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Gila von Weitershausen,
Just like the pollution portrayed suffocates the people in the film, so does the films general atmosphere - dark, dirty, I was almost gasping for air. From the beginning, the filmmakers don't mince images about pollution, skies darkened by industrial exhaust, cars covered in dark, sticky fallout from unfiltered smokestacks, the acid in the air dissolving nylon stockings. Looking out of my window today, its hard to imagine that this film was shot in my general area, that such events actually happened on several occasions where I now live, once even in my lifetime (though I don't remember it, I was only three). The film's point, as I see it, is well made: pollution affects us all and we all have to change our behavior to do something about it. While there is an emphasis on how heavy industry is to blame not just for causing pollution but also for ignoring the problem, for profit's sake, everybody's contribution, from automobiles to trash fires and coal- or oil-fired heating, even down to smoking, is given generous screen time, painting the picture of an entire society killing itself, quite literally. The film follows different protagonists through the Smog: The Rykalla family, the father who has to use his car to get to work, the mother worried about her infant daughter's breathing troubles and the grandfather who wants to flee the poisonous air. Then there is the director of the Globag company, a heavy industry behemoth, who argues about the economy and jobs and goes so far as to threaten the met-office head scientist in order to keep his factories running (and who won't miss the chauffeur running the car for half an hour so that its nice and warm to go to the office with). Last but not least, there are the civil servants, who have their hands full running the emergency services, trying to implement untested emergency plans against a a lack of staff, equipment and the population's cooperation and who see the whole affair as an opportunity to show their ability and further their image. The story of the protagonists is inter sped with faux news reports, experts with diverging opinions and scenes showing the effects of the disaster. There are many memorable scenes in the film: Rykalla cleaning off the black sludge sticking to his car-windows like ice in the winter, a footballer collapsing in the middle of the game from respiratory distress, a salesman flogging smog-masks to profit from the catastrophe. Looking at the film from a 23 year distance, it is hard to imagine such a situation occurring in our de-sulphurised, catalytically-converted, post-industrial, environmentally-alert society, or how people could be so oblivious to their own participation in it. Until one thinks about global warming and how most people simply refuse to see their own part in carbon-dioxide production. The film is also a chilling reminder of what the export of heavy industry to the third world is now doing to other people, elsewhere. This is one of my favorite Wolfgang Petersen films and I recommend it. Last but not least, I think calling this a Sci-Fi film is wrong - while catastrophic Smog in the Ruhrgebiet was still a theoretical problem at the time of the film's making, it was scientifically documented and its effects had been well observed twenty years earlier during the Great London Smog (which is cited by a journalist appearing in the film). It is a disaster-movie, an environmental thriller, and although not fast-paced it is intelligent and disturbing as a good thriller should be.
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