Sunday, April 21, 2013

Apocalypse Now? Film and Television's Obsession with the Apocalypse

Last night I saw the film Oblivion (review to come), and as I was sitting in the film I realized something, film and television have started to use the trope of the end of the world, more than ever before.  There have of course been numerous films about a post apocalyptic earth in both film and television ranging from The Planet of the Apes series (original 1968), to both versions of the television series Battlestar Gallactica (1978, 2004) to the Mad Max series (original 1979), 12 Monkeys (1995), The Road (2009), and so many more.  The end of world has always been on our mind, and whether its at the hand of apes, a cancer treatment drug, laziness, zombies, or aliens it appears to be on the mind of people more than ever.

NBC's Revolution may have been at the start of the most recent upswing.  The television series follows Earth as though the a big giant plug was pulled somewhere, and all the electronics we have come to rely upon have all but disappeared.  Like with most post-apocalyptic films or television series, a small group of tough as nails survivors battle against a group or people who will prevent the Earth from returning to its former glory.

Glory and empire status seem to be one of the trends which flow through these types of films.  As you you look at America specifically, America became a dominant power toppling the once great English empire in the Revolutionary War.

Martin Scorsese is quoted as saying "I love studying Ancient History and seeing how empires rise and fall, sowing the seeds of their own destruction."

Throughout time a cliche American phrase or quote has arisen "all great empires fall."  Which relates back to Scorsese's quote, and the recent trend within these apocalyptic films.  Film makers and television auteurs use these acts of destruction and rebirth to show the vulnerability and fragility within a people.

One of the few clever parts of the Oblivion screenplay is is the fact that Cruise's character picks up Thomas Babbington Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome, the passage specifically states:

“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?"

This quote relates beautifully to the the theme of Oblivion, but the book and the reference to the Roman Empire is what has started the inspiration for what I will refer to as the "end of days" films and television series.  As Scorsese stated studying the rise and fall of empires is fascinating, and many Americans believe the end is near or has essentially happened for America, so the jingoism is gone, and bring on the onslaught of films which not only show the end of one empire, but an end to everything.

Beyond this year's Oblivion and Revolution which started in the fall of 2012, there are numerous films about the "end of days" being released this year.  June kicks off with another film, entitled, After Earth which stars Will Smith, son Jaden, and directed by "I see dead people" M. Night Shyamalan.  Earth looks similar to Oblivion, in feel, but explores more of the father son dynamic as opposed to a love story in Oblivion.  World War Z looks more in the vein of I am Legend, and 28 Days Later.  Z follows the concept of a zombie like apocalypse, and a race for a cure to save the world.  Neil Blonkamp's August release Elysium is an apocalyptic world creating a division between the haves and have nots.

While Earth, Z, and Elysium follow the dramatics of an apocalyptic world, there are also numerous films which will explore the humorous side of the end of the Earth.  It's a Disaster is a comedy which follows two couples who are trying to escape a terrorist attack after brunch in New York City.  This is the End from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (release date June 12th) is another comedy much like It's a Disaster (unnamed at the moment, which sets a set of celebrities basically playing versions of themselves fighting an apocalyptic situation. Craig Robinson (The Office's Darryl) stars in This is the End, and has his own June Comedy "end of days" film entitle Rapture-Palooza, which is also a comedy.  Who knew the end of earth or society was as funny, but I am intrigued by this different take on the genre.

If you look at all films and television series recently there is one clear trend, the fear and fascination of our crumbling world.  Whether through the lens of laughter, tears, or an action packed sci-fi world, all of these films are trending at the moment the way in which vampires did the last few years.  Will we move on with the obsession, or is "this the end of world as we know it."

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