Promised Land could have been so much more than what it was, and it did little to provide any real substance on the public discussion of hydraulic fracturing. The motion picture, which opened three weeks ago, stars Matt Damon as Steve Butler, a natural gas landman at work in rural Pennsylvania. Butler’s goal is to secure mineral leases so that his company can begin drilling and hydraulically fracturing the shale formation lying beneath the feet of the poor residents of McKinley. In accomplishing this goal, Butler promises millions of dollars in royalties. His is an offer that could help save farms, the community, and a way of life. His popularity soars, until the town meeting, when it all begins to unravel. It is at the meeting, while suffering from a mighty hangover, that Butler faces his first skeptic in a man named Frank Yates. Yates, played by Hal Holbrook, is the high school science teacher and a retired Boeing engineer. He has a master’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a PhD from Cornell University. His is the voice that many in town respect. Where does Yates suggest the townsfolk go to do their research on hydraulic fracturing? He recommends Google. Butler’s prospects begin to quickly unravel further when the environmentalist Dustin Noble shows up in town and goes on a one-man quest to block hydraulic fracturing. Noble, played by John Krasinksi, is successful in turning most of the town against Butler. I won’t spoil the ending or the twists leading up to it, but I will say that Noble’s intentions are far from noble. Watching this movie was like watching someone suffer through a day of wearing ill-fitting shoes. I took Yates’ advice and searched Google for the movie’s back story. It started out as an idea from Krasinksi that had to do with a movie about “some sort of abuse of power in the green movement.” He reached out to Damon and together they began working on a script focused on wind energy in New York, a fitting subject for two native sons of Massachusetts where windmills off Cape Cod met great resistance thanks to NIMBY a few years ago. When that story didn’t pan out, the guys turned their focus to Alaska and a possible story about salmon fisheries being poisoned by copper mining run-off. And again, the idea struck out. While the reasons why are never given, I’d like to think it was because there was already a salmon movie on the books for 2012, one in which Krasinksi’s wife had a starring role. Hydraulic fracturing in rural Pennsylvania got the nod because Damon realized they “had something much better than wind farming. Because the stakes are so high, it’s not really a choice – between losing your family farm or not.” Sadly, the movie does little in helping to clarify the reasons why one should or should not allow gas development on their land. One of the first rules of fiction writing is to believe in your characters and be true to the characters’ story. Failure to do so results in the audience discrediting your story. This is what happened to Promised Land. In shopping around for a plot device to tell their tale, Damon and Krasinksi wandered into an area outside of their expertise, tried to make their story fit, and failed. Contact the author, Jennifer Presley, at