When stormy weather plays a lead role

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 3, 2014 - 7:40 AM

As “Into the Storm” blows into a cineplex near you, a reminder of well-known movies with storms in lead roles.

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George Clooney hangs on for dear life in “The Perfect Storm.”

Sometimes bad weather is an important supporting player in the movies. After all, without a thunderclap and a forked bolt of electricity striking his operating-room lightning rod, Dr. Frankenstein never could have shrilled his triumphant, “It’s alive! It’s alive!” And Dorothy never would have left Kansas if that cyclone didn’t scoop her up and plunk her down in Oz. Gene Kelly couldn’t have gone singing in the rain.

But in the upcoming meteorological adventure “Into the Storm” (opening Friday), they’re trying to do something different. The Warner Bros. film, with a raft of low-wattage human actors, effectively makes lousy weather the movie’s star. A massive barrage of tornadoes roars across a single Midwestern town, sucking up semitrucks, crashing airliners, flattening buildings, carrying off some of the cast and leaving others dreadfully ruffled. In anticipation of the new film, here’s a look back at a slew of movies where lousy weather played a pivotal role.

HOT AND MUGGY

“Do the Right Thing”

The narrative effectiveness of Spike Lee’s best film depends to a huge degree on the heat wave broiling his embattled characters. It’s the hottest day of the year. “HELTER SWELTER, 98-DEGREE RECORD BREAKER” screams a Daily News banner headline. The simmering temperature pushes an irritable group of neighbors in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant to the boiling point. When a frazzled cop shoots an irritating but harmless local character, the other players erupt in a frenzy of recriminations, rioting and looting. Lee used a scalding-hot red-orange color palette to push the point home, and strong, sizzling sunlight to make the tenements and storefronts look desert-harsh and hostile.

TRAVEL ADVISORY

“The Ice Storm”

Ang Lee’s film about affluent families trapped in failed marriages and the pursuit of empty pleasures literally traps its players with a symbolic early winter storm. Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver and Joan Allen play suburbanites medicating their ennui with adultery and alcohol, while neglecting their drugged-up, alienated children. Icy rain seeps into everything, like a force of nature dissolving the decadent characters’ sexual inhibitions to tragic effect. For hair-raising visuals it’s hard to top Lee’s image of a child balancing unnoticed on the end of an icy diving board above an unfilled swimming pool. Lee’s direction is aptly cool and fluid.

SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER

“The Shining”

Trapped in the haunted Overlook Hotel as an endless blizzard howls outside, Jack Nicholson develops the worst case of cabin fever in history. Stanley Kubrick’s prestige horror film uses some spook-story effects to amp up the anxiety, but the claustrophobia and isolation alone are enough to drive viewers to the edge of hysteria. With a titanic snowfall making the mountain roads impassable, there’s no way for the authorities to save the day, or for Nicholson’s terrified wife and son to flee from their increasingly unhinged patriarch. It must be the work of occult forces, since a TV weather report in the film describes an “incredible” contrast of warm sunshine in Denver and brutal snow in the mountains.

SMALL CRAFT WARNINGS

“The Perfect Storm”

Having made the best submarine thriller ever, “Das Boot,” Wolfgang Petersen returned to the Atlantic Ocean to tell the true story of a superstorm. George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly are among the crew of a Massachusetts fishing boat capsized during a cataclysmic 1991 storm at sea. Their boat is battered by hammering downpours and tossed by stomach-dropping giant waves that dismantle the vessel piece by piece. It’s a gripping drama told with kinetic punch that could make a viewer seasick.

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