Natural Disasters

By Lukie Marriott

If the disasters that always seem to be happening somewhere on the planet leave you wanting to know more, these documentaries and feature films can provide some insight. Some of them address the possible or known impact of human activity on various extreme weather events.

  • The Impossible


    Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as a couple vacationing in Thailand with their children when a tsunami hits, separating them and leading to days of desperate searching and survival. Based on the true story of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, this is an excruciating account that brings to shocking life the suddenness of the whole thing, the seemingly impossible odds of survival, and the brutal aftermath. Rated PG-13, I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who is easily frightened!

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  • Savage Planet: Volcanic Killers


    We don't think about volcanoes much here in the Midwest, but if you're heading to Washington state you might be interested in learning about the far-reaching, truly devastating effects of volcanic explosions. Mount St. Helens (last massive eruption: 1980) and Mount Rainier are being watched very closely by volcanologists, as are others around the world. Other episodes of Savage Planet cover lightning strikes, cyclones, and avalanches.

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  • Trouble the Water


    The morning Hurricane Katrina hit, aspiring rap artist Kimberly Rivers Roberts, her husband, and neighbors, were trapped in an attic in the 9th Ward. Roberts began filming. Later she met filmmakers Lessin and Deal in a Red Cross shelter and, incorporating Roberts’ footage, they made this documentary that explores issues such as the treatment of citizens by their government and the inequities of race and class which were made painfully evident after the disaster. Trouble the Water earned an Oscar nomination for best documentary.

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  • Force majeure

    For a lighter take on disasters, this Swedish domestic drama has mischievously funny moments and piercing observations about gender proclivities in the face of danger. At a ski resort in the French Alps, controlled avalanches spook the tourists and lead to domestic breakdown. Wonderfully directed and acted, Force Majeure won a Cannes Jury prize and an Oscar nomination. I highly recommend it.

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  • Hurricane Sandy: Inside the Megastorm


    Inside the Megastorm provides first-person accounts and a moment-by-moment scientific look at 2012's Hurricane Sandy with a discussion of the future of storm protection. With the flooding from Hurricane Harvey still holding Texans under siege, and Hurricane Irma headed for Puerto Rico and the Florida Keys at the time of this writing, that future is now.

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  • Survivors of the Firestorm


    You probably remember the news photo of an exhausted Australian firefighter giving a Koala a drink from his water bottle. That photo was from the 2009 fire that burned a million acres, destroying bush, forest, and farmland and killing millions of wild and domestic animals, plus 173 human lives, and injuring hundreds more. This Nature documentary focuses on the animals nursed back to health and the amazing ability of nature to heal itself, providing new opportunities for rebirth.

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  • San Andreas


    If adrenaline-pumping blockbusters are your thing, this feature starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has a magnitude nine earthquake destroying the West Coast with exuberant CGI. Prepare to be terrified—or should I say entertained?—by nonstop wanton destruction!

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  • The Perfect Storm


    In October, 1991, a dying hurricane collided with two other storm systems in the Atlantic, creating a perfect storm. A fishing vessel, the Andrea Gail, disappeared with all her crew aboard. Suspenseful Hollywood action based on a terrifying, true story, Ebert called it a movie of "pure sensation." The movie is based on the best-selling book by Sebastian Junger and directed by Wolfgang Petersen who also directed the submarine drama Das Boot. Stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Diane Lane.

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  • Years of Living Dangerously: The Complete Series


    The human impact on climate change that exacerbates extreme weather conditions, such as droughts, fires, superstorms, floods, and more, is explored in this Showtime series. Hosted by Hollywood celebrities and big name journalists, Years of Living Dangerously was nominated for two Primetime Emmys.

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  • World's Worst Natural Disasters


    Ninety minutes of eye-witness reports, historical archives, and computer generated imagery (CGI), as world experts reveal what turned these events from natural phenomena into the top ten worst human catastrophes. Also check out National Geographic's Nature's Fury for more stories of heroism and survival and for scientists' explanations.

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  • Fire Wars


    In the summer of 2000, NOVA filmed the Arrowhead Hotshots, an elite team of firefighters, as they battled an Idaho fire that burned for two months. Since then, many catastrophic fires have occurred and, after a century of fire suppression (see The Big Burn for a historical perspective on that), fire experts now advocate for controlled burns of dried brush and the thinning of forests. It is a race against time to improve our natural landscapes and avoid the deadliest fires.

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  • Bølgen: The wave


    A rarity for disaster movies, which spend most of their budget on special effects, this Norwegian film takes the time to develop its characters. The result: we care if they survive or not. Loosely based on a 1934 tsunami-causing rock slide, you will be frozen in fear as the characters rush, in ten minutes real time, to escape the 300 foot wall of water.

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