screen wriTer

It’s apoc­a­lypse now at the movies, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

Don’t worry. It’s not the end of the world. Or is it? While search­ing for ways to avoid writ­ing this ar­ti­cle, I de­cided to spend some time view­ing trail­ers for up­com­ing re­leases. The first promo I hap­pened upon was for The Hap­pen­ing. Hap­pily, de­spite that ter­ri­fy­ing ti­tle, the pic­ture does not con­cern it­self with pre­ten­tious art-waz­zocks fling­ing paint over one an­other in SoHo lofts. It is, rather, the latest es­say in quasi-mys­tic gloom from our old pal M Night Shya­malan.

As I un­der­stand it, The Hap­pen­ing – which ap­pears to be brain-spin­ningly Shya­malanesque – con­cerns a world en­vi­ron­men­tal catas­tro­phe that causes bees to be­have strangely and Mark Wahlberg to hug Zooey Deschanel. It looks great.

Then I clicked on the trailer for Dooms­day. Neil Mar­shall’s fol­low-up to The De­scent has to do with the af­ter­math of an epi­demic that wipes out some sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the Bri­tish pop­u­la­tion. The in­fected are quar­an­tined in Scot­land, where, it seems, they ei­ther die or take to dress­ing up like char­ac­ters from Mad Max 2. (Mind you, given the Scots’ fa­mous pas­sion for deep-fried Dream Top­ping, such a quar­an­tine might ac­tu­ally raise the av­er­age life ex­pectancy. Ha ha!) Dooms­day looks great too.

But, hang on a mo­ment. Only five min­utes ago, we were of­fered an­other apoc­a­lypse in I Am Leg­end. Just last year, Bri­tain suc­cumbed to catas­tro­phe once more in 28 Weeks Later. In re­cent times we have also seen the world face its end in Sun­shine, Diary of the Dead and Chil­dren of Men. What on earth is go­ing on?

You know how th­ese smart-arse col­umns usu­ally progress. Screen­writer will gaze out from his aerie, sur­vey the so­ciocul­tural land­scape and come to some fatu­ously neat ex­pla­na­tion for the phe­nom­e­non un­der con­sid­er­a­tion. It’s all to do with the McCart­ney di­vorce. It’s a by-prod­uct of the so­cial-net­work­ing craze. That sort of thing.

The cur­rent taste for end-ofthe-world dra­mas is, how­ever, to­tally mys­ti­fy­ing. If the films had emerged six years ago, we could blame it all on the at­mos­phere of un­ease that fol­lowed 9/11. Had this taste for cin­e­matic obliv­ion man­i­fested it­self in the 1980s, we might have dis­cerned a com­men­tary on the ad­vance of Aids. The fi­nan­cial mar­kets have, it is true, looked a bit jit­tery re­cently, and the de­bate on cli­mate change has be­come ever more heated, but there seems no clear rea­son why Hol­ly­wood has sud­denly turned Chicken Lit­tle (Oh, did I men­tion Chicken Lit­tle?)

Ear­lier en­thu­si­asms for the apoca­lyp­tic do seem to have had their spurs in con­tem­po­rary events. William Cameron Men­zies’s great Things to Come spec­u­lated on a com­ing world war in 1936. The first ver­sion of In­va­sion of the Body Snatch­ers, di­rected by Don Siegel in 1956, is of­ten viewed as a com­men­tary on both McCarthy­ism and fears of nu­clear holo­caust.

What are we all so scared of in 2008? Well, ev­ery broad­sheet has, in re­cent years, been lec­tur­ing us about the eco­nomic might of China. Yeah, that sounds about right. Th­ese films all speak of our con­cerns about the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic’s un­stop­pable ad­vance, Will that do?

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