I’ve long tried to understand my fascination with the end of the world. One reason is undoubtedly down to my habit of ‘people watching’ (which isn’t as voyeuristic as it sounds!). Putting characters in extreme situations – and you can’t get more extreme than the end of everything – is a wonderful way of stripping away all pretence and social niceties to expose the black and white reality of what we need to do to survive. When someone’s faced with a yes or no, sink or swim, fight or flight decision in order to stay alive, their behaviour is likely to be a lot more honest and direct than if they’re concerned about what the neighbours are thinking.
Another aspect of Armageddon which intrigues me is its perpetual closeness. I’m guessing that everything probably went okay for you yesterday and so far today, but what about tomorrow? I’m conscious that I sound like a miserable pessimist here and I apologise because I’m not, but the fact remains: anything could happen in the next five minutes. That’s a frightening prospect in itself, but it’s made even more terrifying when you consider how complex and fragile an ecosystem we all inhabit. At any moment something which is completely out of our control might trigger a chain reaction which could drastically alter our individual lives and the lives of those around us. It’s sobering stuff if you think about it (which I do… far too often and in far too much detail!).
Today’s recommendation for my Post-Apocalyptic movie club is a BBC faux-documentary from 2003 which demonstrates just that: The Day Britain Stopped.
It’s a long weekend here – an extended holiday which the country probably can’t afford, in honour of something many people seem to be quite indifferent about. I thought now would be a good opportunity to recommend another film for my Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club.
Steven Soderburgh’s CONTAGION was released last year, and I was hopeful we’d finally see a decent big-budget pandemic movie. Though it was critically well received, I didn’t like the film at all. To my mind it was as unsatisfying as 1995’s OUTBREAK, but this time with Gwyneth Paltrow as the Aids Monkey (with thanks for that quote to whoever designed the ‘honest’ Contagion movie poster I’ve used here).
My problem, I think, is that I don’t like any disaster/pandemic movie with a well known cast, and Contagion had a stack of them. If I’m watching a film about the end of civilization, then the end of civilization is what I want to see. I want unknowns and people who look like you and me, not a host of overpaid, airbrushed celebrities. Witness (only if you absolutely have to) 2007’s I am Legend with Will Smith to show how even the most beautiful of post-apocalyptic scenarios can be fucked up by such casting decisions.
So my recommended movie today is definitely not Contagion. Instead, it’s a little-known Japanese-American film: VIRUS (Fukkatsu no hi). It does have a number of well known faces in it, but it was made in 1980, when the term ‘celebrity’ didn’t seem to have quite the same connotations it does today. It’s a crazy film, and here’s a trailer. Click the link below to learn more.
This week at the Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club, a little known gem from the 1980’s: SPECIAL BULLETIN.
You might not have heard of this movie, but it’s certainly worth checking out. It’s a well done (for the time) faux news broadcast covering a breaking story. A group of terrorists have docked a boat in the port of Charleston, USA. It’s soon established that they’re a group of nuclear scientists and peace campaigners, and their demands are simple: the government has 24 hours to disarm the stockpile of 600+ nuclear missiles at a nearby military base and deliver the triggers to the dock, or they’ll detonate the nuclear bomb they have on the boat.
At the time of writing the whole film is available on Google Video and I’ve embedded it below. So why not watch it first, then come back and read my thoughts. In fact, for reasons which will quickly become apparent, I’d definitely recommend doing it that way. Okay, video first, my comments after the break.
It’s been far too long since I recommended any films on this site. Here then is another classic up for consideration as part of my Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club. I’m going to try and post these with much more regularity throughout 2012.
The film I’ve chosen today is one of my all time favourite movies, and one of those rare instances when a film adaptation clearly surpasses the source material. I’m talking about CHILDREN OF MEN, directed in 2006 by Alfonso Cuaron, and starring Clive Owen, Michael Caine and Julianne Moore.
Where do you begin with a film like this? It’s a matter of personal tastes of course but, for me, Children of Men is almost note perfect.
If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that I was at last weekend’s Grimm Up North festival to talk zombies after the Sunday afternoon screening of The Dead, the Ford Brothers’ Africa-set zombie movie. I thought it was a fascinating, yet strangely unsatisfactory film which is certainly worth your time. Here’s the trailer. Click the link below the video for my full thoughts.
I thought it had only been a few weeks, but it’s actually several months since I last posted an entry in my ‘Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club’. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s an (increasingly) irregular look at some of the post-apocalyptic movies I’ve seen, particularly those which have gone on to have an impact on my work. You can read previous entries here. No in-depth analysis or anything heavy here, just a recommendation or two.
Today I’m writing about Peter Watkins’ The War Game, a BBC drama made in 1965, but not shown until twenty years later, despite winning the Best Documentary Oscar in 1967.
The War Game depicts the build up, impact and after-effects of a global nuclear conflict, concentrating particularly on the people of Rochester, Kent, who are hit by an off-strike weapon originally aimed at Gatwick airport.
The film was commissioned by the BBC as part of a weekly drama series, but was withdrawn from transmission as it was adjudged to be “too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting”. I watched the film again several weeks back, and despite its age and having seen it several times before, it still shook me with its power. It’s little wonder that it wasn’t shown on British television until 1985. I can only imagine what audiences in the 1960’s would have made of it.
I’ve not been able to post here much lately, but I’ll be back next week with plenty of Autumn: The City related stuff. In the meantime, here’s another entry in the Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club.
In May 1980 the British government distributed a leaflet called ‘Protect and Survive’ to all homes in the UK. It (along with a series of public information films like the one embedded below) was designed to provide homeowners with practical advice on how to protect themselves in the event of a nuclear attack. The original intention was to have them distributed only in time of a national emergency, but the media interest and ensuing public debate was such that they were given a general release. Fat lot of good they’d have done if the shit really had hit the fan! Shoving a few doors against a wall and covering them in mattresses and cushions might have offered some protection from the initial blast, but such a shelter, like the government publications themselves, would have done little to help the post-attack population cope with fallout, hunger, fear, desperation, cold, devastating injuries, lawlessness, etc. etc. etc.
Several months late, but here’s the second in my series of looks at classic (and not so classic) post-apocalyptic movies.
Picture the scene: late-1983 – a very different, pre-Internet world where news comes almost entirely from the daily papers and scheduled radio and TV bulletins, where information isn’t available ‘on tap’ like it is today. It’s a world which feels like it’s permanently on the edge; split into east and west by two opposing superpowers with their respective leaders’ fingers hovering over the buttons which, it seems, will inevitably release a nuclear Armageddon sometime very soon. In school playgrounds, kids talk nervously about things like Mutual Assured Destruction and what they’re going to do when the four-minute warning sounds. There’s an uneasy feeling of impending doom, and the lack of readily available information makes the playground chatter that much more frightening… ‘your eyes melt if you look at one of them exploding’, ‘they’ll aim at least three at our city, we won’t have a chance’, ‘I heard Dad talking to one of his mates about the missiles at Greenham Common’…
This is the first film in my ‘Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club’ – a series of regular features, essays and discussions about films which depict the end of the world in one way or another. I know it’s not right, but I’m addicted to this stuff! Please check out the movie, read my thoughts, then join me to talk about it in the forum or on Facebook, Twitter etc.
Threads, a BBC TV production, was first broadcast in September 1984 and subsequently repeated the following August to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It wasn’t shown again on UK TV until 2003 and despite owning a VHS copy since the early 1990’s, it had been more than 15 years since I’d watched the film when I sat down to watch it again recently. Looking back, I think I may have set the bar too high by selecting Threads as my first film for discussion. I’ve yet to find a more harrowing or thought-provoking PA movie.
Forgive the bizarre title of this post – it will make sense!
I never really intended to use this website to tell you what I did on my summer holidays, but today I’m making an exception.
I’m sure any writers who are reading this will agree: we never really stop working. Even when you’re not sat at your desk staring at your computer screen, banging away at the keyboard or reading through reams of papers, signing and posting books, answering emails etc., you’re still working. You’re still thinking – thinking about the book you’re writing now or the book you’re planning to write next, or the one you were supposed to have finished last month… Being away on holiday is no exception, and often the new places you visit and the people you meet along the way provide huge amounts of unexpected inspiration.
Back in 2004 when I was writing Autumn: Purification, I started looking into the large number of underground structures which can be found along the length and breadth of the UK. Have a look at Subterranea Britannica if this isn’t something you’ve come across before – it’s fascinating. Bunkers are a mainstay of countless end-of-the-world stories and I’ve been researching them again recently for something I’m currently working on (not telling you what!). Just before the school holidays began in July and my daily writing routine went completely to pot, I posted Remain Indoors – a brief article about my intention to re-watch and write about as many post-apocalyptic movies as I could get my hands on. The response was phenomenal and even now, more than six weeks later, I’m still getting film suggestions emailed to me regularly. (Thanks to everyone who got in touch – please keep your ideas coming).
So as you can probably imagine, even though I was supposed to be on holiday, with my head swimming with post-apocalyptic movies and stories of Cold War bunkers, when the opportunity to visit such a site unexpectedly presented itself, I was in there like a shot.