and it certainly is better late than never, even if the supporters and dissenters sound like the plaintiff and defendant walking out of Judge Judy’s courtroom: “It was fair and just because I won,” “I don’t think it was fair at all because I lost the case. The lesson is never trust anyone.”

Another example of better late than never that is all the more incredible to me is the recent removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse in its capital Columbia. I understand that there are cultural differences between northern and southern states that go back to the days when America was still part of the British Empire, and I am aware that many residents of southern states like to proudly declare that they have been fighting “northern aggression” since 1861, but God damn it, why? Do you not understand the reason for that “northern aggression” from 1861-1865? Most people in the North weren’t fans of forcing people into servitude anymore and decided to take action to rid the country of slavery, a cause worth fighting for to ensure that all humans are granted their inherent human rights. The Confederate States of America was a thankfully short-lived attempt to create a new nation that not only condoned slavery but thrived off of it by splitting off half of a growing nation trying to better itself (which, admittedly, it did not always do well or without harming or occasionally destroying other cultures). What remains from the memory of the American Civil War is quite plentiful and varied from monuments and national landmarks to photographs and texts to not much of the original Atlanta, but the greatest lesson learned was the terrible impact of slavery and racial hate. This lesson seems not to have been learned by everyone though, as far too many still fly and revere the Confederate flag – which isn’t even the official flag of the former CSA (that’s this thing), but a flag flown by troops of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia that became more well known over time as the battle banner of the South.

That banner still declares battle, but finally it seems the tide is turning against it as people like myself are wondering how a symbol that is rooted in the most despicable part of American history is still featured predominantly and even on a government building. Well, not anymore at least.

Continuing with turmoil in the Carolinas, us humans (my apologies to any dogs, cats, robots, or any other non-humans reading) are not the only ones with basic rights that should be respected though. My favorite animals have been having some bad PR lately as six people have been bitten by sharks in the last three weeks with most occurring along North Carolina’s Outer Banks islands. This doesn’t have anything to do with the 40th anniversary of the release of Jaws though. Instead it is most likely that the number of beach-going humans getting into the water is increasing. Natural factors such as warmer water and bait fish coming in to popular swimming areas contribute to the number of sharks coming into contact with people increasing this year, but it is up to us to be mindful of them when we enter their domain. We may be going to the beach to enjoy some fun in the sun, but the sharks don’t know that. They’re thinking, “I gotta eat, I gotta hunt, I gotta…” well, you know. Sharks are wild animals and our fun in the sun locations are their natural habitats. They are attracted to many of our recreational activities because they are similar to the signs they have to look out for to get food, like playful splashing being like the panicked motions of an injured fish, or bait or chum in the water for fishing being like, well a shark’s natural food because it is. If you do go swimming in the ocean remember to stay in a group; keep close to shore if at all possible (you have more to worry about with riptides in the Outer Banks than sharks with this one); steer clear of where there is fishing going on or where you see smaller fish swimming around; don’t go in the water with an open wound (you have more to worry about from the sting of saltwater with this one); stay out of murky water; avoid swimming at early morning, evening, and night, and after it rains; and don’t wear anything shiny or colors that really stand out in the water like yellow or orange. Surfers, you know what you’re getting into better than I do, so hang loose out there. Rest assured, that your odds of having a bad encounter with a shark are extremely low. The International Shark Attack File kept by curator George Burgess at the Florida Museum of Natural History says the odds of being bitten by a shark is around 1 in 11.5 million. So don’t exactly wet your wetsuit just yet.

Thanks for reading! Be safe over the holiday weekend so that you can come back here next week and read more enthralling information. As usual, direct any comments or queries below or to monotrememadness@gmail.com. And remember to aim away from yourself and others and back away after lighting the fuse.

Have a happy (American) Independence Day,

Alex

Just Remember, It All Started With a Shark

Happy summer everyone! I hope you all had an enjoyable Father’s Day and Summer Solstice weekend. You may have spent two hours of it watching my favorite film that I praised once again in last week’s post. I’m still buzzing from the real start of Hollywood’s blockbuster season (and I’m not the only one according to Jurassic World‘s financial gains), so today I’ve assembled a list that focuses on the best part of a movie from the best line of work from the best filmmaker today. I’ve got a lot of favorite movies and movie makers, but it’s hard to argue against the incredible career of Steven Spielberg who sits atop them all in my mind, and I’m not the only one of that opinion either. So in honor of the man who has influenced so many aspects of cinema from special effects to casting to product placement to sticking with a good thing when you’ve got it (good luck finding many of his films not scored by John Williams, not edited by Michael Kahn, and not utilizing the effects team at ILM) I have compiled a top ten list of the best climactic scenes in movies directed by Spielberg. These aren’t my ten favorite Spielberg films, but my ten favorite scenes from the climax of one of his movies. I’m focusing on the climax – the fun part when the action ramps up and the story comes together at the end, i.e. the orgasm of the movie – because it’s the most critical part of the movie, and my favorite. Likewise, I’m looking at films that Spielberg has directed, not produced (unless he also directed it, which he frequently does) because directing is his favorite part of making movies. This means that Jurassic World will not be featured as Spielberg was an executive producer, but handed off directing duties to Colin Trevorrow, who did a bang-up job and featured a finale I would certainly place on this list for the sheer fun of it if I were including every project Spielberg has had a hand in. Finally, this list, which I will present in reverse order from #10-#1, represents my favorites, so if it doesn’t match yours don’t get mad, write your own blog. Oh, and I’ll do my best not to spoil anything, but considering I’ll be discussing the most critical juncture in these films you may want to refrain from reading about any you may not have seen.

10.) Minority Report (2002)

This science-fiction noir film was based on a story by sci-fi writing legend Philip K. Dick. Though not as good as Blade Runner, which also fits that criteria, the core of Minority Report is a refreshingly original concept and its cast, and of course direction, are superb. Set in a future where major crimes have been eliminated thanks to psychics who predict them before they happen, Minority Report features Tom Cruise as John Anderton, a detective in the pre-crime unit that enforces the law before it’s broken. Things gets hairy when the psychics, called pre-cogs, foresee Anderton killing a man, forcing him to go on the lam in a race to prove his innocence before his fellow officers can arrest him.

Anderton gets to the bottom of the mystery and realizes his friend and colleague Director Lamar Burgess (played perfectly by Max von Sydow) has framed him. In the scene below we see the moment where Anderton confronts Burgess and gives him the ballsy ultimatum to kill him or have the pre-crime system he runs exposed as imperfect. As it happens, one of the pre-cogs has a premonition of this showdown and it doesn’t end well for Anderton. Spielberg does a great job of zooming in on the action to keep us from seeing exactly what Burgess is doing with his pistol (ugh, sounds dirty).


9.) E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Spielberg loves his aliens and his horror, and he planned to put the two together when he first began working on E.T. He had already crafted a classic with benevolent aliens as the subject matter (we’ll get back to that), so the next step was a darker vision with scarier looking visitors from the stars terrorizing a suburban family. Originally called Night Skies, Spielberg even commissioned Rick Baker the monster maker to create a line of creatures for the film. However, he opted to split the project into two and shifted almost all the horror elements to a script called Poltergeist he worked with director Tobe Hooper on, while the alien visitor got his full attention and became more of a boy’s tale of growing up in modern society without a father or many friends.

Children like protagonist Elliott are more mature out of the necessity of their circumstances, and adults like his mother and the veritable hordes of scientists and government agents have less guidance and knowledge than they act like they do and are looking for answers in all the wrong ways. Newsflash authority figures: love is the key. And John Williams’ terrific score is the key to making the bike chase to the hills so memorable. The score enhances the childlike wonder we’re struck with at the sight of E.T. and all that he does. It really hits home during the heartfelt goodbye between the main characters who have bonded before us like few pairs in film have.

It took some digging, but I managed to find a clip from the original version with the shotguns.


8.) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

As I previously mentioned just a few paragraphs ago, Spielberg put together a film that focused on the nice guy aliens who don’t steal people away in the dark of night to probe (although they totally did steal some people away; some for a very long time!). Instead, these aliens captivate a number of people who chance a glance at their flying saucers and are left with a mental image of Devils Tower where they rush to find a government installation (also nice in this movie compared to E.T. and other films) set up to communicate with the aliens. After a jam session with the mothership (consult clip 1), a number of human volunteers go up, up, and away with their new friends to learn more about he mysteries of the universe.

Special effects abound in this magnificent spectacle for the eyes, and one of the most important and impressive scores in film to the film itself rings its melody through our ears in pleasant greeting. This score also marked the rare occasion where John Williams composed the music first and Spielberg shot scenes to fit it. Many directors who have had the pleasure of having Williams score their films have complimented him on his ability to match the music to the scene so that it feels like the music was made first, but in this case it actually was! Williams and Spielberg also happened to really like the five key “Hello” tone that they used in the final cut out of supposedly hundreds of tone orchestrations.

Hey! Those notes at the end sound like Williams’ score for the film Spielberg directed two years earlier!


7.) Amistad (1997)

This film was lost among the shuffle of late-90s Spielberg success. Sandwiched between The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan, it is easily missed, but it should not be. Amistad tells the artistic-liberties-taken tale based on a real historical event in American history in the 1830s. Amistad is the name of a slave ship that is overtaken by its captives, men from the Mende tribe of present-day Sierra Leone. They sail on and land in the United States where they are imprisoned as escaped slaves. Fortunately for them, a team of abolitionists take their case to court, but it soon grows beyond their means and they seek help from a man more experienced in higher government. They find such a man in John Quincy Adams, the former President who is the son of America’s second President and Founding Father, John Adams. Played excellently by Anthony Hopkins, Adams gives the closing argument calling for the freedom of the enslaved people and delves into the human rights granted to all in America, even going so far as to say that if they cannot be granted then we must have a civil war for the last battle of the revolution. All the while, he discusses the importance of looking back to our Founding Fathers and our earlier, nobler selves, both of which are especially meaningful to Adams. I’ve included the speech which is split in these two clips. Fun fact: Anthony Hopkins did this in one take!


6.) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

The second best of the Indiana Jones franchise, otherwise known as the only other really good one besides Raiders. Sean Connery joins the team as Indy’s father (despite only being 12 years older than Harrison Ford) who is searching for the fabled Holy Grail. Since this is an Indiana Jones movie, they find it, but they have to thwart the Nazis attempts to collect it. Indy is forced to work his way past the three trials which demand his best physical and mental sharpness, as well as faith. He succeeds and comes to this chamber:

The knight was meant to be played by Laurence Olivier, but he was sick at the time and couldn’t film. How sweet would that have been?! Nevertheless, the Grail guardian was a pretty cool dude and inspired my favorite high school English teacher to constantly repeat his solemn phrase, “He chose…poorly.”


5.) Schindler’s List (1993)

Without a doubt the most emotionally impactful film I’ve seen done by Spielberg or any filmmaker, it lays claim to the most emotionally gripping scene in this list. Based on the real-life exploits of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who used Polish Jews for cheap labor in his enamelware factory, yet eventually he made it his mission to employ them in order to save as many as possible from the death and horrors of concentration camps.

Here we see Schindler and his wife about to depart his factory to escape prosecution from the Soviets while his workers are gathered around him to give thanks. Schindler has trouble – to say the least – atoning for his lack of effort to give every last thing he owned away for the chance to save more.


4.) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

After racing the powers of evil that are the Nazis around the globe to get the Ark of the Covenant, Indiana Jones has seen better days. Tied to a pole with his on-again, off-again girlfriend Marion, he finds himself helpless to stop the bad guys from peeking inside the Ark and trying to channel the power of God to their will for world domination. Fortunately, it seems that God has other plans… and is quite angry, as well.

Bonus points for this closing scene that pays homage to Citizen Kane.


3.) Jaws (1975)

That’s right! I’m putting my favorite movie’s climax at #3! When you see the top two you’ll understand. And when you watch Jaws you’ll understand, as Spielberg did when he told it to novel author and screenwriter Peter Benchley, when you have the audience on the edge of their seat for two hours, you can do whatever you want with the last two minutes. This scene is also very well foreshadowed a few times.


2.) Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Spielberg won his second Best Director Oscar (the first was for Schindler’s List) for this epic war film set amidst the invasion of Normandy and the aftermath. After D-Day, Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks in probably his best ever performance; definitely my favorite) is tasked with taking a small team in search of the last surviving of a group of four brothers all fighting in World War II. Much happens along the way, but when they finally find Private Ryan he doesn’t want to be saved and requests to stay and fight alongside his new band of brothers in the army. Captain Miller and the gang offer to help what’s left of Private Ryan’s depleted platoon hold back the advance of a German regiment rolling along with some tanks so long as Ryan stays out of the fighting enough to make it home to mom. The final battle in the broken town is on par with the intense opening on Omaha Beach, but the moment that seals it for me is when Miller makes his move to blow the bridge they’ve fallen back onto for the last stand. He does everything in his power to stop the tank from crossing the river, and when it is finally halted it seems miraculous. Classic Spielberg. It’s also great to see Corporal Upham (the sheepish translator) grow up. The second clip is the continuation of the end of the battle when Miller demands Ryan make the most of his life.

The first clip features the whole half hour battle, but you can skip to the part I’m talking about here.


1.) Jurassic Park (1993)

Trust me; I’m not just drunk off of Jurassic World when I declare this to be the best from a Spielberg climax. There is so much build-up of the majesty of the T. rex throughout the movie with well-timed reminders of her presence and power from the first sighting of her on-screen, so there has to be climax with her as the star of the show. What we get is that and so much more. The velociraptors have our human heroes trapped between the two of them after a lengthy chase that is starting to look like it was made in vain. But wait! Just as a raptor moves in for the leaping kill she is caught in the jaws of the tremendous tyrannosaur that arrives in the nick of time from out of seemingly nowhere! (Wait a minute! Was that wall always missing?) The again excellent John Williams score rouses up in grandeur that an animal named Rex deserves, and as the humans slip out and the other raptor attacks, she sets up the most memorable roar in film history. Why Universal didn’t make the roaring T. rex its opening logo as a “fuck you and your puny lion” to MGM, I’ll never know, but I do know that not just anyone can craft a shot like that with the banner rippling down. Thank you Spielberg and everyone involved in making that scene, that movie, and that magic.

Thanks for reading and watching! I hope you enjoyed the list and the films on it. Be sure to come back next week for a topic that even I don’t know what it is yet! In the meantime, direct your questions, comments, and concerns to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Also, happy birthday to Bruce Campbell! Thank you for some of the best one-liners and classic delivery. You truly are groovy.

Hail to the King,

Alex

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Theater

This Saturday June 20th marks a few notable events that probably aren’t printed on your calendar. It is the anniversary of such historical happenings as the Battle of Chalons; the US Congress ratifying the seal the country still uses; and Lizzie Borden’s acquittal from the ax murders she’s so infamously associated with. It also bears proximity to some current events. It is one day after what I’m hoping is the Game 7 NBA Finals win that gives the Cavaliers their first ever title and the city of Cleveland its first professional sports championship since 1964, although it looks like LeBron James will need to score 100 points Tuesday in order to even force another game. June 20th is also the day before the Summer Solstice, aka the first day of summer and longest day of the year, the latter of which it will certainly be for me since my family will be over to celebrate Father’s Day for more time than I desire their presence. However, June 20th will forever be remembered by me as the release date of the greatest movie of all time, Jaws, the film that became the first summer blockbuster as it erupted through box office records like its marine-dwelling antagonist did through the water it turned red with blood. 40 years ago, Jaws debuted in theaters and terrified the nation so much that people couldn’t get enough of it. Today, the summer blockbuster is alive and thriving more than ever with countless movies packed with the biggest celebrities, explosive effects, and the grandest suspension of disbelief gushing out from every studio large and small. But are they as good as they used to be?

In the wake of the high frequency of sequels, prequels, and reboots that find their way into theaters each year – especially during the summer blockbuster season – I often hear that Hollywood is out of ideas. As a fan of the film arts of every era I like to point out that while there are more of these continuations of successful movie franchises than there were in the past, it is not necessarily an indication that studios have run out of ideas for new films. Sure, many concepts are overdone to the point where lowbrow comedies can succeed by mocking their style and trends. Or you can make a highly stylized take on the genre as a whole and be heralded as a genius while basically making a tongue-in-cheek version of the same thing. (I’m looking at you Tarantino, you brilliant bastard!) Nevertheless, a major reason why we see so many of the same series cropping up time and again is because they are safer investments for studio executives since they worked before. This is why there are summer blockbusters ever year. Jaws made a boatload of money (sorry, couldn’t resist), why wouldn’t Universal and other studios continue to follow the formula to almost assured success?

In 1975, Jaws opened up not just the window but the airplane hangar door for many other films that promised big, loud, fast, and fun times at the movies. Just two years later such a film that got a greenlight thanks in part to Jaws was released and had an even greater impact on the state of cinema. Star Wars was revolutionary in so many ways technically and commercially; not to mention it was great science-fiction that helped pave a smoother road for other sci-fi films. One such to benefit from both of these movies was another sci-fi flick from Fox that was given the go-ahead after it was pitched as “Jaws in space”. Alien raked in big bucks and favorable reviews as a chilling blend of original sci-fi and suspenseful horror. A vision of the “used future” that was grittier than the glaringly white of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick had the Apple Store in space look way before Abrams’ Star Trek), with another deadly monster hunting people down, it helped advance the careers of everyone involved as well as the summer blockbuster. Plus, it’s still got the best tagline and teaser trailer of any movie. No dialogue, no spoilers, and my complete and total interest. That is how it’s done.

That’s not how it’s done anymore really, nor was it for Alien‘s own sequel, Aliens, another summer blockbuster and the first blockbuster sequel outside of a Spielberg and/or Lucas production that was actually superb. I’ll be the first to say that a good Jaws sequel does not exist, although there are three total following films that range from mediocre to silly to how the hell did they get Michael Caine to sign on for this shit? However, Star Wars has two fantastic sequels (including the greatest of all time in The Empire Strikes Back), and the Indiana Jones films were all pretty solid (in the 1980s) as summer blockbusters.

What about today’s summer stuff? Is it as good as these examples or just more film fodder that will make more money than it cost to produce? While there is a lot of the latter (throughout the entire year), there is also more above average to excellent blockbuster movies to make up for the others. It’s easy to forget that there are waaaaaay more movies being made all year long in this era than there were in any previous era of film. And as I stated earlier, studio heads want the safer, more guaranteed money-makers like franchise continuations. Statistically, we have more chance of seeing something familiar rather than novel (and I don’t mean the source material for a film in book form). So yeah, there’s probably going to be 10 Transformers-like movies for every Mad Max: Fury Road out there. (Of course, Furious 7 is so crazy it’s terrific.) We so rarely get something that changes the game for the blockbuster by utilizing hype, casting, zeitgeist, and nostalgia as well as films like The Avengers, and when we do it is unlikely that the franchise can keep it up like Avengers: Age of Ultron and any Marvel movie since in which any Avengers have featured has proven (except Captain America: The Winter Soldier. That fucking rocked!). Not to say these aren’t entertaining, but they won’t be as positively regarded over the years as the aforementioned classics. Mad Max: Fury Road is unique enough (and excellent enough) to last and influence films being made now considering it is not like anything previously seen except George Miller’s first post-apocalyptic wasteland with a Mad Mel roaming it. Even so, Fury Road is visually dazzling, filled with some of the best practical car effects I’ve ever seen, and the richness of its characters (of which Max is ironically one of the least layered) make it the best Mad Max yet. It is the best movie I’ve seen in theaters this year, but it’s not the biggest blockbuster.

That honor goes to recently released Jurassic World, which is not only the biggest blockbuster of this summer, but the biggest of all time. Despite still strong showings for other blockbusters, two major sports championship series, and the season finale of Game of Thrones, it opened this weekend to $208.8 million domestically in the United States and $312.6 million throughout the rest of the world, beating the previous records held by The Avengers and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 respectively by a little more than $1 million each. This certainly was helped by excellent hype and casting, but also tremendously by the popularity of the franchise and dinosaurs in general. The former is especially impressive (and clearly dependent on the latter) because the Jurassic Park franchise is really just one all around spectacular film, one okay film that has some great moments, and one steaming pile of dinosaur dung that saw fit to dethrone the tyrannosaur as the top carnivore. Spinosaurus is cool, and one species (aegyptiacus, the one in JP3) was actually bigger than T. rex, but that doesn’t mean you should have it kill the fan favorite in the first act. Fortunately, Jurassic World actually lives up to its hype and has a lot to justify its newly attained championship belt atop the financial pyramid of blockbuster opening weekends. I don’t know if it will overtake James Cameron who sits atop the all-time list with Avatar and Titanic at #1 and #2, but it does owe some gratitude to him for those heartbeat monitors from Aliens. Also some to Alien for the whole corporate greed/leap before we look investment in bio-weapons. And if you think that great white shark is nothing more than a morsel for the mosasasur then director Colin Trevorrow got his desired response of showing how much bigger the monsters have gotten since Jaws.

Jurassic World is easily the next best besides the original in the fossilized franchise that is far from extinct (okay, puns are finished), drawing further upon the “just because you can play God, should you?” theme that formerly only the first movie delved into. Meanwhile, we witness the first fully functioning park, and a hunky Chris Pratt – the Steve McQueen of this generation – who serves as the most believable, likable, and capable character, as well as the conscience of the audience, especially the fanboys (“Corporate felt genetic modification would up the ‘wow’ factor.” “They’re dinosaurs, ‘wow’ enough.”). Touches, not a smothering, of nostalgia enhance the film with just the right amount of familiar flavor. Some are obvious, some are more subtle, but none are lines spoken verbatim like in the Star Wars prequels. In Jurassic World everything gets its due from start to finish and the finale is a colossal climax making it one dino-mite movie! (Sorry, last one, I promise.)

We’ve come a long way since that shark attacked in 1975, but the key to a great summer blockbuster will always rely most on its story and characters. Sharks, aliens, and dinosaurs all help, but if you have a shitty script and uninteresting people on screen you’ll end up with hackneyed happenings and won’t be swimming through cash pretending to be a great white or mosasaur searching for food within a green sea. Or doing this.

Thanks for reading! Send me your fan love (or hate) to monotrememadness@gmail.com. I’ll be back again next week with more words of wisdom or at least rave reviews of movies I like. Either way, eyes on me!

You my boy, Blue!

Alex

Making Mondays a little less Mondayish for all with words to educate, inspire, and try out my stand-up routine with.