Movies To Make You Forget The Heat: A Summer Watchlist
I remember a blue and white sign that used to tempt me every summer when I was a kid. It dangled from the marquee of our neighborhood movie theater: Painted penguins and three irresistible, snow-covered words, "It's cool inside."
And it was. They kept the AC cranked so low that my mom made us take sweaters when we went to see midsummer movies. Movies like 101 Dalmatians, where Pongo and his gazillion pups fought their way across an icy river, through wind and huge snowdrifts to get to a nice warm barn where some friendly cows welcomed them with fresh milk.
I don't know whether filmmakers deliberately released movies with scenes of snow in the summer back then, but they sure should have. Air-conditioning wasn't common in homes yet, so it was a big movie-theater draw in those days.
And while I was watching kid flicks, my folks were watching the grown-up equivalent. Omar Sharif's Doctor Zhivago, his beard and eyebrows crusted with icicles, mistaking half-frozen refugees on a frigid tundra for his wife and child, or breaking into a long-neglected ice palace that could've doubled as a frosted wedding cake, its interior a white-on-white maze of drifting snow, frozen furniture and glistening icicles that rivaled the chandeliers.
It's not as if any of this was new. Or even happened only in summer movies. Charlie Chaplin had made audiences feel a chill in his silent comedy The Gold Rush by whipping up a blizzard that left a prospector's house perched precariously on the edge of a glacier. And that was just a few years after D.W. Griffith had put a poor, coatless Lillian Gish on an ice floe in Way Down East and sent her hurtling downstream toward a waterfall.
Technology has made it possible for more recent filmmakers to give audiences not just a chill, but a bad case of frostbite. Jack Nicholson freezing solid at the end of The Shining, for instance, or that Uruguayan rugby team stranded high in the Andes after a plane crash in Alive.
John Carpenter's The Thing had scientists battling its title critter in Antarctica. And the hardy crime-solvers in Fargo plunged through slush into North Dakota snowdrifts armed only with a coffee thermos.
There have also been documentaries about climbing Everest, and explorers going to the South Pole. Even animated films — Happy Feet with dancing penguins, Ice Age with mastodons traipsing across glaciers, and of course, millions of children have crooned "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman" after seeing Frozen.
And all of this barely qualifies as nippy next to the deep, deep-freeze in the climate-change epic, The Day After Tomorrow, which depicted the sudden arrival of a new ice age with digital effects that sent frost streaking down the spire on the Empire State Building, and froze New York Harbor solid enough that the stars could hike on over to the Statue of Liberty.
Not that water has to get that cold to make audiences shiver. Witness Leonardo DiCaprio at the end of Titanic, all but submerged in the frigid Atlantic, teeth chattering, lips turning blue as he tries to buck-up Kate Winslet's spirits while clinging to a makeshift raft he can't climb onto.
"I can't feel my body," Rose gasps, and we all shivered. Though in retrospect, I can only think, "Aaahhhh ... quit yer complaining," because Titanic-cold is merely brisk, as moviegoers would learn a few years later from the documentary March of the Penguins.
In that one, tens of thousands of those stoic, flightless birds huddled together, and Morgan Freeman's voice provided practically the only warmth, talking about how temperatures around them were dipping to 80-below, with winds whipping through at 100 miles an hour. See, that's cold. No matter how hot it is outside, you're going to be hoping for a thaw by the end of March of the Penguins.
And that's true of a lot of these pictures. Even Zhivago... or perhaps especially Zhivago, since it spends the better part of three hours feeling downright Siberian, whether its good doctor is battling wintry winds outside, or cooped up in a country house in what has become a chilly marriage, fingers cramped as he tries to write. The roads are blocked, the snow's drifted high enough that they can't open doors, the windows are a latticework of frost crystals so thick they can't see out, though with overcast skies, what's to see, really?
Until Zhivago spots a glint in one spot, and realizes the sun's peeking out from behind the clouds for the first time in months. Then the sun hits the window full on, and the crystals glisten, and in a dissolve that could only happen in a David Lean film, the frost melts away to reveal in 70 mm, what look to be 40-foot high daffodils.
And for a moment at least, you'll welcome a little warmth.
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