When Hollywood's formidable promotional wing discovered it could announce a movie by not just telling you a big star is in it, but that a big star is it, they had a decades-long field day with the idea that continues, tiresomely, to the present moment. Right now, many of the billboards up around Los Angeles insist upon telling me that "Keanu Reaves is John Wick," but give it a few weeks and they'll tell us someone else we know is someone else we don't (unless, of course, we buy a ticket). Conservation International has taken this marketing trope and spun it into a series of shorts featuring "A-list" actors, the most famous of the famous, playing the earthly entities with which we should, perhaps, have more familiarity than we do. At the top of the post, Kevin Spacey is the rainforest. Just below, Julia Roberts is Mother Nature. At the bottom, Harrison Ford is the ocean.
"I'm most of this planet," Ford-as-ocean intones with his signature (and increasingly gruff) gruffness. "I shaped it. Every stream, every cloud, and every raindrop — it all comes back to me." But as Mother Nature, Roberts makes impressive claims of her own: "I've been here for over four and a half billion years — 22,500 times longer than you. I don't really need people, but people need me." Not to be outdone, Kevin Spacey's ever-giving rainforest issues a challenge to us all: "Humans, they're so smart. So smart. Such big brains and opposable thumbs. They know how to make things — amazing things. Now why would they need an old forest like me anymore? Well, they do breathe air, and I make air. Have they thought about that?"
You can watch the entire series of films, entitled "Nature is Speaking," on a single Youtube playlist. The rest of the lineup includes Edward Norton as the soil, Penelope Cruz as water (o, hablando en español, como Agua), and Robert Redford as, suitably, the redwood. (You can also see clips from behind the scenes featuring Norton and Ford assuming their elemental roles in the recording studio.) They all combine this considerable amount of vocal star power with equally striking footage of the part of the environment from whom we hear, and sometimes of its destruction. They carry one overall message, which Conversation International has unshyly spelled out: "Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature." Still, it comes off less heavy-handed than most of the environmental messages I remember from the films of my 1990s youth. If, for the next series, they get Reeves on board (speaking of pieces of my 90s youth), can they find a suitably laid-back element to pair him with? For more information on the campaign, please visit the Nature is Speaking site.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.