Monday, November 9, 2009

The End of the World (As Hollywood Knows It)

Now that Roland Emmerich's apocalyptic, "disaster porn" film 2012 is actually upon us, I thought I'd re-run and update a post from this past January. It was all about how Hollywood has envisioned the End of the World in oh so many variations.

Emmerich's movies are usually pretty terrible (though I must admit to having a soft spot for Stargate, but that probably has more to do with James Spader and Kurt Russell than anything else). And while Independence Day is certainly entertaining enough, the less said about Godzilla; The Day After Tomorrow and 10,000 BC, the better (Jake and Steven, aside).

Based on ridiculous speculation by people with more time on their hands than they deserve to have, 2012 posits that because the Mayan calender has only been calculated up to t December 21, 2012, that's when the world will end. Of course, any sane person will tell you that 12-21-12 is simply when they stopped calculating and that the date holds no other significance than that, despite what some nutballs would have you believe. Of course, Emmerich has taken the nutballs' ideas and run with them in an orgy of CGI destruction that rivals any EoW (End of the World) movie to come before. John Cusak, Amanda Peet, Woody Harrelson and Danny Glover lend their talents to what critics are already describing as the 'unintentionally funniest movie of the year:'

But, Hollywood being Hollywood, 2012 is hardly the first time they've depicted the End of Days. In 1951, Director Rudolph Mate and producer George Pal (War of the Worlds) gave us When Worlds Collide starring Richard Derr and Barbara Rush in a story about a gigantic asteroid headed toward Earth and the effort to evacuate as many 'important' people as possible:

In 1959, director Stanley Kramer took on the EoW via nuclear war and the fallout that follows in On the Beach, starring Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire and Ava Gardner:

in 1962, director Steve Sekely gave us his film version of the John Wyndham novel The Day of the Triffids. A spectacular meteor shower blinds most of the world's population, leaving them ripe for annihilation via an ambulatory vegetable from space. The movie is probably best known for its inclusion in the song "Late Night Science Fiction Picture Show" from the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. "And I really got hot, when I saw Janette Scott/ Fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills..."

And here's a terrific student-made trailer for the remake this film deserves:

Janette Scott would make another EoW appearance in Andrew Marton's 1965 film about the apocalypse, The Crack in the World. This time, it's mankind's hubris that brings about the end. Attempting to harness the apparently unlimited geothermal energy at the Earth's core, scientists detonate a nuclear bomb inside a volcano, setting off a series of cataclysmic events. Johnny Douglas' terrific score helps make this one a favorite of yours truly:

In 1978, George A. Romero gave us the first true 'Zombie Apocalypse' movie Dawn of the Dead, in which a rag-tag group tries to survive while holed up in a suburban shopping mall. The End has never been quite so scary (or gruesome):

In 1983, the ABC network brought us The Day After, a chilling post-nuclear tale about the effects of fallout and the efforts to survive an attack by the Reds. They issued warnings that young children shouldn't watch and school districts around the country offered counseling to their students who may have been unsettled or upset by its graphic depictions of destruction and the effects of radiation poisoning:

12 years later, James Cameron brought his own vision of nuclear annihilation at the hands of a sentient computer program in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, his FX groundbreaking sequel to The Terminator:

ABC destroyed the world again in 1991 with Mick Garris' mostly excellent version of author Stephen King's The Stand. This time, it's a virus which kills off most of the population, though the Devil (in the form of actor Jamey Sheriden) has a lot to do with the horrors visited on humanity:

Personally, I would have made a few different casting choices. Laura San Giacomo in particular is all wrong for her role, but it still remains one of the better adaptations of a King novel.

In 2002, director Danny Boyle took on the Zombie Apocalypse with his movie 28 Days Later, in which a virus accidentally released by animal rights activists decimates Great Britain, much to blue-eyed beauty Cillian Murphy's consternation:

And probably most infamously, overrated director M. Night Shamalama-Ding-Dong took on the genre with his ridiculous 2008 killer trees movie, The Happening. As before, the movie is so bad, I can only bring myself to post the "South Park" parody:

Finally, in the hands of Ruben Fleischer, the EoW is a hilarious pastiche of zombie-killing and amusement park rides, punctuated by celebrity cameos and wanton destruction of all that we now hold dear. Zombieland may well be the most financially successful zombie movie ever, but it is also a telling story of survival and camaraderie among the worst of circumstances:

And while the real End of the World will probably take place with a fiery explosion when the Sun inevitably goes nova, you and I and the Internet will probably be long gone (unless of course, mankind actually manages to colonize other planets). But I'll leave that up to the Sci-Fi futurists and take solace in the fact that I will not be around to see it. Quite honestly, I've barely scratched the surface when it comes to EoW movies. There are plenty more where these came from. Mad Max; A Boy and His Dog; The Omega Man; Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes (why is Charleton Heston always around for the EoW? -- Did Hollywood expect him to live forever?). I could go on and on (unlike the human race will). So, what's your favorite Hollywood Apocalypse? You know I love your comments.

More, anon.

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