Frank's Faves: Movie tree falls

Frank's Faves: Movie tree falls

"If a tree falls on your roof and no one is around to see or hear it, does it make a sound?" — age-old question, rephrased

The answer to that question, in my experience to this point, is a big fat "no."

For one thing, evidently, no one in the immediate vicinity of our home, ourselves included, heard a thing when the massive old oak alongside our home abruptly split at the trunk last weekend and deposited its largest upright limb sideways onto the peak of our roof without actually snapping off. In fact, because it has remained precariously perched like that ever since without either falling or breaking through the roof, I suspect no one in our neighborhood has even noticed. It took me a day or so to spot it myself.

But the bigger silence accompanying this apparent act of God has been from the tree-removal service our insurance company referred us to. It’s been several days now of staring up at that tree-sized log stuck for the moment between the gaping fissure in the oak’s trunk and the dubious hold its furthest branches have on the pinnacle of our roof, and wondering when and how it will come tumbling down. We even called a couple of the nearest, non-recommended tree-removal services in our area and got one to come out and look at it. The results of that? We’re told this job will need heavy equipment he doesn’t have. He referred us to someone else. It took three days for that call to be returned. Even the Ameren employee who came out and agreed that this humongous chunk of broken tree is likely to take out our gas line when it falls (and that could happen any time), left without doing a thing.

Perhaps it’s only fitting that a so-called act of God should be followed by so pervasive a lull (a long moment of silence, if you will), but obviously, our fear as I write this is that this particular natural disaster isn’t done with its path of destruction just yet, which means that this may only be the dramatic pause before the big, noisy finish.

Even if the tree service that finally did agree to do the job comes through for us in time, it still won’t give us any joy when this tree-fall is final. The arborist that looked it over for us estimates this oak may be 150 to 200 years old, possibly older than the town itself, and I can’t help feeling that old nagging suspicion of a personal curse, since this tree clearly has seen countless generations come and go, but is now literally pulling itself apart with its own weight less than two years after we moved in beside it.

So, the silence you hear in the vicinity of our home this week is my wife and me holding our breath — until the blessed song of chainsaws and an industrial-sized crane outside finally breaks the suspense.

In the meantime, what do you suppose we can find to watch on the living-room big screen to alleviate the tension? I know this will come as a surprise, but how about movies in which a tree falls to great dramatic — and emphatic — effect, either as a symbol or signal of something huge approaching, or as a potentially crushing act of divine fury no one can ignore?

Hey, you don't have to drop a tree on me to get my attention; just roll the opening credits on:


— "The Omen" (1976). Poor Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) has the unfortunate responsibility of informing Gregory Peck that his son Damien just could be the Antichrist. No surprise that dear old Dad is not at all receptive to this helpful bit of counsel, nor that the conversation proves to be the priest's last, as immediately afterward, an ugly storm whips up around him and lets him know the kid's REAL dad is even angrier. But what gets old Father Brennan running for his life (and straight to his doom)? Why, a lightning bolt that sets a tree ablaze and crashing to the ground right in front of him. OK, not exactly an act of God in this case, but definitely an effective attention-getter.

— "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001). Christopher Lee played some terrific villains over his nearly 70-year career, from Count Dracula to Count Dooku, but one of his best was Saruman, the wizard gone bad in Peter Jackson's film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy. After betraying the story's heroic wizard, Gandalf, and taking him prisoner, Saruman proceeds to begin building an monstrous army to overrun Middle-earth, and his first step in doing that is to lay waste to the surrounding forests in order to fuel his war machinery. Nothing identifies a soulless evil-doer to the audience like watching him raptly watch his goons uproot and burn one ancient tree after another — in all directions. But don't worry. The trees get their revenge ...

— "The Jungle Book" (1967). In Disney's animated adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling classic, Col. Hathi (voiced by J. Pat O'Malley) actually gets a chuckle out of the dastardly tiger-in-hiding Shere Khan (George Sanders) when he lays out for his fellow elephants his "strategy of surprise" for finding the man-cub Mowgli and thwarting the big cat's designs on the boy, then proceeds to lead his pachyderm parade crashing through the jungle on their mission, toppling trees like bowling pins in their wake — one of the truly rare occasions in a movie where trees fall for humorous effect.

— "Avatar" (2009). The humans' destruction of the Hometree in James Cameron's sci-fi epic is one of the most ponderous and tragic tree falls ever filmed (even if only in CGI). In fact, it takes nearly a full minute and a half for the city-sized tree settlement of the Na'vi to fully crash to earth, but its agonizing, slow-motion descent perfectly frames the horror of the act and provides a powerful metaphor for our own culture's history of disregard for the homes and cultures of indigenous people.

— "Jurassic Park" (1993). OK, you might expect I'm thinking of some scene where a genetically engineered T-rex is stomping through the title tourist attraction, flattening trees left and right, but actually, this is my cheat in this list. It's not actually a tree that does the falling in this tree-fall fave, but a Ford Explorer plunging through a seemingly neverending tree — while Sam Neill and then-10-year-old Joseph Mazzello scramble down the branches just ahead of it. It's a classic, breathlessly choreographed Steven Spielberg action sequence and couldn't be more thrilling if the tree DID fall over when man, boy and auto all reach the ground. Hmmm, on second thought, maybe it could ...

BONUS: Favorite treefall movie I have yet to see — "Spencer's Mountain" (1963). A fallen tree in this classic kills the grandpa, I'm told. Hopefully, that spoiler doesn't ruin this one for me, as it also stars acting faves Henry Fonda, Maureen O'Hara and Wally Cox.

Topics (2):Film, Television