Monday, March 17, 2008

Accretionary Wedge Carnival #7! Hollywood Geologists

Tuff Cookie at Magma Cum Laude ( is our host of the 7th Accretionary Wedge Carnival, on the topic of our favorite or least favorite depictions of geology and geologists in the movies. As will be seen from my list below my taste in movies runs towards action-adventure as opposed to the "sophisticated" cinema. But frankly, no movie with a geologist can avoid action and adventure...

Despite having grown up in southern California, and having lived through the 1971 Sylmar quake, I have never taken a picture of the Hollywood sign, so I offer a photo of a favorite Hollywood set, especially in the old westerns: the cliffs of Red Rock Canyon State Park on Highway 14 in the Mojave Desert. The rocks are Miocene continental floodplain sediments lifted up by fault motions on the Garlock and El Paso fault systems. John Wayne should come riding through any moment now....

My favorite geologists in the movies

1) Tremors (1990): Finn Carter as seismology student Rhonda LeBeck.

Speaking from an entirely gender-biased point of view, Finn wins my vote as the finest portrayal of a geologist in a Hollywood movie. Intelligent and creative, and cute, too. And finding strange underground worm things using a seismometer.
2) Volcano (1997): Laurie Latham as Rachel, Anne Heche as Dr. Amy Barnes (honorable mention)

Rachel didn't get much credit for being the first Hollywood geologist to get sucked into a volcano, but she displayed many of the traits of the real geologist: self-effacing, nervous in front of cameras, and yet a good and perceptive researcher. Of course, she wasn't a leading character. The actual 'star' of the film, Anne Heche gets honorable mention for looking at a topographic map on-screen, but then using a basketball to confirm that a street does in fact slope downhill the wrong way.

3) Dante's Peak (1997): Pierce Brosnan(!) as Dr. Harry Dalton, Charles Hallahan as Paul Dreyfus, Grant Heslov as Greg and others

James Bond as volcanologist?? Well, I dunno...too clean-cut, too shaven, too cultured. Now, the rest of his team, though, they were more like the people I see and work with on a regular basis. Coffee addicts, intense, and lovers of volcanoes. Some of the portrayals of geological processes were done pretty well, except for that really fast-moving Hollywood lava, and driving a truck through said flow without dying from the radiant heat. And that acid lake that killed grandma. And that overly steep giant Hollywood volcano in Idaho. I really liked the bridge that got washed out at the end of the movie, though.
4) King Kong (1976): Rene Auberjonois as Bagley

In his pre-"Deep Space Nine" days, Rene played a geologist who thought that the mysterious uncharted island was hiding a lot of oil. When shown to be wrong, he did what many geologists are known to do...he got drunk.

5) Erin Brokovich (2000): Julia Roberts in the title role

The second or third line of the movie had Julia Roberts saying "I love geology". I melted on the spot and was hers from that point on. Though she was actually a legal clerk and not a geologist, she was shown researching groundwater chemistry, taking samples of poisoned water, pulling dead rotting animals from wells, and running away from security guards after trespassing on company property. All in a day's work for any field geologist, I should think.

6) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones

O.K., so he was really an archaeologist, but he dug in the earth a lot, and the character was in fact based on Roy Chapman Andrews, an adventuring paleontologist who explored the Mongolian deserts in search of ancient life in the 1920's. His expeditions found the now renowned Flaming Cliffs which contained fossils of protoceratops, oviraptor, and that most famous of movie dinosaurs, velociraptor. His party also discovered the nests of some dinosaurs, containing egg clutches in concentric circles, and some very rare Cretaceous mammals. They were chased by bandits and assaulted by horrible dust storms. And what geologist doesn't dream of dramatic adventures in the field?

7) Jurassic Park (1993) and Jurassic Park III (2001): Sam Neill as Dr.Alan Grant.

His character was ok, but I was most impressed by the office trailer for the paleontology dig in Montana; messy, dusty, newspaper clippings on the wall, lunch mixed with research; a true geology office! The third movie in the series mostly had people getting eaten, but as usual, the dinosaurs looked pretty cool.

8) The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2 (1997):

Come to think of it, there weren't many paleontologists in this movie, except the guy in cowboy hat with the long beard who looked a lot like Robert Bakker. I think he got eaten by a velociraptor...

9) The Core (2003):

I don't really remember much about the geologists, but I loved the "element" they used to drill into the mantle and core in only two or three days; it was called "Unobtainium". And that giant mantle amethyst geode was pretty cool, even if the crystals killed some of the crew members.

10) Bringing Up Baby (1938): Cary Grant as Dr. David Huxley.

Handsome guy, looking for a dinosaur bone with beautiful Katherine Hepburn at her best, a pesky dog and a pair of leopards. What more could you ask?

11) Eight Below (2006): Bruce Greenwood as Dr. David McClaren.

A geologist willing to ride a dogsled for a week, face down avalanches, blizzards, crevasses, frostbite, a broken leg, and a fall into freezing cold water, all so he could find a meteorite in Antarctica. How he knew to look for that particular meteorite on a rocky mountainside as opposed to the surface of a glacier, I don't know. And they left those poor dogs behind....


Anonymous said...

But....What about Lost Skeleton of Cadavra????

Anonymous said...

There you go....