I love disaster movies. Give me an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it plot, and a plucky hero/heroine who saves us all at the last minute, and I’m a happy bunny. I don’t care how improbable the plot, how ridiculous the science, how terrible the acting. I love them all.
Solar flares and coronal mass ejections are quite popular. The plots are fairly similar – after all, there’s only one way for this scenario to end, disaster-wise. The earth has a few hours/days to avoid crisping up like burnt toast. Fortunately, there’s a hero on hand to save the earth and the woman he loves (who has usually decided prior to the disaster that she’s had enough of him, but hey – he’s a hero now). Meteor strikes are good for Extinction Level Events, and there’s a certain irony in the earth striking back when we’ve messed about with it so much we’ve triggered earthquakes or a chain reaction of volcanoes. (With proposed large-scale fracking this may soon be in the realm of documentary rather than disaster fiction.)
I loved 2012, although it was panned by the critics. Now there was a chance to start over in grand style. No saving the remnants of Western civilization in that one. The surviving arks pitched up on the coast of Africa (which had remarkably lifted up several thousand feet, thus escaping the flood). I wonder what the indigenous people thought about that.
The Day After Tomorrow has proved to be a little bit closer to reality after last winter in the US. In fact, with extreme weather becoming more prevalent round the world, a lot of disaster movies seem quite prophetic a few years on.
The real fascination for me can be summed up in a single question. What happens next? The movie usually ends with a group of relieved people, eyes raised skywards, counting their blessings. The world hasn’t ended after all. Life goes on. But with devastated infrastructure, large parts of the globe uninhabitable, homes and economic structures in ruin, just how does life go on? The struggle to start again, to rebuild a different world, a better world; this is the really interesting story.
I wonder how I would fare in a post-apocalyptic world. I like to think I have enough common sense and enough basic skills to be able to survive. I can light a fire, skin a rabbit and build a shelter. Wouldn’t that be enough to start with? Or would I be so shocked and disoriented by events that I would be paralysed with fear and disbelief, unable to help myself or others?
I don’t like the current crop of zombie apocalypse movies. I said at the start I don’t mind bad science in films, but zombies stretch the suspension of disbelief past breaking point for me. There’s bad science – then there’s zombies. I like my disasters to have a definite start and end. Once the threat has been dealt with, society, or what’s left of it, can get back to the process of living. Throw a few zombies in the mix and that isn’t going to happen any time soon. I suppose I like to think that humanity will prevail, given basic resources to rebuild and sustain life. But what sort of life would it be? Certainly not the idyllic log cabin in the woods somewhere, with vegetables in the garden and widlife scampering through the trees. It’s more likely to be a violent, disease-ridden, cultural wasteland.
After the Black Death and the Hundred Years’ War in Europe in the 14th Century, there was a belief that the End of Days was nigh. Medieval Europeans lived through their apocalypse somehow, with religious fervour, and a belief that the devil moved among them, part of their everyday existence.
Is the modern appeal of the disaster movie a reflection of an old reaction to the feeling that the world and its machinations are beyond our control? World economies are fragile, we rely on technolgy that could be wiped out by a single electro-magnetic pulse, and climate change that will affect all our lives is looking increasingly like a given. In popular culture we look to science to save us, look for a hero to rise – a scientific hero, with an answer to impending doom. As the survivors look skywards at clearing storm clouds, we too heave a sigh of relief that disaster has been averted. Just for a moment, we share the glory, share the feeling that we will live to fight another day. It is a reflection of our survival instinct, our need to believe in the continuity of life, even when, in reality, that continuity is looking ever more fragile.