The End of the World as They Show It

Inspired by current world events i.e. the full disintegration into oblivion of the American intellect, I have decided to focus my first blog post on the obsession between movies and the end of the world. Things are going to get a bit Book of Revelation…

Halfway through Adam Curtis’s mind-blowing documentary on the current socio-political turmoil in the world, Hypernormalisation, there is a montage from Hollywood apocalypse movies. The montage segues from one dramatic scene to another with prolonged gasping effect…the White House is destroyed in Independence Day, a giant dino-creature chucks cars about the streets of New York in Godzilla and a giant comet looms over North America in Deep Impact. As Curtis’ text then remarks, all of these films were produced before 2001. He then follows with a shot of the second plane crashing into the Twin Towers on September 11th that year.

Indeed, there have been many Hollywood disaster movies made since – it’s big business after all! But no one had ever expected an actual world event to so vividly reflect the type of exaggerated content seen in movies in the years leading up to this as it did. The series of documentaries that were constructed out of amateur footage from 9/11 has prompted many viewers to chillingly comment that they felt like they were watching a ‘disaster movie’. I am left in no doubt that although these viewers were horrified by the ‘live’ spectacle of cataclysmic death and destruction, they could not avert their gaze from the screens. Hence, and unsurprisingly, a few years later, the entertainment industry formulated a film dramatising the events – remember World Trade Center? Yeah, I don’t really either. But the fascination with 9/11 as a witnessed spectacle has persisted in movie studios and in the minds of their ‘disaster’ directors ever since and the summer blockbuster season is never without at least one example every year now (Pacific Rim anyone?).

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Hollywood has focused on ‘the end of the world’ as a concept for generating profits right from its early days. Deluge was an apocalyptic hit for RKO Radio Pictures in 1933 – it depicted the destruction of New York by a tsunami (it was quite good but unfortunately, it later inspired The Day After Tomorrow). In the 50s, things started to get serious and studios competed for the biggest and best Armageddon film, no doubt perpetuated by the US public paranoia over the Cold War and the perceived rise of communism. As more of the public flocked to the local drive-ins or theatres to be shocked and awed, more money became available to the studios and significantly, special effects started to improve and further impress audiences. Some of the most memorable of these include The Day the Earth Stood Still, On the Beach and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. These particular examples had intelligible storylines and even provided veritable anti-war subtexts that still impress to this day – but I guess what moron would want more war after WWII, right?…(tumbleweed rolls by)…

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Alternatively though, there was a rise in the exploitative, low budget b-movie standard that continued into the 60s. Apocalyptic visions such as Panic in Year Zero!, This Is Not a Test and The Lost Missile likely perpetuated the mood of ‘us vs them’, not only in the US but right around the western world. The ‘end of the world’ agenda in Hollywood also in some instances turned to weirdness (The Creation of the Humanoids), farce (The Bed-Sitting Room) and just outright ridiculousness (Crack in the World). But the credibility circuit was carefully wired in the genre in the late 60s by a few who had been inspired by Don Siegel’s Body Snatchers and Richard Matheson’s ground-breaking novel I Am Legend. There was a notable movement for taking cinematics to new uncharted waters, while simultaneously quenching the film industry’s ‘thirst for the bizarre’. George A. Romero, for example, offered Night of the Living Dead to audiences in 1968, putting the apocalypse in the capable but patchily skinned hands of the walking dead. The massive success of this film enabled a swathe of sequels that still continues, unashamedly, to this day. We await the possibility of ‘Night of the Dead Ape Planet’ with barely contained excitement.

With the successes of Dead, Planet of the Apes and even the otherworldly masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (not really apocalyptic but…), the floodgates opened up for sci-fi apocalypse adventure stories to spread across the globe and into the zeitgeist. The list of memorable cinematic moments offered in this canon drifts on and on – a cat-loving Peter Ustinov rambling about existence in Logan’s Run, Sean Connery trying to evade a giant flying stone head whilst wearing a nappy in Zardoz, Brad Pitt doing the twitchy, crazy thing in 12 Monkeys, Bruno Lawrence as the only survivor of a nuclear holocaust addressing an audience of cardboard cut-out famous people in The Quiet Earth. There is no doubt that many great films have been created concerning potential doomsday scenarios or post-apocalyptic worlds, some supplanting messages of hope (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind), others incorporating an element of satire (Mars Attacks), hilarity (Idiocracy) or light-heartedness (Wall-E), and some just admirably-crafted (28 Days Later, Mad Max, The Terminator).

But there’s also the deluge of relentless shite in the genre. I intend to return to the specific topic of Roland Emmerich’s movies at a later stage but suffice to say here that I see him as being the major culprit in the current Hollywood pack of doomsayer directors/producers who offer a message of negativity and conservatism that in turn coaxes a certain disposition of narrow-mindedness and anti-intellectualism in the viewer. Just saying…and just to point out a selection of his filmography if you aren’t familiar – he directed Godzilla, Independence Day, Eight Legged Freaks, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, 10,000 BC, White House Down and Independence Day: Resurgence (as if we needed any resurgence after the original cack!). See the thing I find is that, not only are these movies filled with non-acting roles that perpetuate stereotypes, they are also over-pumped with explosive visual effects that, in any other context would possibly appear impressive but when presented with a complete lack of reality and slathered on thick with a helping of clichéd dialogue, they actually come across as if a three year old’s incomprehensible scribblings may have been considered as the source material for the script.

The downside to all of this for me is that people lap it up, big time! In 2014, Transformers: Age of Extinction (by the unlovable Michael Bay) grossed over US$1 billion at the world box office – a quadruple multiple of how much it cost. Independence Day: Resurgence, although mostly fouled with excrement by the mouths of the critics, financially done ok too. Indeed, there is a big argument to be made that blockbusters of this ilk, i.e. mindless crap about the world in crisis, are increasingly pushing their product on the Asian market, mostly China, and are therefore taking in another gigantic stream of profit. Is this opportunism in sourcing a relevant alternative audience or just a cynical exercise in the exploitation of a population who are used to being under the sharp control of a restrictive and largely undemocratic government? But let’s not get political.

Original apocalyptic films are in their own right a phenomenon of the mid-20th Century when the power of the on-screen image was fresh and formidable. In the current climate of movie-going, I find the genre to be jarringly contrived (well I could say that about many genres in fact) and troublingly filled with a relentless fuck-load of zombies (nice one Romero!). Although the odd expensively-made blockbuster such as World War Z or the latest Mad Max offering (wasn’t Fury Road awesome?) can offer something entertaining, watchable and appropriately challenging these days, I have essentially given up on believing that such movies can ever offer us a plausible image of the actual ‘end of the world’, if indeed we really want to see it or if it will ever really happen….oh yeah, I almost forgot. The US just elected Donald Trump as president didn’t they?

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Gulp!

10 thoughts on “The End of the World as They Show It

  1. Gavin Mc D says:

    Hey JJ, that’s was savage. I didn’t know you were such a movie buff.
    As every culture and generation believes that they are living in end times these films tap into something fundamental, maybe even primal, something that nearly all major religions and every cult also monopolise on, to scare the shite outta people. Maybe there’s some cathartic release in watching it play out, we can put it off by imagining it without expending a single virgin, or we can use them as instructional videos in our own personal prepper fantasies. The majors will use the dick out of it because it sells well and there are a myriad of permutations and combinations of how it might play out, all of which require a fuck load of CGI.
    My own favourite would be Melancholia and 4.44 Last Day on Earth. There was actually a pretty decent Irish apocalyptic film, which I could never find again, because I can’t remember the name. You never got to find out what was happening but they were all fighting over vegetables, like it was the famine. Not to mention Dead Meat, shot in a field in Leitrim, not unlike Shergar.
    Good read with an excellent title, keep em coming JJ.g

    Liked by 1 person

    • JJ McDermott says:

      Thanks Gav. I have to find Dead Meat – a future post on ‘films made in Leitrim’ is in the works! Was that Irish apocalyptic film called One Hundred Miles or something? Melancolia did derserve a mention there too but i do have a plan to write about Lars Von Trier in a later post. Appreciate the comment man, cheers

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gavin Mc D says:

    Ah yeah, it was One Hundred Mornings. I must watch that again. Thanks, that’s been bugging me for an age.
    Dead Meat is some pretty underground shit, bovine zombie flick, echoing the BSE crisis. My sister and brother were extras, which is probably the only reason I know it. John McGahern donated the use of one of his fields.
    An article on films in Leitrim might be hard to flesh out, mind you we do now have a Ken Loach film to boast, not to mention all the Lepreporn that’s made out in Fenagh these days.
    Big love.g

    Liked by 1 person

  3. JJ McDermott says:

    Ok, I am assigning you a guest post on films in Leitrim – Lepraporn and John MacGahern’s Field, it writes itself man, no need to worry about fleshing it out. Don’t forget The Mapmaker too, filmed in the fields of Lurganboy and Dromahaire and ‘starring’ Pat Shortt in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Robin Stevens says:

    Well … all very interesting JJ. A few of my favourites (apart from The Day the Earth Stood Still) are:
    Metropolis – okay, not a Hollywood film, but it was a message of impeding doom of a Humane society if the people did not act to prevent it – in the shadow of emerging German fascism, and a general trend towards militarism worldwide. The actors in that film ten years later found themselves falling on one side or other of the fascist fence; some were defiant and never worked again; one (a member of the communist party) after ten years without work agreed to make nazi propaganda films. I say all this because Dystopia movies (and novels) are often to battle ground for ideology of the near future. So, even in Hollywood, these films are divided between – the dangers of the Red peril, Totalitarianism, invasion – or conversely, annihilation, also totalitarianism and Big Brother compliance. Most of them have a religiosity about them; good over-coming evil – unless we act too late (Revelations). Some combine it with ‘The ONE scientist’ who can save the world (There’s a film released this week with Amy Adams in that vein). In fact Hollywood has masturbatory affection for the SINGLE stand-along scientist who just happens to know how to talk to the Martians and realise they only want a milkshake. “It’s a cook book!”

    Dr Strangelove is a film about impending disaster if the powers that be don’t see sense.
    Eraser Head – well I don’t know what this film is about; though I do like it. Possibly has something to do with the annihilation of normality.

    I love the 1950s War of the Worlds (also great effects).The 1950s version does however add commentary at the end to credit God with out-smarting the Martians – not something HG Wells had considered. I note that Speilberg’s later version incorporates post 9/11 and Holocaust references.

    And – is it a coincidence that Tom Cruise is in an endless run of Dystopia films? Does he have an interest in the end of the world? After watching him do the rest of us start thinking that life is not worth living?
    On an equally serious point: there are also the many disaster movies – such as Twighlight – that have left tens of thousands of people in a coma-like state, unless they have actually died from boredom. I don’t know if these films are truly dystopian or just tragic. In any event far too people have suffered.

    Finally – a movie that is not so much dystopian, but lends itself to warnings of the impending threat of nuclear fall-out:- The Credible Shrinking Man. Love that film

    Interesting read JJ – keep it up
    Robin

    Liked by 1 person

    • JJ McDermott says:

      Excellent Robin. Appreciate the feedback. I seen The Incredible Shrinking Man recently, after I had finished the book. It has tremendous power and I think it has a lot to say about our place as humans in this world too. Eraserhead! Exactly, what the hell was it about? There was something so uneasy yet so incredibly compelling about it.The story started off fairly understandable but then just descended into a morph of nonsense and the absurd, or like you say the annihilation of normality. I loved it! I regret not giving Dr Strangelove a mention. It clearly links into what I was trying to say about paranoia and impending doom in the 60s. But it is essentially one of the best comedies of all time. Tom Cruise – fucking nutjob, enough said. I have seen all of his movies that you allude to (Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow etc.) and I found myself thinking the same thing. There is some scientology connection here and I am not on board with it!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. tenar14 says:

    well that was a blast to read, post and comments. Mars Attacks satisfies my hope that the end of the world as we know it COULD at least be absurd. One teeny tiny point, The Quiet Earth, a favourite of mine, starred BRUNO Lawrence but I understand how his devastating good looks tricked you into referring to him as BRAD Lawrence.

    Liked by 1 person

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