THE END IS NIGH

Apoc­a­lypse films tap into our col­lec­tive anx­i­eties, writes Michael Bodey

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

THE zom­bies have come and they’re slowly leav­ing. Now it’s time for the apoc­a­lypse. A col­lec­tive thought bub­ble means cin­ema­go­ers will be sub­jected to a num­ber of ver­sions of the world’s end, or de­fence, in com­ing months.

Th­ese aren’t the shame­less knock-offs that come af­ter one suc­cess­ful film ( The Hang­over’s ex­treme com­edy fol­low­ers con­tinue to pile up, for in­stance). The last highly suc­cess­ful film fea­tur­ing an apoc­a­lypse was way back in 1991, and was one of the more ac­com­plished in the genre, Ter­mi­na­tor 2: Judg­ment Day.

This is a mo­ment when film­mak­ers across sev­eral gen­res, from com­edy and drama to high ac­tion, and as di­verse and no­table as Lars von Trier, Seth Ro­gen, Abel Fer­rara and Guillermo del Toro, think the end is nigh. Or at least that the end may make com­pelling en­ter­tain­ment.

At the more com­mer­cial end, Brad Pitt will fight zom­bies and ni­hilism in the epic World War Z and Pan’s Labyrinth’s del Toro threat­ens to out-ex­plode Michael Bay’s Trans­form­ers in Pa­cific Rim (and look out, Syd­ney will be de­stroyed). The apoc­a­lypse will play for laughs in The World’s End, Edgar Wright and Si­mon Pegg’s fol­low-up to Shaun of the Dead, and in the meta-com­edy This is the End, where Ro­gen, James Franco, Paul Rudd, Jay Baruchel and a Hol­ly­wood ca­bal of comics play them­selves on the night the world is be­ing de­stroyed.

They fol­low last year’s mixed ap­proaches to the last day on earth sce­nario by von Trier ( Me­lan­cho­lia), Fer­rara ( 4:44 Last Day on Earth, star­ring Willem Dafoe) and Lorene Sca­faria, who has the un­likely pair of Steve Carell and Keira Knight­ley in Seek­ing a Friend for the End of the World. The apoc­a­lypse doesn’t al­ways mis­fire on screen. Last year’s im­pend­ing doom on a south­ern bayou in Beasts of the South­ern Wild was oddly com­pelling and earned an Acad­emy Award best pic­ture nom­i­na­tion while Michael Shan­non’s per­for­mance as a di­shev­elled ‘‘ dooms­day prep­per’’ in Take Shel­ter stood out last year.

‘‘ The apoc­a­lypse is some­thing that never comes so it’s al­ways ripe for reinvention, which is one of the rea­sons it’s such a se­duc­tive myth,’’ says Mar­cus O’Don­nell, pro­gram con­vener of jour­nal­ism at the Univer­sity of Wol­lon­gong, who re­cently wrote a PhD the­sis about the nar­ra­tive of the apoc­a­lypse.

At the block­buster end, the rash of apoc­a­lyp­tic movies merely may rep­re­sent a pen­chant for blow­ing things up among the male di­rec­tors who dom­i­nate the ac­tion and sci-fi gen­res. Cer­tainly the no­tion of mass de­struc­tion with tsunamis of wa­ter and slabs of sky­scrapers fly­ing from the screen plays well in the bur­geon­ing 3-D for­mat, and the de­vel­op­ment of dig­i­tal ef­fects and ma­nip­u­la­tion means photo-re­al­is­tic pos­si­bil­i­ties have ex­panded for all film­mak­ers. But a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at South Carolina’s Clem­son Univer­sity, Sarah Juliet Lauro, notes that apoc­a­lypse nar­ra­tives ‘‘ have been with us at ev­ery chap­ter of our his­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, and have taken forms of spir­i­tual rap­ture, plagues, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, global war, in­ter­plan­e­tary de­struc­tion.’’

On screen, the apoc­a­lypse has been pre­dictable fod­der, adds Mick Brod­er­ick, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of me­dia anal­y­sis in the school of arts at Mur­doch Univer­sity. He says the disas­ter epic The Last Days of Pom­peii was re­made sev­eral times dur­ing the silent era and was widely pop­u­lar.

‘‘ Each decade has its peaks and troughs of apoc­a­lyp­tic en­ter­tain­ment, but af­ter the atom bomb­ings of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki the apoc­a­lyp­tic imag­i­na­tion in­creas­ingly ex­plored themes of man-made holo­causts, as op­posed to cos­mic or di­vine cat­a­clysms,’’ he says.

Dig­i­tal ad­vances and Hol­ly­wood’s propen- sity for pan­der­ing pri­mar­ily to the male un­der35 au­di­ence through the 1990s and 2000s have meant the apoc­a­lypse is only a mul­ti­plex away.

Threats have in­cluded as­teroids ( Ar­maged­don), apes threat­en­ing our way of life (the Planet of the Apes se­ries) and a re­cent batch of en­viro-thrillers in­clud­ing The Day af­ter To­mor­row, 2012 and Arc­tic Blast, in which Tas­ma­nia has be­come the front­line. Even the Pixar An­i­ma­tion Stu­dio with its as­tound­ing Wall:E strad­dled the theme of dystopia af­ter man-made apoc­a­lypse.

But clearly there’s some­thing in Hol­ly­wood’s cof­fee at the mo­ment. The present batch of apoc­a­lypse films rep­re­sent a change in tone. Only three to four years ago postapoc­a­lyp­tic films thrived, as it were, with their im­ages of dis­tress and ni­hilism colour­ing The Road, The Book of Eli and oth­ers.

Then the zom­bies ar­rived in a phe­nom­e­non that swept across film, tele­vi­sion and lit­er­a­ture. Vam­pires were for kids; zom­bies seem­ingly are for ev­ery­one.

Lauro, who has stud­ied zom­bies or, more par­tic­u­larly, the phe­nom­e­non of peo­ple dress­ing up and stag­ing ‘‘ zom­bie mobs’’, while work­ing on a doc­toral de­gree, ar­gues they are part of a trend mir­ror­ing lev­els of cul­tural dis­sat­is­fac­tion and eco­nomic up­heaval. She sees the zom­bie walk as a com­pli­cated

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