The James Clayton Column: Appetite for Armageddon

Inspired by Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, James has been pondering natural disasters in the movies, and where Roland Emmerich fits in...

Facing up to the forecast presented in the title of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs I’m not sure how I should feel, never mind what I should wear when I take a trip outside. I know for sure that the prospect of overcast skies doesn’t fill me with inspiration, but meatball showers? This is an outstanding meteorological event that requires some rumination.

How big are these meatballs? Is an umbrella enough or will I need a hard hat to protect my head and prevent flying bits of beef inflicting brain damage? Does the meat shower come with raining spaghetti and tomato sauce? Until the Met Office makes an official statement warning the public that there’s a risk of ragu floods, I’ll write this off as Hollywood fantasy nonsense that is way too far-fetched to actually happen. Don’t take the barmy weather beliefs of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs to be your barometer, kids. In truth, you’re more likely to experience Wizard Of Oz freakiness and wake to find a twister relocating your house down the Yellow Brick Road than hear the drumming of dropping pasta on your roof.

All things considered, the only thing that makes the chance of a meatball storm impossible is the fact that, as yet, no one has invented the machine that can turn weather into something edible. Such an outstanding technological breakthrough is made in this fresh CGI-flick by a scientist named Flint Lockwood, voiced by Saturday Night Live luminary Bill Hader. Having crafted the means by which water can be converted into food, Lockwood proceeds to provide jelly downpours and spagbol blizzards for the happy people of Chewandswallow town.

If you’ve got a “hunger for excitement” and an “appetite for adventure” – the trailer’s words, not mine – you can experience these extreme weather events at cinemas in 3D. Despite the fact that viewers will spend 80 minutes in three-dimensional delirium under a barrage of hurtling hamburgers, the motive behind the madcap weather-fixing machine is an altruistic one. In Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, our hero is, of course, looking to turn water into substantial foodstuffs because he wants to obliterate world hunger.

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Does the science whiz kid go down in history as a Nobel prize-winning humanitarian saviour who solved the problem of starvation? I’d hoped that, being an animated ‘family’ film, we’d have a happy ending but unfortunately the plot synopsis makes ominous suggestions that the machine goes haywire and sets about wreaking havoc before anyone has had chance to utter “Please, Sir. I want some more.”

What we are faced with then is not a nice wish-fulfilment film about no one ever going hungry again but a harsh moral fable about how you can’t rely on technology to put the wrongs right. There’s a timely agenda operating under the surface of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and I think I detect the influence of Prince Charles and his ever-elusive underground organic ninja army. You thought you were seeing a film about candy snow and cookie showers? Not so: you’re being brainwashed into accepting an antagonistic position to genetically modified crops.

Does genetic engineering of plants and agricultural lands result in Day Of The Triffids-style disasters and a nightmare future of evil-doing Frankenstein foods? Could this kind of scientific innovation actually aid the ailing environment and alleviate malnourishment in the poorer parts of the world? Until there’s a firm answer – basically, until Prince Charles pulls the turnips out of his tremendous ears and listens to the experts – it’s all open to conjecture. With the debate up in the air (and quite possibly condensing and coming down from the clouds tomorrow morning in the form of a casserole), I guess the scenario projected in Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs could conceivably happen.

Ludicrous? Looking to another disaster movie looming large on the horizon and promising extreme weather, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs doesn’t seem so impossible. Having already threatened the Earth with the Westernised Godzilla, the alien invasion of Independence Day and the new Ice Age in The Day After Tomorrow, Roland Emmerich is bouncing back to beat us with more apocalypse porn. Taking up the challenge of topping rampaging monsters, extra-terrestrial invasion and the big freeze, upcoming feature 2012 appears to be the expression of a man going totally bonkers and chucking absolutely everything in the blender.

The overblown trailer that’s out there right now trying to ratchet up the hype and bully humble audiences into existential anxiety is possibly the most ridiculous montage of mass destruction ever created. In under three minutes Emmerich goes about his apparent ambition to annihilate civilisation with great gusto, effectively offering up a chain of shots showing global cataclysm that symbolically scream: The end is nigh! You cannot escape! You can’t deny these big, epic, meaningful images!

If and when January 1st 2013 arrives, Emmerich is going to look a little stupid. That said, with the bombastic End of Days onslaught he seems to have cooked up for 2012, he’s already more-than cemented his status as Lord Emperor of the Far-Beyond Preposterous. You’d think after offering the critically savaged, absurd anachronism of 10,000 BC (where mammoths lived in the desert and helped build the pyramids) the destructive German director would attempt to make amends. On the strength of the trailer, however, I’d say that Emmerich is unrepentant and, in fact, more eschatologically inspired than ever, hellbent on hitting the planet with full blockbuster force to the point of silliness.

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Having witnessed the world’s end in the hilariously heavy-handed 2012 teaser, my belief that the Mayans might have a point about the coming apocalypse has been totally shattered. Struck by the metaphorical torrent that provides sights of the Sistine Chapel cracking, Rio’s Christ statue crumbling and the White House going under the tidal waves that have overturned the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy (oh, the symbolism! Your God and government can’t help you now!), all the apprehension I had about the actual year 2012 has dissipated.

It’s like they’ve gone all out to make ‘the End of the World to end all End of the Worlds’, and, ultimately, it looks unbelievably daft. In the face of such OTT frivolity, the natural disasters of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs come across as more credible. Don’t worry about the world ending in three years’ time. On the strength of these trailers, Doomsday is looking doubtful. Pasta-flavoured precipitation, though: now that’s a plausible possibility…

James’ previous column can be found here.