Famously, American author Mark Twain once stated that a gold mine was nothing more than “a hole in the ground with a liar standing next to it. Mineral extraction has been shown to have far-reaching consequences in films since then, and some of these con artists have been unmasked as a result. Filmmaker Mark Fraser examines ten films where mining plays a big role in the plot.
10. Total Recall
I’m not a huge fan of either film, but the only reason Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 version beats out the 2012 remake is: As an Australian, it’s nice to know that our future resources aren’t going to be found on Mars, but on Earth.
Sean Connery, a federal marshal assigned to a titanium mining project on one of Jupiter’s moons, is suspicious when he discovers a drug ring and finally has to take on the company’s hitmen in a High Noon-like shootout. Staff morale isn’t the only benefit of on-site housing, although the movie doesn’t give it much of a mention.
During an industrial dispute in the coal regions of West Virginia in 1920, Chris Cooper, a union member, takes on a mining firm that is trying to override the interests of the local population by hiring scab labor. Barbara Kopple made a film about Harlan County, USA in 1977, and it won an Academy AwardTM for Best Documentary Feature.
7. Coal Miner’s Daughter
In Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, the coal mining town where Loretta Lynn (Sissy Spacek) grew up, the miners and their families live in appalling poverty. This period drama was given a well-deserved OscarTM nod for its genuine look and feel by the film’s art and set directors (John Corso and John Dwyer) and cinematographer (Ralf Bode).
6. There Will Be Blood
Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a prospector who finds oil but the film opens with him stoically hand digging his way through some silver mines in a scene that strangely equals the intensity of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket’s first 15 disorienting minutes (1987).
Philip Glass’s minimalist score paired with an astonishing montage of gold miners at Brazil’s Serra Pelada gold mine to launch this visually-rich documentary couldn’t have been better. This segment is on par with any other in the film or its predecessor, the critically acclaimed 1983 film Koyaanisqatsi.
They were no doubt as unscrupulous and devious as John Gielgud and Bradford Dillman, the multinational gold mine executives in South Africa’s Witwatersrand in the 1970s, who tried to influence their company’s share price by staging a large catastrophic subterranean tragedy.
The good news for the workers is that Roger Moore is on their side. Even if Gold isn’t considered a classic, it does have a semblance of realism because to the fact that it was shot on location. Consider the characteristic concrete-clad headframes still prevalent in the South African mining industry while making this assessment.
3. Blood Diamond
Djimon Hounsou discovers a large diamond while working as an alluvial miner in Africa in 1999, which he uses to help his family flee the civil violence in Sierra Leone.
It’s a terrific film, and Leo DiCaprio gives one of his best ever performances as a former mercenary who ends up saving the day in one of the best performances of his career.
The full scope of human suffering and violent cruelty seen during the heyday of the blood diamond trade, which was rife only 15 years ago, has been obscured by all the activity.
In the early 1970s, CRA began mining its Panguna copper-gold mine on the former Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville, which eventually evolved into what is now publicly listed Rio Tinto.
Local landowners resorted to violence in 1989, as they were furious over not being compensated and the Jaba River, which they said was being contaminated by the company’s activities.
Bougainville’s attempt to break away from PNG’s mainland sparked a bloody civil war that claimed the lives of thousands of the island’s population. The government (headed by Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan) also hired Sandline International, a private British military (read: mercenary) firm, to help crush the rebels’ unrest.
However, Avatar is a rather accurate parallel for what transpired in PNG, even if writer-director James Cameron did not intend for it to be so. Sadly, the mineral in question is called “unobtanium” by him.
1. The Treasure of Sierra Madre
Greed is the ultimate theme in this film, which follows three gringos on a quest for gold in Mexico, only to be met with success. It’s not just that these people are great prospectors, but they’re also able to reduce high-grade ore to gold dust on site using a homemade combination of panning and screening.