Tag Archives: Movies

Apocalyptic meanderings


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.

hot-1435048-sSolar 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.

snowstorm-4-432043-sThe 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.



Movie Madness


So here I am again, shouting at the TV screen. It’s happening again. I’ve lost count of how many good movies have let me down this way, usually in the really good action scene at the end. There’s a clever, feisty heroine, a good fighter, so far showing no signs of a penchant for hysteria. The hero takes on the villain for the final battle. Does the heroine join in? Not on your life. She sits in a corner and screams for all she’s worth.

Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves is memorable for the intensity of Marian’s screams in the fight between Robin and Nottingham. All through the film, Marian shows the pluck required of her, even taking Robin on in hand to hand combat without uttering a squeak. So what happens when she could be really useful and help out when it matters? She cowers and whimpers. Then she starts screaming. It happens a lot. Maybe directors assume that it’s good for female characters to show their feminine side in this way.

Mind you, that’s not the only bad habit, displayed by both male and female characters, that has me ranting at the screen. For example, why, when they’re being chased, do characters always run UP the stairs? Down is better. Down is access to streets and people and places to run to. Up is bad. Up leads to a roof, with nowhere else to go without sprouting wings.

And what about the life-threatening impending disaster, bearing down on our plucky hero. Does he run like hell? No, he stands for a good few seconds, watching the tidal wave/lava flow/army of evil mutants bearing down on him, only reaching safety with a split-second to spare. If he’d moved more quickly he wouldn’t have cut it so fine.

Then there’s the all-time classic. It’s a dark and stormy night. Woman (usually), scantily clad in pale, flowing night clothes, hears a suspicious noise outside. Does she lock all the doors, arm herself with a poker and sit tight? No. She Grabs a torch and goes out. In the middle of a storm. In her nightclothes. With no raincoat. Towards the danger. Having been in that situation many years ago, I can still recall the sheer terror I felt. Wild horses wouldn’t have dragged me from the safety of a well-lit, locked-down house out into the uncertain night.

I know suspense has to be generated in movies. But it seems to me that dashing to the roof or venturing into the storm are not only predictable, but also severely underestimate the intelligence of the audience. In movies, as in books, the suspension of disbelief is critical. When characters behave with such predictable stupidity it weakens them and seriously undermines the whole plot.

Sometimes, I am pleasantly surprised by the lack of screams, by characters who run down instead of up, and by rational responses to danger in the dark. These are the exceptions rather than the rule. Am I alone in wanting it to be the other way round?