April 22, 2013

Apocalypse now ... and then

With a big hat tip to the hard copy of Entertainment Weekly, let's take a look at some noted apocalypse films, their major players, and how it all turned out. Because, as usual, no one demanded it.

We're purposely excluding alien invasions (too easy) like in Independence Day and War of the Worlds, and films in which most of humanity lives on, as in Deep Impact and Armageddon. The focus here is on man's own mistakes, whether intentional or not, which lead to his demise (or almost demise), and seemingly natural occurrences out of his control.

The Movie: On the Beach (1959 and remade in 2000).
Cause of Apocalyse: Massive nuke exchange in WW III.
The Threat: Radiation eventually making its way to the southern hemisphere.
The Hero: Gregory Peck (later, Armand Assante) as the American sub commander.
The Payoff: None, really. The last refuge for humanity, Australia, will eventually succumb to radiation poisoning. Peck/Assante vamoose in their sub hoping that after some years they'll be able to come back out again. But to what?
Classic Moment: When the sub tracks a radio signal to San Diego ... only to find that a wind-pounded window shade is responsible.

The Movie: The Road (2009).
Cause of Apocalypse: Vague, but most likely an asteroid/meteor strike or a major ecological catastrophe.
The Threat: Increasing cold, cannibal gangs.
The Hero: Viggo Mortensen, who never gives up leading his son to what they hope is a sunnier south.
The Payoff: Bleak for Mortensen, but the son looks like he'll make it thanks to the generosity of a family of strangers.
Classic Moment: All of Robert Duval's guest appearance.

The Movie: The Omega Man (1971, remade as I Am Legend in 2007).
Cause of Apocalypse: A plague that kills most of humanity, but turns some into acid rock loving, albino homicidal hippies (see right). (In the remake, they're vampire-like creatures.)
The Threat: The acid rock loving, albino homicidal hippies.
The Hero: Chuck Heston (later, Will Smith).
The Payoff: Heston manages a cure, but will he survive long enough to disseminate it?
Classic Moment(s): Chuck beds a black chick (way ahead of the social climate of the time) and Christ symbolism at the end.

The Movie: Planet of the Apes (1968 and remade, dreadfully, in 2001).
Cause of Apocalypse: Maniacs, who went nuts and "blew it all to Hell."
The Threat: Apes who now rule, hate humans.
The Hero(es): Chuck Heston as astronaut Taylor, along with rebel apes Cornelius and Zira (Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter).
The Payoff: Heston escapes, to show that Man is "better" than Ape. Plus, he gets a little ape nookie (see left).

The Movie: When Worlds Collide (1951).
Cause of Apocalypse: A rogue star hurtles through our solar system, which will decimate the Earth.
The Threat: The star Bellus.
The Hero(es): Pilot David Randall and Dr. Cole Hendron.
The Payoff: Fortunately, the rogue star Bellus is carrying with it a planet -- Zyra -- to where a few humans can rocket off in order to restart the human race.
Classic Moment: Earth's last moments; the film won an Oscar for best special effects.

The Movie: Mad Max (and sequels) (1979).
Cause of Apocalypse: Fossil fuel depletion ... which amazingly didn't lead to a cessation of using gas guzzling vehicles like the V-8 Interceptor (at right).
The Threat: Insane, homicidal biker gangs led by Toecutter, and later The Humongous.
The Hero: Max (Mel Gibson) and a handful of still-dedicated cops.
The Payoff: More like payback. Max makes waste of the gang who killed his wife and boy, and later Humongous's horde of killers.
Classic Moment: Max chasing Toecutter right into the front of a Mack truck.

The Movie: The Day After (1983).
Cause of Apocalypse: The US and USSR finally do it to one another.
The Threat: Like in On the Beach for the survivors, creeping radiation. Also, starvation, illness.
The Hero: Dr. Russell Oakes (Jason Robards), a doctor who works to help others until he basically collapses.
The Payoff: None. Looks like we ain't gonna make it.
Classic Moment: If you've ever seen it, tell me you didn't look outside when it was over to make sure everything was still there!

The Movie: The Quiet Earth (1985).
Cause of Apocalypse: Energy experiment goes awry, changing physical constants of the universe. The only survivors on Earth are those who died at the exact moment of the Effect.
The Threat: The Effect will happen again soon and who knows what it'll do the next time.
The Hero: Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) worked for the lab involved in the experiment, and only he can stop the Effect from occurring again.
The Payoff: WTF is up with that ending?? Incredibly cool vista, but WTF was it??

The Movie: The Matrix (1999).
Cause of Apocalypse: Humans grow distrustful of mechanical servants and try to destroy them (actually seen in the animated collection The Animatrix.) They fail, and the machines retaliate, using human bodies as living batteries.
The Threat: The remnants of humanity must continually steer clear of the murderous probes of The Matrix, the Sentinels.
The Hero: Neo (Keanu Reeves) who is The One.
The Payoff: Should have ended at the first film as the two sequels blow chunks and make it impossible to follow the ultimate resolution. At least at the end of Matrix it appears Neo is unstoppable.
Classic Moment: Neo smashing right through Agent Smith (Smith at left).

The Movie: Damnation Alley (1977).
Cause of Apocalypse: An all-out nuclear exchange.
The Threat: World War III has caused the earth to tilt further on its axis, and radiation has mutated various lifeforms.
The Hero(es): Tanner (Jan Michael-Vincent) and Maj. Eugene Denton (George Peppard).
The Payoff: Making it across the devastated US to find a Shangri-La in ... Albany, New York??
Classic Moment: Marveling at the ultra-cheesy F/X, especially Paul Winfield getting eaten alive by mutated cockroaches, and Michael-Vincent attempting to kick car-sized scorpions.

The Movie: The Terminator (1984).
Cause of Apocalypse: Automated defense system becomes self-aware and destroys humans.
The Threat: Aside from launching nukes across the globe, SkyNet begins to assemble Terminator cyborgs to eradicate the remaining surviving humans.
The Hero(es): Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton)
The Payoff: Uncertain. Four films seem to indicate that Judgment Day is inevitable, but it just keeps getting pushed back.
Classic Moment: Too many to mention. My fave is when the landlord knocks on Arnold's door demanding rent, and a list of possible responses pops up in the cyborg's field of vision. He chooses "F*** you, a**hole."

Looks like this guy is a couple cans short of a six-pack!

The Movie: Waterworld (1995).
Cause of Apocalypse: Melted polar ice caps result in just about all of Earth's surface being covered by H2O.
The Threat: Dennis Hopper's "Smokers" who have a reliable supply of fuel (thanks to their base on the Exxon Valdez!) and pillage anyone they stumble upon.
The Hero: Kevin Costner's "Mariner."
The Payoff: Costner's persistence pays off and the map on the back of a little girl leads to (supposedly) the only remaining dry land on the planet.
Classic Moment: Costner taking the girl and her companion underwater to see a late, great city once seen on land.

The Movie: Reign of Fire (2002).
Cause of Apocalypse: Construction dudes in London unearth a mother dragon who then begins to lay eggs and wreak havoc. Humans can't keep up and the creatures set fire to just about everything, effectively trashing the planet.
The Threat: The dragons still rule years after everything has been laid waste. Going outside is risking death. Trying to fly is death.
The Hero(es): Christian Bale's Quinn, and Matthew McConaughey's Van Zan (at left).
The Payoff: Quinn, Van Zan and some others discover a way to stop the dragon threat once and for all: Kill the mother. But it ain't gonna be that easy!
Classic Moment: Van Zan and co. showing how they can beat the flying beasts in the air.

UPDATE: Fellow Watcher's Council member Dave Schuler of the Glittering Eye offers up some entries I left out.

Posted by Hube at April 22, 2013 07:05 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

The Armand Asante remake of On the Beach rivals the Planet of the Apes remake for bad. The original took some liberties with the book but those were justified with respect to differences between print and film.

Damnation Alley was a terrible movie made from one of Roger Zelazny's few outright bad books--and in the end when everything was mystically restored even the power lines came back!?

There was no pay-off in Water World except the fact that (mercifully) it did eventually end.

When Worlds Collide is one of the great lost classics, and you are absolutely right--there never should have been sequels to The Matrix.

Posted by: Steve Newton at April 23, 2013 08:20 AM

As far as I'm concerned, Neo's story began and ended with the first Matrix movie. The less that's said about the sequels, the better. They're horrible.

Posted by: Carl at April 25, 2013 03:03 PM

Good post, Hube. One of your best. I'll suggest some additions to your list in a post over at my place tomorrow.

Posted by: Dave Schuler at April 25, 2013 07:34 PM

Many thanks, Dave!

Posted by: Hube at April 25, 2013 07:35 PM

My supplemental list is here. Enjoy!

Posted by: Dave Schuler at April 26, 2013 10:53 AM