Sunday, June 10, 2007


Bring on the apocalypse. Let's all hide under our desks and duck and cover.

Apocalyptic science fiction cinema, ya gotta love it.

Two fisted, bleak, preachy. Whether it's crazy Mel Gibson fighting off mutants as Mad Max or Charlton Heston screaming:

"We finally really did it. You maniacs! You maniacs!You blew it up! God damn you! God damn you all to hell!"

We're fascinated by the end times. Maybe by smearing ourselves with the horror of war and the pessimism of the future gone wrong, we can better handle the horrors of the present time.

Some say that fiction works that way.

The Cold War gave us apocalyptic visions to die for, if you'll forgive the pun.

Consider these titles: "The Time Machine", "Last Man on Earth" (based on Richard Matheson's work), Wyndam's "Day of the Triffids", "The Birds", "Night of the Living Dead", "Mad Max", "A Boy And His Dog", "Damnation Alley"...

In our present time of political and socioeconomic turmoil, we've got a new batch to scare us. I guess the reality of old Tom Ridge running around with his fictitious terror alert or Dick Cheney's grim visage had to be somehow made more palatable. Since 2001, we've seen "Reign of Fire", "The Day After Tomorrow", remakes of "Dawn of the Dead" and "Day of the Dead", as well as new wrinkle to the zombie legend with "28 Days Later".

Here's the question for consideration and discussion. Is this new crop of apocalyptic cinema new in any way, or just a rehash of the old? Are there formalized rules for the subgenre? I mentioned that it tended to be preachy at times. What else? Are there new characters based on changing gender perceptions? Is the genre able to be manipulated to scare people to persuade them to embrace a particular point of view?

I may sit down and fully examine the new apocalyptic vision that has run in the last seven years, since the new millennium, but in the meantime, I'm going to have coffee, so share and talk about among yourselves. Somebody pass the danish.


SQT said...

What I remember most about apocalyptic cinema growing up was the threat of nuclear annihilation. It just seemed that we expected that the standoff between Russia and ourselves was going to end with someone pushing THE BUTTON.

It didn't even have to be apocalyptic cinema. Movies like Wargames definitely tapped into our fear of nuclear war. I also remember when I was in high school there was a TV mini-series called The Day After about the aftermath of nuclear war and everyone I know watched that one.

SQT said...

Oops! Didn't finish my thought.

I think apocalyptic movies now focus more on chemical or biological catastrophes. The anthrax that was sent through the mail following 9/11 has made that threat seem more real, though books like The Stand and The Andromeda Strain focus more on accidental contagion.

Alex said...

Keep your apocalypse offa me, you damned dirty ape!

ShadowFalcon said...

It's true I'm a sucker for the world "post apocalypic"

Is it bad that T2 is one of my fav ideas, machines take over the world!

Stewart Sternberg said...

Terminator 2 is a great apocalyptic film, Shadow. I had forgotten all about the Terminator series.

The Japanese have an interesting take on apocalyptic action, maybe because of the images that are frozen into their psyche from Hiroshima.

Crunchy Carpets said...

Wil Smith is the latest 'Last Man on Earth' slash 'Omega Man,'


Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

For some reason, I really dug Damnation Alley the one time I saw it on TV. They had those cool huge RV's that they travelled in and eventually they get hit with a flood and then everything's OK.

I think with these stories you start with either mutants or zombies and work your way from there.

Seriously though, I think that the stories reflect how the world and/or technologies have changed. There could be a nuclear apocalypse movie, but you'd have to take in account that it wasn't caused by the cold war.

28 Days Later worked for me because that virus would be pretty good as a bio weaopon. Hit a city with it and a couple months after all the fast-running zombies die off, march yourself into your newly conquered terretory.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

'The Day The Earth Caught Fire' ends with two newspapers, one saying world to end, the other to say world saved. We never know which applies.

Alex said...

Kinda like if you read The New York Times or watch Fox News - the same story means two completely opposite things, depending on how unflinchingly partisan Dem or Pub the news outlet is, respectively.

Fab said...

Apocalyptic movies or stories will always exist, I think. It's not a 'new' genre in cinema. You proved that by mentioning so many titles.

With new technologies and means, apocalyptic scenarios only have become worse and too realistic to me. Pandemic threats freak me out. Biological warfare is all too frightning to me. Yet I do watch movies where most of the time this is a huge part of the story line. And every time I think "now surely someone must notice this brings about the distruction of civilisation as we know it", the newspapers mention some new way of killing each other. I love movies, it's not real. But sometimes it gets a bit close to reality for my taste.

Hey there, Skippy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hey there, Skippy said...

Great post, Mr Sternberg...

Of course, these days the biggest market for Apocalyptic culture is the Christian Right in the USA. The "Left Behind" books (about those of us who will be, ummm, left behind after the Evangelicals-only "Rapture") sell millions of copies.

Indeed, my current favourite website is the (unintentionally) hysterical Rapture Index which keeps a daily tally of how likely the end of the world is. It is based on a magnificent list of the number of "False Christs" spotted and how unstable, ummm, interest rates are... Seriously, you've got to check it out, it's the best bit of sci-fi on the web.

SQT said...


OMG! That is too much. I read one of those books once out of curiosity and I couldn't believe the overt fear mongering.


Everything seems to be focused on the apocalypse anymore. I was watching a special on the Sun the other day and the show kept going on about how an electrical storm on the sun could virtually wipe us out. Then another special on earthquakes will say how we'll be wiped out by one of those. Then there's massive volcano under Yellowstone Park-- you get the idea.

Then the news outlets get into the mix with panic stories on the Bird Flu or TB. It's no wonder we have so many movies about the apocalypse. We've come up with so many ways to scare ourselves to death.

Crunchy Carpets said...

apparently the video game based on Left behind and the Rapture is BRUTAL!
And quite fun.

avery said...

Ah, Damnation Alley. Yet another in my father's collection of fine Betamax tapes that has gone the way of the Dodo. I must have watched that movie fifteen times in one summer. That cockroach scene freaked me out.

Sorry, Stewart. It was a long, extended weekend and I don't have anything insightful to add.

Alex said...

Betamax > VHS.