Swept Away
A short history of wild weather on-screen.

  • Words Caitlin Quinlan

In our everyday lives, the weather is a mostly banal consideration. In movies, it is traditionally wild. There are the disaster flicks: catastrophes such as The Day After Tomorrow, tawdry B-movie horror-comedies like Sharknado, wherein a tornado filled with sharks terrorizes Los Angeles, and emotionally heightened dramas like The Impossible about a family surviving a tsunami. They are designed to shock and entertain us, hovering on the edge of totally implausible and borderline possible—perhaps, in some twisted way, we watch these movies to prepare ourselves for apocalyptic doom? 

On film, weather has the power to transport us, often literally.1 In The Wizard of Oz, the 1939 adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s fantasy novel, the aptly named Dorothy Gale gets caught in a tornado that transports her and her dog, Toto, to the Land of Oz. The upheaval of the house with Dorothy and Toto inside causes the death of the Wicked Witch of the East when it crashes down in Oz and sets the story...

( 1 ) This is a global trope. In the Korean romantic comedy Crash Landing on You, a wealthy South Korean businesswoman is swept up in a sudden storm and lands on the North Korean side of the DMZ, where she meets (and falls in love with) an army captain.

( 2 ) Technicolor involved a different color process than today's movies. The extremely vibrant but relatively uniform palette in The Wizard of Oz is the result of filming the same scene through various colored filters on different strips of film, which are then used to print colors onto the final reel.

( 3 ) The weather is a main character in Groundhog Day thanks to the presence of Punxsutawney Phil, a famous groundhog who people believe can predict when winter will end. If Phil can see his shadow, winter will continue for another six weeks. If he can't, spring will arrive early. “Phil" has been casting his predictions since 1886.

( 4 ) In the Bible, God is often shown acting through the weather. Among his acts: He causes the storm that shipwrecks Jonah and another that kills Job's family, sets hailstorms on the Amorite army and causes a years-long drought that only ends with prayer.

( 5 ) Many works of art contain an element of pathetic fallacy—a literary device whereby nature appears to reflect the emotions of characters. Common examples of pathetic fallacy include sudden downpours when a person is sad and rainbows at moments of heightened romance.

( 6 ) Planet Placement's writers' guide emphasizes that climate change doesn't need to dominate the script. “Maybe it’s your character borrowing an outfit from a friend rather than buying a new one. . . . It doesn’t have to take center stage or be an entire story about climate change. The important thing is just to reference the environment in a way that doesn’t disrupt your story.”


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