The geological timetable is to a geologist what the periodic table is to a physicist/chemist; it is the fundamental document by which we understand our world. Film is to a geologist what whiskey is to the journalist; it is a primary source of entertainment and inspiration.
There have been geoscientists in film for nearly as long as there have been films. These geoscience characters have undergone their own evolution over the 80+ years they’ve appeared on the silver screen. And the geological time table broadly describes the evolution of life on Earth. So here, I present the geological timetable of geoscientists in film to track their crucial evolution through cinematic history.
GEOSCIENCE FILM ERAS
This era in films featuring geoscientists featured a number of characters that, despite being called geologists, did not exhibit any tangible skills that would identify them as geologists.
Terrazoic (1996-Present day)
This era in films featuring geoscientists features characters that, more often than not, actually exhibit skills commensurate with being a geoscientist. This includes areas of specialization such as geology, climate science, and being Charles Darwin.
GEOSCIENCE FILM PERIODS
The Petrogene Period of geoscientists in film was defined by the presence of oilmen, to the exclusion of all other types of geoscientists.
The Monstronian Period of geoscientists in film was heavily dominated by evil and ghastly creatures terrorizing humans. Geoscientists during this time were largely present to fight the creatures rather than perform any acts of science.
The Luxbonian Period, translated from the Latin meaning “dawn of good geoscientists,” saw the first appearance of geoscientist characters that performed relatively authentic acts of geoscience. However, more often than not, the geosciences of the Luxbonian Period were questionable at best.
Flipflopogene (2011-Present day)
The Flipflopogene Period is our current geoscientists-in-film period and sees the rapid alternation between hyper-competent geologists and confusingly inept humanoids claiming to be knowledgeable of Earth sciences.
GEOSCIENCE FILM EPOCHS
The Petrogene is defined by the presence of oilmen to the exclusion of all other types of geoscientists. These oilmen are typically men of questionable character, even when presented as the heroes of the story, and show only a cursory knowledge of anything geological. They go by pretty strong names, such as Ramsey Kane, “Big John” McMasters, or “Square John” Sand.
Notable films: Roaring Ranch (1930), Boom Town (1940), The San Antonio Kid (1944), Tulsa (1949).
The Noirassic sees geologists (in name only) mostly battle nuclear mutant monsters rather than do anything remotely related to geology. While it was deeply discouraging to discover that our fellow geoscientists were not practicing, it must be noted that these characters were rocking some pretty great geologist names, including Dr. Jeremiah Morley, Dr. Arturo Ramos, Erik Engstrom, Dr. Dewhurst, and the amazing Dick Cutler. DICK CUTLER?!? The Noirassic was first defined and made famous by esteemed researchers Joel Robinson, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo.
Notable films: Unknown World (1951), Day the World Ended (1955), The Astounding She-Monster (1957), The Black Scorpion (1957), The Monolith Monsters (1957), Night the World Exploded (1957), The Trollenberg Terror/The Crawling Eye (1958), Invasion of the Animal People (1959), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959).
The Bondassic epoch distinguishes itself from other epochs of the Monstronian Period for featuring metaphorical monsters rather than those with tentacles. The first evidence of the Bondassic epoch appeared in the British spy thriller Dr. No, featuring the chest hair of Sean “I’m the only James Bond” Connery. The titular villain, bent on world domination, hired a geologist who specialized in uranium mining. This omnipresent threat of world destruction is a theme of films in the Bondassic, such as when scientists trying to tap geothermal energy accidentally trigger an explosion that cuts the world in two. Geoscientists of the Bondassic lack the cool-sounding names of their counterparts of the Noirassic.
Notable films: Dr. No (1962), Crack in the World (1965), Earthquake (1974)
Much like the Noirassic, literal monsters dominated the Stanassic epoch. However, the monsters of the Stanassic were notably non-nuclear in origin. Named for creature effects wizard Stan Winston (who also created the now legendary effects for paleontology documentary Jurassic Park), films of this time were not typically well reviewedaccording to the empirically derived ratings curves extracted by researchers for the imdband RottenTomatoes companies. Amid the many unfortunate and fossilized performances of the time, scientists have identified a number of intriguing and advanced personalities in Kevin Bacon (Fightus Graboids), Peter Weller (Notjustus Robocopus), and John Carpenter (Nicknamus Unnecessarii).
Notable films: Track of the Moon Beast (1976), The Last Dinosaur (1977), Shadow of Chikara (1977), The Thing (1982), A View to a Kill (1985), Leviathan (1989), Tremors (1990)
The year 1996 sees the most catastrophic transition in the world of geoscientists in film, marked by the End-Monstronian boundary, sometimes referred to as The Pierce-Brosnaning. Following this boundary, the vast majority of geoscientists in film actually seem to possess some fundamental knowledge of science, thrusting the world into the Terrazoic era. The Volcanocene is defined all over the world by the first appearance of Pierce Brosnan’s stunning jawline. His rugged good looks and devilishly cool accent make the act of boiling frogs somehow delightful. His eyes cut through the steel grey of the ash and lahar and into the hearts of men. His dulcet singing tones are as smooth as the cocoa butter he refused so it could later be generously applied to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. And his perfect smile reminds us that, volcano or not, his cheekbones can no doubt cut glass. Sorry… what was I talking about again?
Notable films: Dante’s Peak (1997)… probably some others… Volcano (1997)
The world of geoscientists in film gets thrown into upheaval following the short-lived Pierce-Brosnaning. The geoscientists that emerge during the Buscemocene are all described as near-geniuses, yet their science, while often based on sound principles, is remarkably stupid. This epoch, more than any other, embodies the true nature of the Flipflopogene Period. Genius geoscientist Steve “Rockhound” Buscemi works for an oil company and also decided that the apocalypse is the perfect time to mow down his teammates with a machine gun. Dr. Josh Keys and Dr. Conrad Zimsky correctly recognize that Earth’s outer core is what generates our protective magnetic field – and when the core “stops spinning” for reasons unknown, they proposed jumpstarting it with a nuclear weapon. Climate scientists Jack “Dennis Quaid” Hall and Terry “Ian Holm” Rapson correctly identify the connections between ocean circulation patterns and climate,yet aren’t at all surprised when the entire system shuts down in less than 24 hours. Despite some abject levels of absurdity, scientists of the Buscemocene show more promise as actual geo-investigators than many of their previous counterparts.
Notable Films: Armageddon (1998), Southpark: Bigger, longer and uncut (1999), Evolution (2001), The Core (2003), The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
The Allegorocene is defined by the dominance of non-subtle-metaphors. Scores of people in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve began to fall ill and die as the ghosts of fossil fuels being siphoned out of the ground unleashed previously unknown horrors on the world. You didn’t misread that. It’s incredible. Also, oilman Daniel Plainview became obsessed with black gold to the point of destroying families, communities, and eventually, himself. The lack of subtlety truly began in the late Buscemocene, yet films of this epoch weren’t nearly as transparent in their messaging as those who dominated the Allegorocene.
Notable Films: The Last Winter (2006), There Will Be Blood (2007), Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D (2008)
The Nomoreocene epoch saw the rise of aging geoscientists in film, including a turn by Charles Darwin himself. Scientists of this time had largely moved on from their days as people of research, and instead chose to focus on more personal family matters. The notable exception to this is geoscientist Adrian Helmsley. His stunning work on how solar flares over-excite Earth’s core which, in turn, leads to all manner of geological and climatic disasters certainly proves that we should all wish he had moved on from his days as a man of research and enjoyed more simple times — such as studying the complex interactions between his boot and Malcolm Reynolds (nathanus fillioni).
Notable Films: 2012 (2009), Creation (2009), Another Year (2010)
The year 2012 was a dark time, and marked one of the worst epochs for geoscientists in film. Researchers today are still baffled at the empirical curves of imdb and Rotten Tomatoes that seem to indicate quality in Prometheus. Those who survived the Prometheocene recall excitement for the day that Ridley Scott (bestdaysus-apparently behindus) returned to his investigations of “the science,” especially the extra-terrestrial science. And yet, what happened was the appearance of Fifield, clearly one of the worst “geoscientists” in the history of the world. Fifield, whose job description can only be described by quotation marks, was a supposed scientist who cared not for any potentially universe altering discoveries. He was a mapper of geological features who could not read a map. A geologist with no care for rocks or minerals. And a man of such poor judgment that he would a) remove his helmet on an alien world without checking for bacteria or viruses, b) reach a hand towards an unknown species of phallus-cobra-vagina, and c) become some sort of zombie creature while garnering absolutely zero interest or intrigue by crew and audience alike.
Non-Notable Films: Prometheus (2012)
Martianocene (2013-present day)
It took three years for the planet to recover from the Prometheocene and reintroduce geoscientists as major players in film. Fortunately, geologist Melissa Lewis defines our current epoch. This vigilant commander of a trip to Mars demonstrates remarkable skill and leadership and serves as a model for future geoscientists in film. Her expertise is somewhat balanced by the glorious over-the-topedness of Paul “I’ll-take-any-role-for-a-song” Giamatti. His contributions to our understanding of physically impossible earthquakes brought us yet more appreciation to his body of work and gave us yet another reason to mention Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Notable Films: The Martian (2015), San Andreas (2015), Kong: Skull Island (2016)