Friday, June 07, 2013

Apocalypse Unending

I am not what you would call a movie buff.

Oh, sure, I attend a handful of flicks each year, usually after assuring myself that my entertainment dollar will be well spent based on critical reception and subject material.

And let’s face it, my attendance is limited by the fact that I’m just outside the 14-34 demographic, the Mother Lode for movie producers.

Nonetheless, I found myself in a theater in Washington, D.C., on a recent afternoon with my daughter taking in “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” a movie that ranked just behind “The Hangover: Part 10” on my “must see” list.

I'm there because my daughter is a bit of a Trekkie, one of those devoted to the “Star Trek” franchise in all of its myriad manifestations. For the record, she does not run around wearing tunics or speaking Klingon. She is in fact a corporate lawyer in Washington, D.C. who prefers fashionable shoes and smart handbags to phasers set on stun. But we all have our peccadilloes.

The movie is a particularly noisy rendition of good guys vs. bad guys in outer space. Dialogue and plot are secondary to special affects. This critic’s opinion: entertaining but not life altering.

That’s not the main thing I took away from the experience, however.

When I was young, the featured film was preceded by cartoons. Now, the opening fare is a seemingly endless series of previews each crafted to make the subject movie, no matter how lame it may be, look like a cross between “The Godfather” and “Citizen Kane.”

What was astounding on this particular afternoon is that 90 per cent of the films previewed featured individuals, families, cities, countries, indeed an entire world caught up in an apocalyptic nightmare.

Zombies running amok. Evil space creatures. Soulless paramilitary terrorists. Overlords. Demons. Enough bleak landscapes and despair to cheer End Times and/or Rapture true believers everywhere.

Call them Apocaflix.

The question before the house is this: does the American public have an insatiable lust for movies that portray civilization on the precipice of doom?

Or are we merely being bombarded by the kind of pap that Hollywood is so capable of producing by the bucketful?

Or are the Mayans still messing with us?

The answer: probably all of the above.

There’s nothing new about apocalyptic tales. Mary Shelley wrote “The Last Man,” a tale of a world ravaged by plague, in 1826. H.G. Wells penned “The War of the Worlds” in 1898. Edgar Rice Burroughs brought us “The Moon Maid” in 1926 in which evil Communists take over the Moon before turning their sights on the Earth only to be overthrown by free market capitalists.

Clearly, there is an appetite for this sort of stuff. But we seem to be gobbling it up like so much movie house popcorn.

Since movies often reflect of the hopes and fears of the era in which they are made, I can only assume we are horrified/fascinated by the prospect of nuclear war, terrorism, global warming, economic collapse and deadly viruses. Throw in the Dodgers and Angels playing like the Undead and it’s a bleak world out there.

Bob Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, said in an interview with Reuters that "Americans do have an 'end-of-days' feel to them ... Our civilization is in decline, Congress can't get anything done ...The metaphor for the end of the world is simply an exaggerated story that deals with the same feelings."

So we flock to the movies to see how it’s all going to turn out.

Not satisfied with mere Armageddon, however, Hollywood often enlivens the proceedings with a ham-fisted political message.

In “Elysium,” due out this summer, it’s the year 2154 and the very wealthy live on Elysium – a space habitat in Earth orbit – while the rest of us live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. The people of Earth are desperate to escape the planet’s crime and poverty, and they critically need the state-of-the-art medical care available on Elysium – but some in Elysium will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve their citizens’ luxurious and carefree lifestyle.

Let me guess which political party rules Elysium.

As for me, I’m sticking with watching sports until this whole fad blows over. Even if your team loses, it doesn’t take the entire planet down with it.

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