In case you thought that the battle between Big Oil and alternative fuel had cooled down, Hollywood has proved that the debate is hot enough to inspire soap opera–style drama. The central conflicts in the new reboot of the TV show Dallas, which premiered June 13 on TNT, revolve around questions of clean energy.
The Ewing clan, as we know from the first version of the show (which aired from 1978 to ’91), made its money in the oil business. In this new version, writers have attempted to update the show by using clean energy as a catalyst for conflict among the family members. The main struggle lies between Christopher and John Ross. Christopher, the good guy, has abandoned drilling in favor of exploring alternative energy sources; his hopes lie in methane hydrates (frozen methane trapped on the ocean floor). John Ross, on the other hand, is a fracking fanatic. In typical Big Oil, bad-guy fashion, he is a liar and cheater motivated purely by greed. Much of the tension in the show will surely arise from John Ross’s desire to drill in Southfork, home to the Ewing family.
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Dallas is not the first Hollywood franchise to structure a plot around the question of clean energy. Just a month ago, the team of superheroes in The Avengers took on the villain Loki in a fight for the Tesseract, an energy source of unknown power. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu referred to the Tesseract in a Facebook Wall post that asked Congress to extend renewable-energy tax credits, comparing the battle for the Tesseract to the global competition for clean energy. Even though the team must return the Tesseract to its home planet at the end of the film, Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) succeeds in using the same technology that powers his Iron Man suit to give his flagship skyscraper Stark Tower a self-sustaining energy supply.
Other movies have aimed for a younger demographic in delivering their green message, possibly hoping to influence the next generation of policymakers, businessmen and scientists. The cars in Cars 2, which came out last summer, fuel their engines on allinol, a fictional green alternative to gas. The cars must eventually take on the movie’s oil-baron villains, who attempt to discredit allinol. Nor was Cars 2 Pixar’s first vehicle for a green message: 2008’s WALL•E cautioned viewers about pollution, depicting a world in which the robot WALL•E is left to clean a plantless earth of the garbage humans left behind. More recently, Dr. Suess’ the Lorax, which was in theaters this spring, chronicled the plight of the environment in a treeless world where everything is made of plastic and the mayor doubles as a greedy proprietor of a bottled-oxygen concern.
(VIDEO: The TIME 100 Green Roundtable)
All these films come in the wake of Al Gore’s 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which opened audiences’ eyes to the nightmarish consequences of global warming. But these more recent movies and TV shows take a more hopeful and lighthearted approach: Tony Stark’s self-sustaining tower lights up the New York City skyline; the humans in WALL•E return to earth invigorated to clean and plant; and I expect John Ross the fracker will get his comeuppance before Dallas leaves the air. True, Gore’s film was a documentary, not an action movie or cartoon. But perhaps bundling that same message in a more optimistic package will propel the green initiative forward. Hollywood’s new trend, it seems, is offering us hope for the future of our environment — even if the solutions are fictional.