The trailer for Deepwater Horizon was just released—an upcoming movie about the 2010 oil rig explosion that killed eleven people and caused one of America’s worst environmental disasters. And if the finished film is anything like the trailer, I suspect it will be one giant (and perhaps unintentional) crisis management advertisement for the BP oil company.
Yes, the trailer looks apocalyptic in its explosions and will no doubt have plenty of worried-scientist-from-central-casting-who-knows-the-disaster-is-coming characters to root for. But as with practically all disaster movies, the primary danger is presented as a force of nature rather than humanity itself.
The trailer promises that we’re going to see something, “inspired by the true story... of real heroes...” which is no doubt true on a human level. But framing this as a huge disaster movie (available in IMAX, no less) has the potential to be a great big liberal pat on the back about the dangers of drilling wrapped in what people really want to see—huge explosions and Mark Wahlberg saving the day.
Honestly, I’m not sure how you make an entire movie out of disaster like this without boring people to tears with the bigger picture that can’t be told by using simple close-ups on worried crew members and scientists. Oil rig explosions: They’re just like earthquakes and volcanoes and alien invasions! We can try to prevent them, but as long as someone saves the day, it was all worth it.
Wahlberg playing the family man certainly makes for a worthwhile human interest story, which is what movies naturally have to hang their hat on. But human interest stories often narrow our field of vision to the dangers we face as a society, ultimately resulting in bad public policy. If the takeaway from Deepwater Horizon is “BP should have had a better safety valve” rather than “ban cars” then it fails.
I concede that it’s inherently unfair to critique a movie that one hasn’t seen yet. And I hope I’m wrong. But let’s just say that I’m not holding my breath for something that actually addresses the impact of a century-long endeavour like oil drilling that even when it’s not literally blowing up is creating irreversible harm to our planet. The Deepwater Horizon oil platform was already hurting plenty of people before it made us worried to eat shrimp from the Gulf Coast.
Deepwater Horizon hits cinemas on September 30th. Don’t forget to see it in IMAX! I’m sure the explosions will be sweet.