The tree in film

Like most people I love watching a good film or movie, in the cinema or at home. I have to admit a strange affliction however: I just cannot avoid spotting out-of-place trees in films and TV dramas. Try as I might, rows of ‘alien’ Sitka spruce of Douglas Fir which were introduced to Europe only in the last two hundred years or so, just shout out to me when appearing in the landscape of period dramas or Medieval action movies such as Robin Hood.  I see red; my saturation in the fiction spoilt as I am jolted back to reality. My poor family.

I feel for the film maker, I really do. They already have to contend with vapour trails in the sky from jets, with tyre tracks or inappropriate architecture. It may be difficult to film in any modern woodland and to fool the expert forester eye, and perhaps it doesn’t matter in that most people will never notice.

On a more positive note this got me thinking about the tree in film. The films where trees take a starring role and that leave you richly rewarded.

AvatarAvatar (2009)

The most recent example would be James Cameron’s epic eco-tale Avatar. The indigenous Na’vi on the moon Pandora, are invaded by resource-seeking humans in 2148 A.D. The message is unashamedly one of environmentalism. The trees in a rainforest take a central role, most especially one mother tree called the Hometree which allows the Na’vi to communicate with Eywa; their guiding force or deity. The film is a masterpiece; it’s no surprise that it is one of the biggest-grossing films ever made. It is not my favourite tree film though, much as I enjoyed its special effects. Perhaps the environmental message was a little too overt for me.

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The man who planted trees filmThe man who planted trees (1988)

The story of Elezeard Bouffier, a fictional character and star of Jean Giono’s classic tale The man who planted trees, first published in 1954, is well-known and much-loved the world over.

Many people may not be aware however that a beautiful animated film was made, based on the book, by the amazing Frédéric Back. Lasting just 30 minutes you cannot help but be mesmorised by the wonderful animation and captivated by the story that is told. This film is widely thought of as a masterpiece.

Unfortunately the film is currently difficult/expensive to purchase, even online. However, visit a website dedicated to the animator and you can watch some video clips: www.FredericBack.com

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Silent Running (1972)

Silent Running (1972)

A science fiction classic, that deserves much greater recognition, is Silent Running Directed by Douglas Trumbull in 1972. Trumbull was the special effects maestro behind 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). It tells the story of a future where all plant life on Earth is extinct, and an astronaut is given orders to destroy the last of Earth’s flora that has been preserved in a greenhouse onboard a spacecraft.

Crew member, Freeman Lowell, a ‘forest ranger’ of the future, becomes a renegade when he questions an order to destroy the forests preserved in the domes.

“Hey, wait a minute, wait a minute… I don’t think you guys understand what this means, please don’t blow up the domes.”

“… they are not replaceable!”

The special effects, which even though made over 30 years ago. are impressive. Together with the sound effects, music score and superb acting by the cast, in particular by Bruce Dern in the lead, a powerful sensory experience is created on film. Without wishing to spoil the movie, you can expect murder, tension, starring roles from three robots and a really imaginative film that will leave you pondering the meaning of life and our environmental responsibilities long after the credits have finished rolling.

DVDs of the film are easy to come by on many online stores, and the film is available remastered and on blueray.

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Gabriel Hemery

9 thoughts on “The tree in film

  1. Morning Gabriel,
    I did enjoy Avatar, but the storyline and much of the imagery in Avatar was lifted directly from the far superior ‘Ferngully’, a delightful cartoon where forest beasts and fairies battle the forces of destruction in a rainforest. Their final success is a moral victory because they manage to change the hearts and minds of the destroyers. In Avatar as I remember, it is simply that one side ends up stronger than the other.
    Happy viewing!
    Robin

  2. I have never seen Silent Running, must look our for it.

    One ‘forest’ film it is easy to choose to forget is the Blair Witch Project – Not least because it portrays an image of woodland that many people increasingly want, an area to be scared of, a harking back to ‘fairy tales’ that is inherent in us all and lacking in modern times.The Blair Witch cinematography does also match the image that most people view when entering woodlands.

    1. Thanks for the comment Pip. Do you really think that people “want” our woodlands to be scary or is it just that the idea of frightening forests comes from those countries with lots of coniferous forests, for example Germany?

      Good suggestion though and certainly fills a genre, namely horror, that’d omitted.

  3. Feeling guilty to have neglected so far such a remarkable 3D digital movie -Avatar- ,may be in his own refined way the famous “cartoonist” Miyazaki has alluded through his pervading metaphorical drawings to the poetical value of wild nature seen as the ultimate sanctuary” of humankind” (see the last scene in “le château dans le ciel” released in 1988 in which huge robot gardeners are trying to pick up the last birds ‘ nest- as a token of the lost ancient wild world -remaining on the desolated Laputa , (cf the flying island imagined by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver s’ travels)..a very moving glimpse of the impending desolation threatening our dear mother nature …

  4. There was an episode of Northern Exposure, the brilliant US show, that had the Indian healer exploring white man stories, in it he discovered that all these stories were urban or rural myths, and concluded that a cultural void had been filled by such stories – this sounds right to me and the increasing popularity of Halloween, (very evident in France), is prove that people desire being scared and woodlands provide a easy backdrop for this, probably because of the lack of forest knowledge. I don’t see this as a problem, indeed it could be used as way of highlighting woodland and forestry issues, but so long as it doesn’t get out of control, which is so easily done by media.

    Pip

  5. First a typo alert. I have often been mesmerised but never memorised, unless to take my photo for the records can be construed as memorised in some way. Okay leg puilling over.
    Silent Running is one of my all time favourite films. Add to this the film Pan’s Labyrinth with the forest and its creatures playing centre stage. Another film which is and should really be on most peoples minds is ‘The Two Towers’ by J R R Tolkien. Who can forget the treeherder Tree-Beard? Or the way the ‘Ents’ tore up the Orcs and the entire evil construction site at Orthanc?
    Okay I probably will get a typo alert out of that lot thrown at me if I keep going. Too many big words with alternative spellings I am sure. 🙂
    There is one other point mentioned in the comments that deserves a response. I am Pagan and to me Halloween is a commercial event of global proportions. It is not in the least bit historically correct.
    The real name for this festival is Samhain (pronounced ‘Saveen’) and sometimes called ‘Sowen’. It is the festival of rememberance and the point in the year where the veils between this world and the next are said to be at their thinnest hence the references to spooks and ghostly occurences. It is the Pagan New Year on the next day and so it is a chance for the people to say farewell to those who have passed away during the year and welcome the new arrivals who have just been born.
    Of course the Druids revere trees too and so it would not be fair to ignore the animated film ‘The Book Of Kell’s’ which is really quite a nice film. It isn’t like the kind of animation we are currently used to but the story is the important part along with the art work of the Book itself.

    1. Hehe – thanks for the typo alert – now fixed. It looks as though we have a growing list of favourite films where the tree’s the star. Very interesting to read about Samhain; something that I know little about. I’ve never seen The Book of Kells so will look that up.

  6. Okay I have noted a typo in my own comment. Druids had nothing to do with the writing of the Book of Kells. My statement should have read: ‘…..arrivals who have just been born. Of course the Druids revere trees too.
    And finally it would not be fair to ignore the animated film ‘The Book Of Kell’s’ which is really quite a nice film. It isn’t like the kind of animation we are currently used to but the story is the important part along with the art work of the Book itself.’

    My apology for any confusion caused. Especially to any Druids and Christians (as The Book of Kells is a Christian manuscript).

    That’ll teach me to be a smart Alec. 🙁

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