Thursday, October 07, 2010

Movie Review: The Quiet Earth

Fair warning: Here be spoilers!!

As long term readers of this blog (I have some of those, right?) might remember, October is sci-fi and horror film review month! I like to review movies that most people may not have heard of, much less seen, or are so lost in the depths of time (say, 20 years ago) that many people will go, “Yeah, I think I have seen that one. Does it have Robert Downey Jr. in it?”

This little gem is from New Zealand, circa 1985. On the face of it, it resembles one of your more straight-up, end-of-the-world with only a few survivors left alive, sci-fi flicks. It has a plot that has some striking similarities to Harry Belafonte’s “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil.” After surviving an event which kills almost every other living person on the face of the earth, the borderline antisocial hero rummages around empty cities on his own for a while, and then encounters (in the following order) a beautiful woman and a rival male intent on taking his supposed mate. “Oh, you AREN’T the only guy left on the planet, are you?” The two males flirt with a duel to the death, the hero unwillingly so, but then, before they end up killing each other, they realize that working together is their only real way to survive. Come to think of it, this is also pretty much the plot of Roger Corman’s “The Day the World Ended,” except that one has a really silly guy-in-a-rubber-suit monster, where these other two are more dramatic in nature.

“The Quiet Earth” is set in New Zealand and actually attempts to inject some what might pass for a scientific explanation of why almost living thing (not just people) on the face of the earth has vanished into thin air. But that line is somewhat secondary to the film. The most interesting part of the film, in my estimation, is when Zac (that’s a nice, heroic sounding name, dontcha think?) wakes up and finds himself totally alone. After the totally expected “Where IS everyone?” panic attack, he starts going a little bit crazy, wandering around the streets of Auckland in a woman’s slip or in a policeman’s outfit playing a saxophone in the middle of the night. He sets up cardboard figures of infamous figures such as Hitler, Richard Nixon, etc. in the yard of the mansion he has appropriated for himself, and to the background of recorded triumphant music and great applause, sets himself up as God of His Domain. He also takes this opportunity to express the deep guilt he is feeling, as it turns out he and his scientific buddies were probably at the bottom of all of this. It’s kind of a fascinating study, in a very embarrassing, voyeuristic sort of way, of a descent into madness. I thought the best scene in this sequence was when Zac finds himself in grand cathedral with a shotgun in front of a life-sized statue of Jesus on the cross. He starts shouting at God. “Come on out, or the kid gets it!” And he then proceeds to blast away at Jesus. But Zac comes to his senses when he runs over a child’s stroller in a huge earth moving machine that he has just used to demolish a large building. He realizes that, right before “the event”, this stroller held a living, breathing child.

I found the second half of the film a little less enjoyable. That’s when the very cute girl shows up. After a bit of a rough start, it looks as if Zac and Joanne (that’s her name, Joanne) are going to have a nice time of it. However, they keep searching for others, just in case. Joanne: “If we find anyone alive, what do you think they will be like?” Zac Hobson: “We might find all manner of horrors. Politicians... Transvestites...” Unfortunately for Zac, they do find someone else, in the form of a very large, well muscled, could possibly be an escaped criminal, guy with some very deep unresolved issues regarding hostility and relationships with other people. I suppose I found this part rather depressing and embarrassing, as I tended to relate to Zac, the somewhat nerdy scientist that almost never gets the girl and more than likely had something to do with the end of the world as they know it rather than the hunky guy. Of COURSE, Joanne is going to pick the good looking, anti-social guy. It was obvious who was going to win that one.

I won’t bother to explain the entire plot. It’s worth seeing (maybe Netflix one weekend?) just on its own merits as an unusual, little known sci-fi film. But here is why I wanted to review this movie. It has one of the more astounding ending sequences, with just a brilliant accompanying soundtrack, of any film I have ever seen, sci-fi or otherwise. Zac, after (probably) saving Earth and everyone on it (Joanne and Api, pretty much), finds himself on the shore of an ocean on what could a moon orbiting another planet, or maybe in an entirely different dimension. As he is staring, in total bewilderment, at some very strange cloud formations over the ocean, a huge ringed planet is seen rising over the horizon. It is one of the most memorable scenes I have ever seen in a film, just utterly astounding. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. And, as I said before, the musical score behind this just adds to the awe-inspiring sight unfolding in front of the dumbstruck Zac. This single scene, which probably isn’t more than a minute long, is worth the price of sitting through the film. I found it interesting that the filmmakers chose to start running the credits on top of this stunning visual sequence. I rather wish they hadn’t done that, as I would have much rather let it play out without that visual distraction.

Rating: A to A-. Definitely worth your time, if you can find it. There are no easy answers, or even easy interpretations, of what this all means. I usually do not like vagueness in a movie, as I think, in most cases, it is just a cop-out by the filmmakers. “Here, here is a story we thought up and put on film. YOU figure out what it means. We don’t have a clue….” In this case, the lack of specificity and explanations significantly adds to the nature of this film. I think concrete explanations would have diminished the film, not enhanced it.

Photo from SciFiCool, which includes another review and also a video trailer.

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