2010 is here. Happy New Year; the end of the world is nigh (again). But I have to warn you: According to the Mayan calendar (you mean your dentist didn’t send you one?) you have about two years left to enjoy (or suffer through) life, before it all comes to an end in the most sense stunning CGI end-of-the-world scene you have ever seen. 2012, the movie and, if you are from Roswell or into Mayan prognostication, it all really comes to a crashing, tsunami-ing, volcanic, earth-quaking, Book of Revelations, conclusion. Even your Second Amendment rights ain’t gonna save you from this one, Tea-bagger.
I used to have a hypothesis that imminent “end of the world” scenarios were originally concocted by guys trying to convince their girlfriends to let loose of their chastity: “C’mon, Marjorie, the Russians could nuke us [or substitute other quick world-ending event] and we might never get to know what real love is.” (Heh, heh, heh, real love1). Global warming, by the way, generally doesn’t work; it’s too slow: “C’mon, Alice, we might as well do it; the glaciers are melting . . .”.
I think humans have always had an apocalypse scenario as part of their consciousness; some deep-seated residual guilt about biting into that apple, or just maybe about what a disappointing bunch of bastards we have turned out to be. We always seem to be on the edge of really screwing things up. The dinosaurs didn’t stand around fussing about imminent meteors making them extinct or standing on street corners protesting political systems they misspell on their signs and sure as hell couldn’t define.
Nope. I think the key word here is consciousness—everything we humans do we factors into some (even unconscious) calculus that is related to some account we believe we are going to have to give of ourselves. We see our lives as little ledgers of dualities: good/bad, life/death, heaven/hell, paper/plastic. So why not a scenario where life “as we know it” ends? Why not a great cleansing, a summing up at which all accounts will be settled. OK, it’s a stupid idea, but it’s the best we have been able to come with so far. And it’s good for the movie business, especially a movie business that has discovered CGI. You see, movies are a narrative experience, so why not life as well. We would never consider that we human are an infinitesimally brief period in the history (if it has one) of the universe, and that the credits might yet role on our “role” in the big story, but the whole damn earth, or the whole universe might not have to be brought down so we humans can have a super-duper CGI smashing crescendo. Unh, uh, we don’t think that way. That’s not what we tell ourselves and our movies end up tell us.
Probably my favorite movie of this genre is The Day the Earth Stood Still, the 1951 version by Robert Wise, not the ridiculous completely-misses-the-point version with Keanu Reeves as the extra-terrestrial messenger who forgets what the hell he came to earth for (acting lessons?). In the original, Michael Renne just makes things stand still for a few minutes; the 2008 version just has to unleash some CGI (a plague of metallic insects that eat most of New York) effects (see DCJ, April/May 2009, Global Warnings). The “message” of The Day the Earth Stood Still is that our extraterrestrial neighbors are sick and tired of the stupid stuff we humans do, like making weapons capable of destroying the entire planet. So Klaatu (in the original) shows up in his saucer in Washington, D.C. with his robot, Gort, and wants an audience with the people in charge (the original “take me to your leader”), but since he has failed to hire a K Street lobby firm, is not successful. So he has to waste a few stupid military types, and turn off the electricity world wide (pleasing the battery lobby) and saying he can toast the planet if we don’t get our feces together.2
Independence Day—Honey, it’s those damned Martians–Again!
The granddaddy of this theme is, without argument, War of the Worlds. We need not repeat the Orson Wells radio version (he wrote the story) of 1938, except to say that it proved that we humans were well-primed to believe we are “not alone,” and that our galactic neighbors are out to kick our asses. The better version was filmed in 1953, with space critters that looked like cool desk lamps that emitted death rays. In 2005 it was re-made with Tom Cruise; need I say more?3
Independence Day (July 4, 1996) is the day the Martians return to take full advantage of CGI to please government-haters.4 For weeks the trailer showed that heart-warming scene of the spaceship hovering over the White House and then showing a ray exploding it into pieces (or was Monica giving Bill one for the record books?). Huge shadows from the spaceships hover over cities (one scene eerily showing the WTC buildings in New York) and then have fun with flying cars and busses, and other forms of urban obliteration before the President and some hot-shot flyboys get pissed off and decide to go on offense is a guts and goo showdown at the OK Corral with critters that look like sea crustaceans on steroids. We win.
Armageddon—meteor of human extinction
The meteor threat is not a far-fetched. Look at our moon; no atmosphere to burn up meteors and, well, it’s a mess—craters everywhere. But earth has been hit by some big ones that made it through, the last one that hit the Yucatan Peninsula about 65 million years ago and reputedly wiped out the dinosaurs and a bunch of resorts in Cancun. So, naturally we should be afraid of “meteor Armageddon.”
In 1998 meteor showers are beginning to threaten life on earth as we know it (I know, you’re thinking, so who should give a rat’s). Benn Afleck and Liv Tyler, that’s who, because they are just about to get it on when this starts and Ben is enlisted by Liv’s daddy, Bruce Willis, to join a bunch of other wise-cracking honchos to head up into space and put a nuclear suppository up the biggest asteroid heading our way. It’s a god-awful guy-movie, full of the requisite explosions and a bunch of jerks trying to be something between The Seven Samurai and The Wild Bunch. If this is our cinematic art form we deserve extinction. But wait . . . until . . .
The Day After Tomorrow—That Oughta Teach you Global Warming Deniers
Monster tsunamis crashing into Manhattan (of course). Climate is going nuts because we have cooked the planet up with our size 17 hydrocarbon footprint, and now the ice caps have melted and, guess what, it’s causing a ice age. And Dennis Quaid’s clever son, Jake Gyllenhaal, is stuck in the frozen in New York Public Library. This is really going to mess with the heads of climate deniers: one minute we are telling them the planet is overheating, and the next Paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (Quaid) is predicting ice age. Go figure. Or go South and try to outrun those un-glacier-paced glaciers.
Well, there is an up-side; Martians don’t like cold weather. But even Martians couldn’t explain what’s going on in . . .
This is what happens when you give M. Night Shyamalan money to make another sci-fi thriller movie, this time with too many objective camera shots of Mark Wahlberg making WTF facial expressions. Why? Because like us, he can’t figure out what is making people commit suicide. Something in the water, the air, the wind; is it this movie? Let me save you some money; it’s the wind. What an el cheapo flick; no spaceships and aliens, no tsunamis, no explosions. Just a damn wind machine! Your popcorn at the movie theater costs more than that. Are we humans really going out with a wimper? Are we really going to be blown over by some damn wind machine? Never mind, it’s almost . . .
Now this is a movie about a Mayan calendar supposedly warning us about the impending doom to the world a couple of years from now. Bernie Madoff will only be three years into his 150-years sentence and will be going out with the rest of us. Life ain’t fair. They pull out all the CGI stops in this one to cover up the stupid plot. Apparently German director Roland Emmerich wasn’t satisfied with trashing Manhattan in the The Day After Tomorrow5. This guy is a whack job if you ask me. Everything gets trashed: a tsunami plops the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy on top of the White House (some guys will do anything to get rid of Obama); but the Vatican and St. Peter’s gets it, too, there are earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, premature ejaculations, the Jesus statue on top of Sugarloaf in Rio comes down, the Eiffel Tower, you name it, he does it. There are meteor showers, flaming cities and people being wiped out everywhere—this is an equal opportunity extinction, but with family values. Emmerich even claims that the Mayan “civilization” was mankind’s earliest. Yeah sure, Roland, what was the second, The Third Reich?
The movie does not, of course, point out that this is a calendar from a people whose calendar apparently didn’t predict for them that the Mayans were going to get wiped out by Spaniards. I don’t get it. Wait of minute! Of course I get it. The date has nothing to do with some stupid Mayan calendar. It’s an election year, and it’s for certain the end of the world if the Republicans are back in power. Those Mayans weren’t so stupid after all.
If you ask me, humans will still be around in 2013, doing our usual stupid stuff, feeling sublimated guilt about it, and expressing in with stupid apocolypsomania movies.
© 2010, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 1.17.2010)
*No, I am not going to tell you how many times I tested that hypothesis. OK, seven; but I am not disclosing the results. (Heh, heh, heh)
** Close Encounters of the Turd Kind? Sorry.
***There is an interesting point to be made here. In 1953 the movie starts out with teenagers at a dance, or a party. Teen movies were just beginning to be a hot niche in ’53. The 2005 version has Cruise as a working-class divorced father who must save his kids from the tripod space monsters popping up out of the ground. This version was produced by Steven Speilberg who never passes up an opportunity to exploit the prospect of children in peril. Moreover, a divorced father would never have worked as a potential hero in 1953.
****What ever happened to the cutesy Martians cooked up by Speilberg, those skinny, almond-eyed ETs holding hands with humans in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, (see **, above) or the long-necked little fellow who managed to get all the way to earth, but didn’t have an iPhone to let his parents he was out of the galaxy past his curfew.
*****And Independence Day and Godzilla, on which he was Executive Producer