The cinematic response to environmental crises of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been marked by a turn to digital visual effects technologies (VFX). Visual effects artists populate media with lifelike non-human animals, in cautionary tales about animals’ capacity for rapid adaptation and the folly of intervention in animal life, as in the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, or the de-extinction sagas of Jurassic Park. Alternatively, they may create animals that never were, as in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (2014) or Bong Joon-ho’s Okja (2017). These productions minimize the exploitation of live animals on film sets, but paradoxically provide opportunities for depictions of cruelty inflicted on animals. This talk explores cinematic responses to climate change and the Sixth Extinction. What are the consequences of populating films with virtual animals at a time when animals are increasingly vulnerable? Are they much-needed replacements for unsustainable industry practices involving live animals? Or new terrain onto which human fantasies of violence—and denial regarding the severity of environmental degradation—are mapped?
Cynthia Chris is Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Media Culture at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York.