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.
“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
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.
CHILLY BUT BRIGHT
Disney’s smart revision of its “princess movie” genre depends on the uncontrolled flash-freezing abilities of Elsa, who accidentally unleashes eternal winter on her kingdom, then imprisons herself in a distant ice palace. She also freezes her loving sister Anna’s heart, unless it can be thawed by an act of pure love. The film’s shimmering songs, radiant snowscapes and icebound adventures powered it on to become the highest-grossing animated film of all time.
FLASH FLOOD WATCH
Darren (“Black Swan”) Aronofsky turns the biblical story into a taut disaster-evacuation saga with complex theological overtones and outlandish special effects. Russell Crowe gathers up his family and a giant menagerie aboard an ark in preparation for an impending rain so ferocious it will obliterate his sinful, immoral world. When the vicious storm hits, the devastation has a deeper meaning than bravura special-effects thrills.
PACK AN UMBRELLA AND FORK
“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”
The gleefully silly animated adaptation of the children’s classic stars Bill Hader as a hapless young inventor whose food-transforming gizmo goes haywire, triggering pasta precipitation and jelly bean hail. When a pancake the size of a city block flattens the local schoolhouse, followed by a huge sploosh of maple syrup, it’s childish wish fulfillment on a grand scale. But the most delicious moment comes when it snows ice cream and the local kids make snow angels face down.