December 23, 2011 at 4:11 PM

‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It’: Movies for the Apocalypse

"R.E.M. could be right"

By Casey St. Charnez

Media Rare

Casey St. Charnez has been video editor for Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide since 1986 and buyer for Lisa Harris' Video Library since 1981. He likes Lisa, cats, crosswords, and the Metropolitan Opera, probably in that order.

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With Winter Solstice 2011 past, let us anticipate the next and the last, on 12/21/12, when everything we are vanishes. That wacky Mayan calendar, you know.

People will cope uniquely, per lifestyle. Those who pray, will; those who don't, won't. Addicts of all persuasions will go cold turkey or decide to exit with a bang, then another.

Me, I'm studying movies to see what to expect. Problem is, too many apocalyptic movies don't apoc after all.

Take Roger Corman's "Day the World Ended" (1956). It doesn't, even following nuclear war. "The Night the World Exploded" (1957)? It doesn't (and it's set in an ersatz Carlsbad Caverns!). "The Day Time Ended" (1980)? It doesn't, simply takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

German disaster auteur Roland Emmerich keeps trying to kill off the population, but never quite achieves full snuff. Aliens attempt terrestrial genocide in his "Independence Day" (1996), but fail; he freezer-burns the globe in "The Day After Tomorrow" (2004), but provides a ray of sunshine at the frigid finale; and he goes all medieval on the planet's ass in "2012" (2010), with earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis...then arks a few hundred thousand survivors to a convenient African greenbelt. Phooey.

The SyFy Channel often promises the eradication of homo sapiens. Their latest cheeseball, "Earth's Final Hours," has a lump of dense matter penetrating Earth, arresting its rotation. They jump-start it. Final? Hah.

Not many movies illustrate how to prepare. The stern British thriller, "The Day the Earth Caught Fire," (1961) postulates powerfulbomb tests hurtling us into the sun. People, understandably, freak. That seems a good prediction of our behavior come final curtain. (Too bad the movies ends ambiguously, as does the current doomsday flick, "Take Shelter").

Shouldn't one keep faith? There's always hope, the one little fairy left at the bottom of Pandora's box, following the escape of all the evils. Yet, hope might be the worst bad of all, with false hope therefore redundant.

Yes, hope sucks. In another cheesy SyFy extravaganza, "Annihilation: Earth" (2010), a clock counts down towards The End while scientists slave to save humankind. At the crucial moment, one of them gathers his family close, then pushes a fateful button to reverse the impending crack-up. But Earth goes blooey: The clock reads "Extinction."

 

Likewise, Gregg Araki's "Ka-boom!" (2010), in which preternaturally attractive young adults drive off a cliff even as another nutty professor punches a different button. Result? The title.

Perhaps the best approach to accepting inevitability is Lars von Trier's "Melancholia" (2011), about a wedding that's going to happen no mater what, though everyone already knows the eponymous planet is on a collision course with all our zip codes.

In "Melancholia", we witness a party, pouting, disbelief, naps, depression, drinking, desperate sex, suicide...and a magic cave whittled from tree branches. Does the cave work? For those who haven't yet seen this strange endgame scenario, I shall not say.
 
Nevertheless, it might be wise to sharpen one's woodworking knives. Just in case.
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