Thursday, April 12, 2012

15 of the Apocalypse


If you haven't noticed already, it’s Post Apocalyptic month here on The Film Connoisseur my dear readers and so, I offer you guys another Monster Blog Post; this time it’s about Post Apocalyptic films! These are the kinds of films where all idea of hope has been thrown out the window! The world has  ended and only a few scattered humans remain on the planet; characters on these films care only about three things: sustenance, surviving and reproducing! It’s the future of the human race that’s at stake on these films people! There's no time for mistakes, it's a dog eat dog world on these films, and only the strong survive.  


Post Apocalyptic films are a grim bunch, though sometimes we do get the rare Post Apocalyptic Comedy like Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988), Hell Comes to Frogtown II (1993) or Six String Samurai (1998). Some are complete cheese balls like Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983) or Night of the Comet (1984), which kind of resembled Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1979) with its commentary on a consumerist society. While these are films that poke fun at the idea of the end of the world on purpose, sometimes these films are unintentionally funny, which means that the filmmakers didnt intend for the film to be funny, it just turned out that way. The best example of films of this nature are Post Apocalyptic films that come out of Italy, which I will be reviewing in the coming weeks, so look forward to those reviews! But post-apocalyptic comedies are an exception, most of the time these movies show a sad out look on life. You don’t believe me? Then watch The Road (2009), now there’s a completely sad and depressive post apocalyptic film! No hope in sight! 


These films speak of possible futures that come as a result of humanities abuse of the planet, and our abuse of power. Usually in these films humanity has destroyed itself through the use of nuclear weapons, if not, then its nature that has decided to wipe us out. Sometimes it's a major decease or plague. In any case, humanity is practically wiped clean off the planet. Even though most of these films show a depressive premise, they can also be quite fun to watch. For example, sometimes these films come in the form of an action film like the Mad Max franchise. Sometimes they mix fantasy elements into them, like for example Reign of Fire (2002) which adds dragons to the mix. And sometimes sci-fi takes the reigns with films like the Terminator franchise. The out look on humanity might be sad on Post Apocalyptic films, but they always make us think, they make us ask questions. What if something like this where to happen… for real? What can we do now to avoid it? Ultimately, these films can be two fold: they can help us analyze humanity, as a collective, where are we going? What are we doing? Where are we headed? And at the same time they can offer us some entertainment. 


So anyhows, for the next couple of weeks The Film Connoisseur will be all about Post Apocalyptic films, hope you enjoy it! On this blog post I worked in collaboration with two other great bloggers. I speak of Gordon from Musings of a Sci-Fi Fanatic and J.D. from Radiator Heaven. On Musings of a Sci-Fi Fanatic, Gordon writes about all things sci-fi: Sci-Fi t.v. shows of the past and present, new and old Sci-Fi films, anime…you name it, if it’s sci-fi it’s on Musings of a Sci-Fi Fanatic. The films he chose for this blog post are the meat and potatoes of the article so to speak, he offered up an awesome analysis of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome which is just awesome, I completely agree with it, I recommend checking it out! The other great blogger on board for this Monster Blog Post is J.D. from Radiator Heaven, a blog that constantly offers up some of the most in-depth, detail oriented film reviews you could find; its always a treat to read J.D.'s reviews because he really goes in there when it comes to a films history, from its production, to and how the world perceived the film when it was released. I find myself visiting both of these blogs quite often myself; and I urge you guys to check them out yourselves! So that’s it my dear readers, hope you enjoy this blog post and the coming end of the world! But before this whole shit house goes up in flames, I leave you guys with: 15 of the Apocalypse! These might not be the best, or anything, these are just choices we came up with because they amuse us in one way or another, but rest assured they were hand picked for your reading pleasure! So sit back relax and read on! And don't forget to 'duck and cover' when you see that flash of light on the horizon!

MUSINGS OF A SCI-FI FANATIC FIVE POST APOCALYPTIC FILMS:


Put quite simply, these are films that I have enjoyed the apocalyptic hell out of on more than one occasion. These are not perfect films by any measure, but I always enjoyed them because more often than not they presented strong ideas and concepts or delivered on a fully realized vision of the apocalypse. 

Title: REIGN OF FIRE (2002)

Director: Rob Bowman

The Post-Dragon Apocalypse. This must at least qualify as possibly the best dragon-rendered apocalypse. Of course, it may be the only film out there to approach the end of the world by fire-breathing dragon. I’m not certain. Stylish director Rob Bowman [Star Trek: The Next Generation, The X-Files], the man behind The X-Files: Fight The Future [1998] and one of the strongest entries in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s beleaguered first season, Heart Of Glory, knows how to pack a tight, driving punch visually with the narratives he’s provided. His episodic television [13 episodes of ST:TNG; 33 episodes of The X-Files] offers a terrific sample. It was his training ground for what has proved to be a surprisingly unremarkable, albeit unfortunate, career in film. His work drives along with such a confidence and sure-handedness that the end result is almost assuredly entertaining. The Chris Carter-penned X-Files film was a strong example of his craft and the unexpected Reign Of Fire arrived a few years later populated with his usual mix of action and character that seemingly establishes just the right balance of pacing. 

Reign Of Fire didn’t win any awards [though it was nominated for a Saturn Award], but it is far more effective than your average thriller. Bowman implements special effects in just the right doses, while providing a washed-out, charred-out, burned-out depiction of England, post-dragon apocalypse and a rag tag band of Brits. The landscape is littered with the cold, hard reality of earth and barren rock. There is little evidence of life abound, all but destroyed by the dragons. To find a green, growing plant to sustain the survivors is near impossible. Finding proper nourishment appears a life and death struggle for adults and their children alike as the community takes refuge inside the safe confines of non-flammable, historic, stone castles. It makes sense. 

Reign Of Fire was bolstered by strong performances from three big names, at the time up and coming Christian Bale and Gerard Butler, along with the well-established Matthew McConaughey. The film is loaded with good bits including an appearance by Alice Krige [ST:TNG’s Borg Queen], a guest role for Alexander Siddig [Star Trek: Deep Space Nine], a little character scene paying homage to Star Wars, gritty landscapes, big performances by men who look like they’ve spent the day inside a chimney, loads of internal conflict between one another and external conflict with the delicious dragons. There’s almost a throwback quality to the film even if the effects are CGI-driven. It feels like a more contemporary version of those monster films we loved as children. The set piece of the downed dragon is particularly breathtaking in terms of tangible effects and the production on that entire sky sequence is a thrill-a-minute. 

Once the dragons were disturbed during work on the London Underground, war with man ensued. A fight of fire [dragon] versus fire [nuclear] hastened the end of humanity. The year is 2020 and the dreary and dismal future of Reign Of Fire’s apocalypse is more than believable filmed on location in Ireland’s Wicklow mountains. Despite being critically panned by a majority of writers [40% splat at Rotten Tomatoes], the film itself may be stronger and more fun than it has any right to be. Bowman delivers the dragon apocalypse to terrific effect and it is one scorching, hell of a good time. Break out the hot wings and beer.


Title: DAMNATION ALLEY (1977)

Director: Jack Smight.

The Post-Nuclear Apocalypse. This is pure, vintage 1970s B-movie apocalypse at its best. The film, directed by Jack Smight, was based loosely on a novel by Roger Zelazny also called Damnation Alley [1969; based on his 1967 short story]. The air of nuclear holocaust hung heavy in the years following World War II. Director Ishiro Honda, who survived it, made a career of films ensconced in the theme beginning with Gojira [1954] through Toho. Increasing concerns over proliferation of nuclear weapons would resonate in the fears of creative minds for decades. The 1970s was a particularly fertile period with classics like The Omega Man [1971], Silent Running [1972] and Mad Max [1979]. It was pretty clear the end of the world was coming and as kids living in the 1970s the fear of that possibility definitely impacted the fragile psyche. Still, apocalyptic films have been a fairly healthy business growing in increasing numbers with each passing decade. Remember the horrors of The Day After [1983]? Take a look at the numbers leading to The Day After Tomorrow [2004] and 2012 [2009]. 

Damnation Alley is an imperfect film set in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. Holes in logic permeate its tale. The survivors head to Albany, NY. Like anything would be left of New York after a nuclear showdown. Never mind a lush, picturesque Albany two years following nuclear annihilation. I just don’t think so. The film’s strengths lie in solid performances by Jan-Michael Vincent, the wonderful George Peppard [The A-Team], genre character actor Paul Winfield [Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, The Terminator, Babylon 5, Star Trek: The Next Generation] and a young Jackie Earle Haley [Valley Of The Dinosaurs, The Bad News Bears, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, Breaking Away], who would land a massive performance in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen [2009], but in Damnation Alley he feels like a cast off from Miri [Star Trek: The Original Series]. French model, Dominique Sanda, is thrown in for good measure. The surviving men, woman and child, ironically, put the nuclear back in nuclear family. It is their refuge that is central to this new existence following a global nuclear holocaust. 

Of course, as a child, logic was irrelevant, because the other major star of Damnation Alley was the all-terrain Landmaster [gloriously able to cross oceans too], a metallic, rotating, twelve-wheel beast of a machine complete with missiles that would act as a home on wheels for our band of survivors throughout their journey from California to the East Coast. America is leveled to an essential wasteland, yet, apparently and miraculously, upstate New York is the place to be. To get there you must survive damnation alley. In truth, holes in scientific credibility aside, Damnation Alley is an old-fashioned, thrilling survival tale helmed by that vehicle to end all vehicles, the Landmaster. 

The Landmaster was custom-built especially for the film and should not be confused with the similar vessel used in Ark II. For the film’s stars getting upstaged by a lifeless craft [two in the beginning] is never a good thing, but it is central and symbolic to the film’s theme of gritty survival. This massive base on wheels was a sight as a youngster. Of course, I’m a fan of just about anything with multiple wheels. Throw in some tank treads, i.e. Thunderbirds, and now you’re cooking with king corn oil. That’s my kind of vehicle. The film is a hodge podge of fun. Mix up a nuclear holocaust, mutant hicks, rubber killer cockroaches and blue-screened scorpions, Lost In Space-inspired wind storms and radioactive skies [think Red Skies by The Fixx] and you have yourself a reasonably solid B-movie classic that throws at you everything but the kitchen sink. Add a few good actors into a fairly streamlined, linear narrative structure and you have Damnation Alley rolling its big ass truck straight into your living room. 

The film was finally made available on DVD and Blu-Ray in 2011. In 1977, 20th Century Fox had two science fiction films planned. Damnation Alley was the intended blockbuster. Star Wars [1977] was the other film. Yes, the rest is history as they say. As apocalyptic films go, Damnation Alley is certainly not complex in its ambition, but it does remain true to the spirit of those vintage post-nuclear tales of global devastation despite entire lapses in sound science, radiological logic and its effects on the environment or human tissue. It also gives you that nostalgic 1970s film stock and quality missing from today’s CGI-heavy doomsday experiments. It generates fond memories similar in spirit to a film like Them! [1954] – an American vision of nuclear terror and counterpart to Gojira. Damnation Alley tanked it at the box office, though I somehow managed to see it, has certainly risen in cult status as a favorite of 1970s science ficiton. It’s a little disjointed, pretty raw and lo-tech, but good fun with its atmospheric post-doomsday approach. It’s not about the effects, but if Mel Gibson’s Mad Max Rockatansky could deliver apocalypse in the form of a Ford XB Falcon Hardtop black Pursuit Special, than the late George Peppard damn well deserved his ass-kicking Landmaster. Through that rig, Damnation Alley powers a nostalgic unnerving tour [minus de force], so lower those expectations and prepare for an unsettling glimpse of the end of the world as we knew it in the 1977.


Title: MAD MAX 3: BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985) 

Director: George Miller/ George Ogilvie. 

A Dystopian/ Post-nuclear Apocalypse. It would have been easy to pick Mad Max [1979], and its thoughtful, spare look at society breaking down or even the more vicious savagery of The Road Warrior [1981], for our discussion, so I opted for a look at its much maligned third counterpart in the George Miller trilogy, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome [1985]. Perhaps it was the chemistry between director George Miller and late producer Byron Kennedy that completely focused and tapped into the world weary vision of Mad Max for those first two films. There was indeed a synergy to that relationship that presented an epic vision for those first two beloved, cult classics that stands apart from the Hollywood sheen of the third. Tragically, Kennedy was killed in a helicopter crash in New South Wales in 1983. Only the spirit of Kennedy would oversee the proceedings of the final film. 

Two years after Kennedy’s death, and four years following The Road Warrior, Mad Max, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome arrived to thunderous excitement. In retrospect, unquestionably, the film has been treated with the least respect of the trilogy. Was it too talky? Was it the lengthy segment with the “Tomorrow-morrow land” children that smacked of cutesy Ewoks and three-quel syndrome a la Return Of The Jedi [1983]? Was it George Miller’s loss of partner Kennedy and his new partnership with George Ogilvie that altered the focus from the previous two? One could legitimately imagine a third Kennedy-Miller Production might have arguably been a little different. 

For all of the complaints about Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, I’m here to defend it as a success, as a minor classic and as the tent bearer of one of film history’s best third installments. A recent viewing cemented that opinion for me. It had all the trappings, details and feelings of a big finish. Upon its arrival in theatres it felt like a Star Wars event, a Richard Donner Superman and maybe that was part of its problem. Unlike the two previous unheralded films, this one felt a little more polished, a little more Hollywood and propped up in expectations. The whole thing felt a little less the-land-down-under in terms of the spirit of filmmaking. Its post-apocalyptic vibe, now fully ensconced, was indeed filmed in Australia like the others, but the budget was nearly three times greater than the previous entry building the perfect beast of a film, the sweep and magnitude of which is highlighted and underscored by two bold, magnificent music selections by Tina Turner in We Don’t Need Another Hero and One Of The Living and compositions by Maurice Jarre. 

For me, this final film in the trilogy felt very much like the product of a natural evolution that built upon the previous two. Certainly there are moments and scenes that reminisce of The Road Warrior, but on a grander scale, particularly in its third act a la the train sequence. The weathered and weary Max Rockatansky looks a little older, a little wiser from his efforts to survive in the uncivilized landscape of the first films since losing his family and source of joy years earlier. This is indeed a man in survival mode searching but not knowingly so. 

Surprisingly effective is the film’s ability to convey a world reorganizing, making efforts to reestablish civilization. It still has some truly stunning moments like the Thunderdome itself. It symbolically paints a portrait of an upside down, apocalyptic Rome complete with a hunger for the gladiatorial games of the day. The battle between Max and Master Blaster overflows with the kind of original suspense and excitement not yet encountered in the series. I remember being completely sympathetic and almost troubled at the unveiling of Blaster’s helmet. The disturbing revelation was of a man-child living with Down Syndrome clearly beloved by his dwarf Master. It was a truly moving moment in the film for me and filled me with genuine emotion and sympathy for this enemy of Bartertown. Can you imagine pulling off a sequence like that today? I’m not sure it would happen. In the hands of George Miller he pulls off such a sensitive moment with genuine virtue that a lesser film maker might completely mishandle. 


Like the previous films, the third entry is populated by some intriguing characters and Aunty Entity, played by Tina Turner, is no exception. The casting of Turner had to be a risk, but she pulls off the heavy with credibility and relish as her firm hand seemingly holds together the fragile construction of Bartertown. Master Blaster, too, is the kind of physical embodiment of the film’s two visual dichotomies that would culminate in a third act. The character is part diminutive dwarf and circus strong man – Blaster being Master’s protector from Entity. And of course, there’s Mel Gibson, a giant among men when it comes to art and craft of performance. He is the rock, the talented core that threads the trilogy’s success. Still, the third film says something of Miller’s imagination that he mines a kind of fertile science fiction reality with such epic flair. Miller’s visuals are both glorious in their beauty and stunning in their decay and they are often in juxtaposition. This third film benefits from three distinct, stimulating acts and feels different when contrasted to the visually linear look of those first pictures. 

Like the initial films, there are many striking images at play in the third and final outing too. Max’s horse ride out of Bartertown, following a round of “bust a deal, face the wheel” [the film loves catchphrases and is filled with some classics], resulting from a Gulag sentence comes to mind. 

So many trilogies stumble. The original Star Wars trilogy is arguably one of the best ever made. The first three Alien films are also very close. Others have stumbled in their third attempt. If Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome stumbles at all it is generally with the perceived allegorical use of the children within its tonal shift, not only within this film, but within the franchise. The second act of the film becomes a cinematic version of Miri [Star Trek: The Original Series] as the kids represent innocence and hope entirely absent from the second film. The Feral Kid was an uncompromising symbol of survival in The Road Warrior. He was a representation of innocence lost as much as the world had become paradise lost. The inclusion of these sweet children presents a shift in mood and in spirit within the franchise. This is the film’s greatest issue for some. John Kenneth Muir ponders this shift eloquently in his own look at the film noting that tonal symbol as embodied in the “crockery-wielding tykes.” Rather than stick-waving bears we get a clan of desert-based Lord Of The Flies survivors but with a “terminal” case of the “cutesies.” The segment does establish a more reflective tone and becomes decidedly less menacing. Despite lacking the uncompromising grip of its predecessor, it’s easy to embrace this segment. This is indeed a different film and Max is a different man. The potential for new life exists. Not only does the film present an entirely new chapter in this incredible story, but at this point it’s one we’re willing and ready to invest in. It presents a glimmer of hope through the nobility of man and our reluctant hero leading the future of man. Perhaps, seeing it recently, as a family man, has shed new light on the film’s virtues. 

In retrospect, it's oversimplifying to simply dumb down the disagreement with the third film as a riff on Return Of The Jedi. There's much more going on here psychologically than the fantastic escapades of bear-clothed little people and biker scouts. It's just left of center enough to be morally complex and differentiate itself from the land of the teddy bears. When Max punches one of the females to keep her from walking away back to the loving arms of Bartertown you know this is the school of hard knocks for children coming-of-age. Sure, there's a captivating magic to the children's stunted learning post apocalypse where record players are new again. I was reminded of one "bonk, bonk on the head" without the creepy, but an overly fuzzy case of the Ewoks this is not. These kids are hopeful and looking for guidance. Max inadvertently finds his hope in the process. 


Roger Ebert went so far as to call the third film, “more visionary and more entertaining than the first two.” That is entirely fair to say and the film has plenty on offer to make that argument. 

It may feel a little jarring with the first two acts juxtaposed against one another, but the final act is the moment the film bridges segment one surrounding Bartertown with segment two, the kids of Captain Walker. It's the ugly, nasty reality of civilization building meets the hope of children born into a world with wide-eyed optimism and curiosity untainted by the vile politics of Bartertown. The fusion is striking, but also a bold work of film. The kids are the future and Bartertown represents the cancerous ways of the past. These Peter Pans of never never land or “morrow morrow land” have what it takes to bring the vitality of their thriving, green water hole, a symbol of rebirth and new life, to the rest of the dead planet. 

What people have missed with the children in the third film is they ARE innocent. They haven't been exposed to phonograph players, clocks or airplanes. They are indeed new to the world. There is a major disconnect there for them. Fans of the first two movies were not open to the positive influence these kids represented within the trilogy preferring to look for more of the same. Today, the film resonates more powerfully than ever. 

Additionally the end of Bartertown suggests Max is prepared to accept something better. Its dissolution is a symbol of Max letting go of the devolved, violent and cancerous civilization he rejected internally, but settled for as a matter of course. After all, he was a law enforcement officer. 

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is artistically far better than some of the harshest critics would have you believe. Most films wish they could be this complete, this imaginative, and this fully-realized in presenting their ideas and themes. Maybe expectations, following two great films, were just a little too high. Maybe people imagined how they would write the story visually and it simply did not connect with that vision. I don’t know what people were expecting, because the third and final picture in the series is exceptional. It rounds out one of the finest character sagas and depictions of apocalypse ever committed to film. 

Gone is the Sex Pistol-ish punk spirit of the leather clad Mad Max and the fiery, roguish warrior of a warrior on the unmerciful road with a car oozing relentless cool. Yet, this film has its unrelenting moments. Like the character, the film is a pensive, contemplative, weary nomadic warrior attempting to make sense of a mad world while finding hope and beauty in the most barren of places. This film, too, still has its heart and humanity in the right place. Like the graying in Max’s hair, this is an aging, wiser, softer warrior slowing down [by contrast], “the raggedy man,” even in a savage land and that makes striking sense. This indeed remains a distinguished, underrated classic and an ultimately satisfying conclusion to the apocalypse. 

Tone is a big issue in shifting the film. While Miller may pay homage to himself for the railway chase, landing in the familiar tanker chase territory of The Road Warrior, the train works as a symbol of innovation into the frontier. Those who have worked the railroads have often said that our land was built on steam. It speaks volumes about the future for Max and these children. Perhaps a kind of family has come full circle for Max, the post-modern, post-apocalyptic family. 

In the end, Max earns Entity's respect when she spares the life of the "raggedy man" and the "soldier.” In that single moment, we know Entity comprehends the future requires men like Max. We are rewarded in his survival and in knowing as Turner sang that he is one of the living. If there’s any hope for the future Max and the children are part of that survival. Those final moments underscore that human compassion may have hardened but it still exists. 


Title: FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN (2001) 

Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi/ Moto Sakakibara 

The Alien apocalypse. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about the video game that inspired the film, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within [2001]. I also have not seen Final Fantasy VII Advent Children [2005], a film that more closely resembles the video game. Fans of the video game were certainly more relieved with the latter computer animated deliverable. The animators learned a lesson following the financial failure of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, but did not make a mistake in delivering a spiritually strong, philosophically-connected and satisfying science fiction story. 

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within invests in a journey for protagonist Dr. Aki Ross [voiced by Ming-Na Wen of Stargate Universe] that sometimes proposes questions without the answers. The Japanese-American collaboration was the first photo-realistic computer animated picture. It certain wasn’t a first in the mold of collaborations when you consider kaiju eiga classic like Frankestein Conquers The World or King Kong Escapes. For sci-fi fans the computer-driven film is a refreshing departure from the family-friendly fare of Pixar. The animation, while arguably dated today, still looks stunning particularly in its science fiction landscapes and mechanical designs. These images are something to experience and behold in their own right. Character designs are distinct if just slightly unrefined by today’s standards. Ultimately, it was the story that let the film down in theatres as some critics found it nebulous and vague. Personally, I found the collaboration to be a beautiful mix of Japanese animation with science fiction sensibilities that harkened back to rewarding classics like Blade Runner and Alien for its quiet approach, innovation and room for interpretation and analysis. The film never condescends or spoon feeds the viewer and leaves the kind of space good films allow for returning. 

Terrific action segments aside, and a few standout, mainstream American audiences tended to reject its philosophical and spiritual underpinnings more accustomed to the mind-numbing action of the automatic American movie experience. Released in the summer of 2001, folks were not looking for the space odyssey Square Pictures [Squaresoft/ Square Co., Ltd.] had gambled upon. The film cost 137 million [budgeted originally at 70 million] and earned back about 85 million, crushing the company’s future hopes and forcing it to merge with competitor Enix Corporation establishing Square Enix in 2003. In fact, the only other project Square Pictures had completed outside of the unfortunate disaster that was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a short called Final Flight Of The Osiris [2003], an animated prequel short to The Matrix sequels [the Computer and Technology Apocalypse]. That rousing little short remains one of my favorites assembled for The Animatrix collection. Sadly, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within would be the company’s final flight too. 

Cost overruns and bad luck aside, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within remains a thoughtful science fiction picture more in the tradition of the science fiction classics than the non-stop, action-based nonsense often released and passed for science fiction in theatres today. The year is 2065 and the Earth is infested with a real phantom menace, not the nightmare George Lucas hoisted on an unsuspecting world. The alien apocalypse comes by way of ghostly Phantoms [perhaps my least favorite design in the film, a nemesis that could have been better]. Civilization has created barrier cities to avoid their lethal touch. Eight spirits or life forms have been determined to negate or neutralize the phantoms that are literally killing the Earth. 

An opening sequence, in old New York City, begins with the search for the sixth spirit, a plant, and Ross is accompanied by a military extraction team called Deep Eyes to find it. They infiltrate difficult zones in two of the most incredible mecha designs I’ve ever seen. The Boa is a major delivery ship, robust and powerful. The Copperhead is a slicker, faster insertion craft to deliver the teams. Even some of the sci-fi techniques utilized to drop Deep Eyes into the city are impressive, landing them in a kind of dissolving gelatinous sac. It’s truly fantastic. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has its necessary action moments, but it’s the more pensive and reflective pieces that work just as well. It’s an imperfect film where the narrative meanders and sometimes certain facts within the story’s logic are never made clear, but it’s a film about ideas and schools of political thought that asks you to reflect for yourself. I’ve always been a fan of stories that make me think and consider the possibilities rather than simply provide the answers like an exact science. 

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within took four years, roughly 200 people and 960 work stations to render images for the film. Square had planned on designing the beautiful Aki Ross as an ongoing computer-animated actress [Maxim voted her in their sexiest females list], but with Square’s demise, so came the death of the dreams of another actress beauty and her computer-animating creators. 

The film was accompanied by an extraordinarily thrilling and beautiful score by American composer Elliot Goldenthal [Alien 3, Heat, Michael Collins]. The soundtrack continues to be a prized joy in my own collection, and unlike the film, was met with near universal acclaim for its classical-based compositions. Numbers like Race To Old New York are as breathtaking as the maligned film’s images. Like the delightful The Dream Within, and the soundtrack itself, the film is first rate from start to finish too. 

The film was not received well. The reaction was probably one of befuddlement to a certain degree. Rotten Tomatoes [43% splat] had some interesting contributions. On the positive side, John Venable accurately reflected that the story was “well-written and incredibly smart, but probably a bit too spiritual for Western audiences.” That’s true when you consider part of this survival tale is renewing Earth’s soul or gaia. One writer noted it engaged the “heart and mind.” Of the negatives, Eric Lurio dubbed it “very complicated.” It’s fair to say this is a challenging film, but not overly complex, too obscure or too overambitious for a thoughtful viewer. Christopher Smith offered up the dichotomous nature of the film. “It’s a paradox—it’s at once exhilarating yet exhausting, thrilling yet boring, masterful yet banal.” Scott Weinberg humorously noted, “If humans were made up entirely of eyeballs, this would be an instant classic.” Roger Moore unfairly likened the film to Tomb Raider and The Phantom Menace naming it “moronic.” That is a completely incongruous analogy that makes no sense to me. Roger Ebert, on the other hand, gets it right with his trademark “thumbs up” noting its tradition draws from an era of “Asimov… and Heinlein” [note the villain’s name in the film is Hein]. He called it a “milestone” and “revolutionary,” a film that exists as “the first citizen of the new world of cyberfilm.” All of these interesting assessments aside I disagree with those who found the film derivative or unoriginal. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is surprisingly refreshing in its approach to the genre. There’s nothing commonplace of the sort. It received kudos aplenty on the technical side, but some found the excessive exposition [not uncommon for some Japanese artists] left much unexplained with too many plot holes. It’s funny, but Henry G. Saperstein, a man who often purchased and edited Japanese kaiju eiga pictures in the 1960s for the US market, told Stuart Galbraith IV in Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! that Western “audiences do not have the patience” [p.102]. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to that generalization, and it is indeed a different time, there is some truth to that and it could easily apply here today. 

Despite the fact Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a box office bomb and destroyed a company’s dreams, it remains an intelligent picture that may not go far enough, but I am still mesmerized by it on many levels. It delivers something of a feast of visual details. New information is acquired with each viewing in the spirit of science fiction like Blade Runner. Many wonder, including Ebert himself, if one day they might be fooled or tricked by computer animation to have the human eye believe what is on screen is real. I never understood that, because if computers generated something that completely real the character would be called flesh and blood actors. What would be the point? It’s that sense of otherness and oddness about the images that makes something like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within so startling and so striking. And honestly, the mysteries of life, death and spiritual rebirth or renewal aside, the apocalypse has never looked more beautiful. 


Title: EVANGELION: YOU ARE (NOT) ALONE (2007) 

Director: Hideaki Anno/ Masayuki/ Kazuya Tsurumaki 

The Religious-based Post-Apocalypse. Evangelion: You Are (Not) Alone [2007] is an easy recommendation as a film experience to newcomers and old of the original TV series, Neon Genesis Evangelion, that inspired it. Since we’re talking about apocalyptic films, Evangelion unconventionally fits the bill. It’s not only post-apocalyptic in tone, but pre-apocalyptic in its tale that is both a work of art and genius. Fans of the original series, myself included, will likely refer you to the more comprehensive and detailed character journey that is the twenty-six episode series. I firmly believe it’s arguably the best anime series ever made. 

Evangelion: You Are (Not) Alone is essentially an abridged version of the series first six episodes. The film is the first in a planned tetralogy [four films]. Of course, there has been discussion of the third and fourth films merging into one final picture, but that has yet to be determined. Compression aside, the film captures the spirit and vibe of the series rather efficiently within its short, but effectively implemented, span of time. It’s like a giant, vibrant, thrilling anime rush. 

As it stands, this first film opens with vivacious, beautiful stills of Tokyo-3, a city undergoing both rebirth and disrepair following the apocalyptic Second Impact. The story gives us a magnificent sense of place despite its Japan-based isolation. Tokyo-3, like the one depicted in the series, is like a character unto itself. The overgrowth and vegetation weaves through the wreckage and dilapidated buildings surrounding parts of the city that have been renewed following the devastating Second Impact. Its survival is symbolic of man’s last stand. The crux of the film is that a secret organization, NERV, based underneath the city in a geofront, and a handful of fourteen year old pilots maneuver bio-mechanoid giants dubbed Evangelions against the relentless attack of monstrously powerful, near impenetrable Angels. The creatures are the creators handle on Toho’s kaiju eiga. 

While the film may not be as painfully hand-crafted on the details as those found in the original series, the result of digital animation supplanting hand-drawn , it still however shines more often than not in its meticulous and colorful glory. Six twenty-five minute episodes, originally assembled in 1995, are condensed and repainted with today’s latest technology and computer animating techniques into an exquisitely breathtaking and updated presentation. Nothing can replace the lovingly crafted hand-drawn affection felt in every frame of that original series, but this film is by far and away one of the strongest examples of the possibilities of digital animation outside of anything you’ve seen by Hayao Miyazaki. It is simply flawless. 

Evangelion: You Are (Not) Alone is the brainchild of Hideaki Anno for Studio Khara, which is a splinter studio off the normally original Studio Gainax [Gunbuster, The Wings Of Honneamise, Gurren Lagann]. After all, Anno is revisiting an original work for this film even though it’s his own. What Anno has achieved is not the story of the clichéd teenage pilot and robot, but something much more personal. It is a story of isolation, belonging and ultimately the need for love in a seemingly loveless world. As the title would suggest both, you are alone and not alone. It is a choice. It is the gift of free will. 

Within a sporadic run of exhilarating Evangelion and Angel combat throughout the film is the complex weave of a myriad of wonderfully designed and now beloved characters. It should tell you something about the quality of the initial series and its ongoing popularity for Anno to return to it over a decade later. It’s a money maker, but it’s also damn good viscerally, intellectually and emotionally. It has all of the hallmarks of traditional mecha anime, designed and animated exceptionally, but its superior visuals are built upon a foundation of religious, philosophical and social questions that infect us with an alluring fascination. There’s always something new to discover. 

The film was the fourth largest money maker in Japan in 2007. But like most subcultures, anime gets very little attention by mainstream writers in America as evidenced by a handful of reviews at Rotten Tomatoes. International pop culture circa Japan is of little concern to film critics, but at least two critics had some relatively positive points. Kevin Thomas of The Los Angeles Times thought the plot was hard to follow but “pulls you in.” I would expect that might be true to those unfamiliar with the series, which did precisely the same thing. So it clearly works for the uninitiated as Thomas notes. Someone with only a cursory familiarity with the series will likely embrace it. Mike Hale of The New York Times called it “just another robot movie,” illustrating a genuine lack of understanding and real ignorance, but then I rarely expect much from The New York Times. This is hardly true. The film offers a thrilling world that embraces the journey of one boy’s coming-of-age not only amidst a physical battle but a psychological war of his own. There’s nothing banal about that and, by the way Mike, that Evangelion is not a robot. If he knew the first thing about Evangelion he would have landed that basic fact right of an extraordinary science fiction. Aaron Hillis of the Village Voice called the film “entrancing” even though he never fully embraced it. I suppose you could credit these writers for giving it a shot. In most cases, writers clearly opted not to see it in their select venues or write about it. 

Evangelion: You Are (Not) Alone remains mostly faithful to the initial six episodes for which it is modeled upon,a genuinely faithful adaptation of one’s own work. Interestingly, the second film, Evangelion: You Can (Not) Advance, diverges significantly from the series creating a kind of alternate vision of the original series as it spirals toward the next apocalypse. For fans of the series, these films are a treat, particularly the second picture, but fans of science fiction and all things apocalyptic will be enthralled by the first film and the pure imagination of its creators to generate such a positively innovative tale establishing Evangelion somewhere between the post-apocalypse and the potential for another. The images and animation literally burst and explode from the screen. There’s no reason the end can’t be this gorgeous. 

RADIATOR HEAVEN'S FIVE POST APOCALYPTIC FILMS: 


Title: A BOY AND HIS DOG (1975) 

Director: L.Q. Jones 

Based on the Harlan Ellison novella of the same name, this film begins with the end of the world courtesy of World War IV. It is 2024 A.D. and Vic (Don Johnson) and his intelligent telepathic dog Blood (voiced by Tim McIntire) wander the desolate wastelands scavenging through ramshackle dwellings and avoiding marauding gangs. The film’s vision of a post-apocalyptic alternate future is Social Darwinism at its most primal with people killing and raping indiscriminately. Not surprisingly, food is the most prized commodity and has replaced money as the common currency. A Boy and His Dog features a grungy, lived-in aesthetic that is as much a product of its times as the low-budget it was made for, which certainly adds to the authenticity of this bombed-out future world. Science fiction films don’t get much more nihilistic than this one, right down to the pitch-black punchline that it ends on.


Title: TESTAMENT (1983) 

Director: Lynne Littman 

With the nuclear arms race and the Cold War reaching a climax in the early to mid-1980s, the threat of nuclear war was prevalent on most people’s minds. Two made-for-television movies, The Day After (1983) and Threads (1984), tried to address, in graphically realistic fashion, the implications and ramifications of nuclear war. Testament (1983) wisely goes for a more personal, intimate take on the subject by focusing on the dynamics of one family. Director Lynne Littman spends the time to let us get to know the Wetherly family and the dynamics between all of its members so that we become emotionally invested in them and care about what happens later on. The entire cast is excellent with Jane Alexander delivering an especially deeply moving and heartfelt performance that grounds the film. She provides the film’s emotional core. Look for Kevin Costner and Rebecca De Mornay in early supporting roles. Testament downplays the more sensational aspects of post-nuclear life in favor of a compassionate portrait of a family coping with the unimaginable. This is quietly powerful film still holds up after all these years.


Title: THE QUIET EARTH (1985) 

Director: Geoff Murphy 

If you want to see where the first ten minutes of both 28 Days Later (2002) and the first episode of The Walking Dead come from, look no further than The Quiet Earth, a thoughtful meditation on the post-apocalypse genre. Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) is a government research scientist who wakes up one day and begins to realize that he may be the last man alive on Earth. He drives around town and discovers that he is literally alone – there are no signs of anyone. It is like they all just suddenly and collectively disappeared. Initially, Zac tries to figure out what happened and reach out to others but over time gradually goes mad. Bruno Lawrence delivers a soulful performance in this fascinating last-man science fiction film. He has to carry it all by himself for more than a third of the running time, conveying the arc of Zac’s gradual mental breakdown. The Quiet Earth’s climax takes on a breathtaking metaphysical vibe a la the films Andrei Tarkovsky or the finale of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which means it poses more questions than it answers. 


Title: CHERRY 2000 (1988) 

Director: Steve De Jarnatt 

When Sam Treadway’s (David Andrews) sex toy android Cherry 2000 (Pamela Gidley) breaks down, he enlists the help of an experienced tracker named E. Johnson (Melanie Griffith) to find another copy of his hard-to-find model in the notorious Zone 7, a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The first third of Cherry 2000 imagines a post-apocalyptic world with a shabby neon sheen reminiscent of Blade Runner (1982) and proceeds to mash it up with The Road Warrior (1981) for the other two-thirds. Once they make their way through the wastelands, the film adopts a western vibe as Sam finds Johnson in a post-apocalyptic version of a frontier town with Melanie Griffith’s character the equivalent of a hired gun. There is a nice contrast between the actress’ sexy, girly voice and her badass attitude and look. In a nice bit of casting against type, she plays a hard-drinking, straight-shooting action hero. It’s a good thing that Johnson is so interesting to watch because David Andrews plays Sam as a bland, blank slate, which is particularly evident in the first third of the film when he’s endlessly moping about his malfunctioning robot. Cherry 2000 picks up considerably once Sam and Johnson venture into Zone 7 and run afoul of Lester (Tim Thomerson) and his ragtag gang.


Title: HARDWARE (1990) 

Director: Richard Stanley 

When her soldier boyfriend Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott) comes home from a tour of duty with the head of a robot that he acquired from a nomad, Jill (Stacey Travis) decides to incorporate it into a sculpture/multi-media collage she’s been working on. However, the head re-activates itself and goes on a killing rampage. It turns out the thing is part of a new government project. Set in the 21st century, director Richard Stanley does a fantastic job establishing a world reduced to a radioactive wasteland by populating it with an awesome soundtrack of alt-rock bands like Public Image Ltd. Ministry, and Motorhead (whose lead singer Lemmy even has a cameo in the film as a grizzled taxi cab driver). Much like with Cherry 2000 only better, Hardware shows what you can do on a limited budget but with loads of creativity and a director with a vision. Stanley was way ahead of the curve in anticipating drone robots being used in combat situations. He also doesn’t skimp on the exploitation elements with a bloody, violent climax between Jill and the newly activated robot. The result is one of the best Cyberpunk films to come out since Blade Runner.

THE FILM CONNOISSEUR'S FIVE POST APOCALYPTIC FILMS:


Title: 12 MONKEYS (1995)

Director: Terry Gilliam 

In a post apocalyptic future where decease has ravaged most of humanity, Bruce Willis plays James Cole, a prisoner who ends up working for the government, but what the government requires of him isn’t just any old job! You see he has to travel back in time to gather information about the decease that nearly wiped out all of humanity. Problem is that on this future, time travel isn’t a perfect science and so he is often times sent to the past without really knowing exactly what point in time he will be arriving in! And so James Cole ends up being sent in and pulled out of time through out the whole movie. My main attraction towards this movie is of course that it was directed by the one and only Terry Gilliam, one of my favorite directors. Every one of his films has this chaotic, unpredictable feel to it and 12 Monkeys is no exception. 12 Monkeys has many of the elements that make a Gilliam film special. His hatred for bureaucracy and systems, the individual driven insane by the system, the manic camera movements, the extreme close ups. This is a Gilliam film through and through. James Cole is a tool of the government; they use him for their purposes without any real concern for him; to them his just a guinea pig. This is one of my favorite elements of the film. There comes a point where Cole doesn’t know what’s real anymore, where he hits the borders of sanity. 


This future is a very dark place in which humans live underground because above ground a deadly decease has spread that is mortal to humans. Above ground animals rein supreme, apparently unaffected by the decease. So we get these fantastic images of wild animals walking through empty city streets while humans live below, in the dark, with their machines. I love the visuals that Gilliam concocted for this film. Also, this is one of Willis’s best performances, he isn’t phoning it in here; on this one we really feel his desperation, his madness; a truly great performance, so underrated. There is always a mystery on this film. Who are the 12 Monkeys? Are they responsible for what has happened to the world? Will Cole ever find out anything about the decease? Will he ever find his freedom? 12 Monkeys remains one of Gilliam’s most successful films at the box office, something kind of rare with this auteur of a director. The film also benefits from having Brad Pitt as part of his cast. Pitt also delivers an incredibly memorable performance as a mentally maladjusted individual that Cole meets while in an insane asylum; Pitt as it turns out plays a great loony! He’s actually played crazy people on more than one occasion, but this is one of his best ones. You might also want to check out La Jetee (1962), the French film on which 12 Monkeys is based on. 


Title: WATERWORLD (1995)

Director: Kevin Reynolds/Kevin Costner

This film starts Kevin Costner as ‘The Mariner’. And like Clint Eastwood’s cowboy with no name; The Mariner has no name either, that’s just what you call him. But in a world as messed up as this one, who cares about a name!? What you need to care about is survival! In this post apocalyptic future, the world disappeared when the polar caps melted and the world as we know it was engulfed by water. A few humans survive in small Atolls spread out through the ocean. The Mariner is even more extreme, he survives on his own! Sailing around the world on his boat, he cares for no one but himself. But wait, there’s a little girl with a prophecy tattooed to her back! And the bad guys want her! Will The Mariner learn to care for others and help this young girl and her mother reach land? 


So basically, this is a film that was much maligned upon its original release. The film cost well over 200 million dollars and was a box office failure. Why? Maybe it’s because Costner’s character is played as a major asshole that only cares for himself? One things for sure, he’s not the a-typical good guy audiences where used seeing Costner play. Truth is, after a while you kind of get to hate the guy; and he’s supposed to be the films hero! But ultimately who knows what made this one tank? Maybe audiences where tired of seeing Costner in films? By this time, he’d made so many movies, chances are Costner burned himself out. Sometimes audiences choose to hate a film for no reason whatsoever; so who the heck knows. My take on it is that this is a fun film! I recently had a chance to re-watch this one and I saw nothing wrong with it. It’s a mega production with tons of action and effects. It’s got extended action sequences with planes, boats, jet ski’s flying through the air, things really get crazy! Art direction was pretty cool too, and I think this was a feat, considering a hurricane destroyed all the sets they had originally built for this film. This was a troubled production to say the least, but that’s what makes it all the more amazing to me. They managed to make a cool film none the less. The villain in the film is played by Dennis Hopper. He plays this dictator, who cares about nothing but destroying everything in his path, gathering an army, his machines, and his oil; his precious oil, which, as in many post apocalyptic films, is running out! He keeps people happy with cigarettes and lies. This was a fun performance from the great Hopper. Hey, even Jack Black has a blink and you’ll miss it cameo! This film definitely deserves a second look from film lovers; I recommend giving it a second chance. 


Title: SIX STRING SAMURAI (1998)

Director: Lance Mungia 

Six String Samurai is a post-apocalyptic film that mixes Rock and Roll with the end of the world. In this world, ‘Elvis’ was king. Yes, THAT Elvis. But now, Elvis really is dead and anyone can fight for the kings’ chair; so we get a bunch of different Rock and Roll Bands on their way to ‘Lost Vegas’ to fight for their right to rule the post apocalyptic wasteland. The main character in the film is ‘Buddy’ a young man who is as skilled with his Samurai Sword as he is with his Guitar; which by the way are one and the same! Oh and he’s pretty good at fighting as well; which is how he saves ‘The Kid’ a little kid that decides to tag along with Buddy wherever he goes; kind of like Chaplin’s The Kid (1921) or the kid from El Topo (1970); which is one of the films that Six String Samurai borrows a bit from, at least visually. Through out their journey they meet and fight against other rivaling Rock and Roll bands, mutants, cannibals and an enigmatic character called ‘Death’ who’s all dressed in black and is followed by his cronies; he represents the all powerful Heavy Metal while Buddy is the representative of Rock-a-Billy. Death is looking for his chance to challenge Buddy for the throne, but Buddy is a pretty determined dude, he’ll fight to the death to be King. This is a very low budget film that was obviously a labor of love. It’s stylish, inventive and fast paced which is what saves it. It’s a comic book of a film that in the end is all about pitting Rock-a-Billy vs. Heavy Metal. Six String Samurai ends up being a parody of many things: post apocalyptic films, samurai films and the Rock and Roll lifestyle. 


Title: CYBORG (1989) 

Director: Albert Pyun 

Cyborg was a high mark in director Albert Pyun’s cinematic career; and to be honest, that isn’t saying much because I’m not saying Cyborg’s a masterpiece. What it is, is entertaining; and cheesy; exquisitely so! Pyun might not be the greatest director who ever lived (actually he is often times compared to Edward Wood Jr. one of the worst directors who ever lived) but he does seem to be a filmmaker who enjoys making post apocalyptic films. I’m not saying they are good films, I’m just saying, he loves making post apocalyptic films. For example, Pyun got a chance to work with legendary actor Rutger Hauer in a film called Omega Doom (1996), unfortunately, it turned out to be a boring and extremely uneventful film with some terrible effects work. Trust me when I say, it’s not worth your time. He also directed Radioactive Dreams (1985), a film about a couple of dudes who spend most of their lives locked up inside of a bunker after an atomic attack on the United States. They live in the bunker until they are 19 years old! When they finally decide to return to the real world it’s a wasteland filled with cannibals and mutants! This is one of his better reviewed films (and one of his firsts!) unfortunately, as of my writing this; it hasn’t been released on DVD yet. He is also responsible for the Nemesis (1992-1996) series of films, which also dabble with the post apocalyptic theme; but it was Cyborg that was Pyun’s most successful film. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that Van Damme was attached as the films star; back when Van Damme was just starting to become a major action star. In contrast with Pyun’s other films, this one is action packed and has a glimmer of a story to it! Van Damme is a bounty hunter that is hired to protect a cyborg that carries a cure for the plague that’s annihilated most of humankind. He has to safely transport her to a group of scientists in Atlanta who are working on the cure. The film is a road trip movie of sorts, with Van Damme having to confront and fight a series of villainous gangs across the wasteland. Most of the film is composed of tough muscular dudes kicking the living daylight out of each other. There’s not a lot of dialog on this film, just a lot of grunts, but hey, at least you won’t complaint about being bored. Vin Diesel made a film that copied the formula presented in Cyborg, trying to improve on it but not succeeding very well, that film was Babylon A.D. (2008). 


Title: PARASITE 3-D (1982)

Director: Charles Band 

This film is a very low budget flick with lots of flaws, which is kind of standard operating procedure for many post apocalyptic films, but I have fond memories of seeing this one in theaters when I was 6 years old; I remember being completely terrified by it. On the way home, I was seeing slugs moving around the floor. Serves me right, this post apocalyptic monster movie was my first experience seeing a 3-D film! Little did I know back then that this was one of Demi Moore’s first adventures into acting! Actually, it was her second feature film ever. Also, this was Charles Bands third directorial effort, he would go on to direct a couple of theatrical released films like Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983) which by the way was also a 3-D film and many straight to video super low budget features like Trancers II (1991), Doctor Mordrid (1992), and most recently Evil Bong (2006). Parasite was also one of the first films in which make up effects legend Stan Winston worked his magic, he was the guy who designed and created the parasites we see on the film. You see, this is a film about this scientist who somehow creates a deadly parasite which he carries attached to his body for most of the film. He’s trying to find a way to destroy it without getting himself killed. Make no mistake; this is not a well made film. Half of it doesn’t make sense, the script is a joke, wich is kind of good in a way, because it will keep you giggling. Actually, Parasite serves as a perfect example that Italians weren't the only ones good at ripping off films like Mad Max. Still, Parasite has its moments, mostly due to Stan Winston’s make up effects work. Some instances in this film will remind you of better films like David Cronenberg's Shivers (1975), George Miller's Mad Max (1979) and even Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), but remember, this is simply one of those films that rips offs better films while trying to do its own thing. In fact, this is bottom rung, low brow entertainment my friends. But (and that’s a very big BUTT) if you enjoy cheap, low budget yet somehow lovable films, Parasites the ticket for you.

"A storm is coming..." - Terminator (1984)

31 comments:

Jack Thursby said...

Epic post! Not sure what to comment on first. Glad you got Six String Samurai in there - loved that film. So odd and full of homages to other films but it stood on its own. Jeffrey Falcon's performance was top notch.

The case for Mad Max 3 was compelling put but I still consider it the weakest of the series. I found the final train chase way too reminiscent of Mad Max 2 and I thought they could have made more of Max's age more than just putting white tints in his hair. That said it's still a classic film and the titular Thunderdome has entered the pop culture lexicon.

The one I really need to track down is The Quiet Earth - but I'm struggling to find a DVD copy.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Glad you liked the epic post Jack! Six String Samurai is a fun film in deed. Interesting thing about Jeffrey Falcon, the actor who plays 'Buddy' is that he also wrote the film himself! On top of that, all the fights were also choreographed by him! This is a mega talented guy, odd to learn he's never done anything else after Six String.

As for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, I am with SFF on this one, I'm actually of the mind that its one of the best in the series, actually, to tell you the truth I like it a bit more then the second one. But I love all three films for different reasons. To me Thunderdome is the most expensive, the one with the biggest production values and the best action sequences. I also loved the message behind it.

These kids wanted to believe Max was their Jesus Christ, their saviour In reality, he was just crazy old Max, and he made it clear to them. He's not some god, he's just Max. Still, he manages to lead them toward a new dawn with hope of a new beginning. I love those last frames where we see the cities all destroyed by the apocalypse...and the kids narrating how they will start anew.

And that train chase...amazing stuff! And Thunderdome itself! I dont know how people can find anything bad to say about it, I really dont understand what they dont like about Thunderdome. I feel the same way about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I feel it's epic and fun fun times, and the most entertaining in the series. But I get it, people hate how over the top it is. But with Thunderdome, I dont get it. To me it's a flawless Mad Max film.

By the way, The Quiet Earth is available on DVD through Netflix in case you got it.

Thanks for commenting Jack!

Jack Thursby said...

Yeah, that's a nice way of looking at it. For me I love Mad Max 2's more bleak outlook of post-apocalyptic life, the way the community betray Max by making him drive what turns out to be a truck full of sand still gets me every time.

For me, Thunderdome felt like Miller pulling back and realising he couldn't just make another bloodthirsty film so you get these softer elements. We meet the group of innocent kids, we see the terrifying Masterblaster is nothing more than a hulking simpleton and Entity spares Max's life.

Also, just wanted to say I'm glad to see Richard Stanley's Hardware on the list. Sure, it does have some flaws and it's a little jarring on first viewing not knowing that the film is never going to leave the apartment. But when you get over that it's a really rich and vivid film. The bit when Mo gets injected with the drug and starts tripping out is stunning. There's no other word for it.

The Film Connoisseur said...

The thing with Thunderdome is that originally, it wasnt going to be a Mad Max movie, someone wrote a film about a bunch of kids living without parents in the wild, somebody read it, and thought the kids could be lead by Max and boom, Thunderdome was born. Also, we have to take in consideration that it was the first Mad Max film to be funded by Americans, so of course, you know how Hollywood loves to soften things up for the masses. Also, George Miller didnt direct the whole film, he only concentrated on the action, while George Ogilvie directed the drama sequences. Maybe had Miller directed the whole thing, and if it had still been an independent production, we could have gotten a grittier film.

Still, to tell you the truth, I love it exactly for what it is. I still get a gritty version of the future, Bartertown is an awesome creation filled with the craziest characters, the villains seem more fleshed out the previous films, I actually love how some characters seem completely evil at times and then they do a switch and come off as good guys....

Agree about Hardware, for such a low budget production, I think Stanley got away with making a decent film that stands on its own to this day. The film definitely has a cult following. Rightly so, the film kicks ass. As you mention, it's claustrophobic, but thats what makes it what it is. It feels like Blade Runner mixed with Terminator, but with a tight budget.

By the way, I want to thank J.D. and Gordon for choosing such a good selection of films and giving their esteemed opinions on them, the blog post turned out great guys, I'm sure it will be read for a long time to come!

I enjoyed seeing Damnation Alley in there, that film scared the living shit out of me when I saw it as a kid. It was one of the first films that presented the idea of a post apocalyptic world to me, along with Escape From New York, it was one of those films that scared me simply because of its premise. It's a film I will be revisiting soon, considering its finally available on DVD thanks to Mr. Corman re-releasing all of these old classics.

And Cherry 2000! I want to re-watch that one so bad! Haven't seen it in years! I remember the scene where she ends up hanging from a car...and the whole sex robot thing...but not much more than that. Looking for forward to checking it out again.

Thanks again for such an awesome post guys! Looking forward to working with you guys in the future again!

LLJ said...

I'm kind of surprised you didn't choose the 1997 End of Evangelion instead of You Are Not Alone.

le0pard13 said...

This was an epic post, alright. Bravo to all.

@ SFF: I knew we were related! Why else would we have the too often maligned REIGN OF FIRE in common. As well, I had a feeling you'd have BEYOND THUNDERDOME in there. An under appreciated film, for sure.

@ J.D.: Yea for A BOY AND HIS DOG! Another underrated film -- btw, next week the American Cinematheque here in L.A. will be screening this at the Egyptian Theatre, with Harlan Ellison there for a discussion of the film. We also have an admiration for HARDWARE. Love that one.

@ Film Connoisseur: 12 MONKEYS, yes! Love that Gilliam film. And I admire your WATERWORLD pick, too, not that I enjoy the film as much as I do your appreciation of it. You got me convinced to give it another go. Lastly, kudos for putting this together. Great idea and execution.

RVChris said...

Wow, amazing post!
I'll comment on the movies I have seen. I've heard of most of the other ones before just haven't gotten around to seeing them yet (I actually have The Quiet Earth on DVD).
Reign of Fire - I liked it too. I don't think post-apocalyptic fantasy had really been done before and it was a fun ride. It's kinda funny that Christian Bale would later play John Connor in Terminator Salvation, another leader of a rag-tag group of humans fighting non-human enemies post-apocalypse. Thanks for pointing out the Star Trek connections, I never realized that before.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome - Although I like the first two Mad Max movies better, I still really like this one and think works as part of a great trilogy. I agree that this one gets more crap than it deserves (I included it in my underrated sequels post), I guess because of the children.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within - It's been awhile since I've seen this one but I remember liking it. I think that if they didn't use the Final Fantasy title it would've been better received as most people were expecting a spiky haired dude with a huge sword summoning dragons, and therefore disappointed when they got something completely different.
A Boy and His Dog: This is one of the earlier post-apocalyptic films. I liked it even though it is pretty strange at times. Apparently Harlan Ellison (who wrote the book) hated the last line and said it was "chauvinistic." Ellison is known to take things too seriously, I just thought it was meant to be a funny pun that fit in with the dark humor of the movie.
Cherry 2000: This movie was fun at times but I felt that overall it could have been better. I remember there being a subplot about marriage being very expensive or something (I think this was the scene with Laurence Fishburne, it's been awhile since I've seen it) but they either deleted most of it or didn't bother to explain it further. Tim Thomerson was great as usual!
12 Monkeys: I love this movie and it's probably my favorite Terry Gilliam film with Brazil being a very close second. I've seen La Jetee and it's a pretty interesting short film, though quite different from 12 Monkeys besides the basic plot.
Cyborg: I actually saw this one not too long ago as I wrote about it on my blog back in November. It is my least favorite of this bunch but while it was pretty bad it was still entertaining. I've never been bored by a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, and while that may not seem like a ringing endorsement, I think that boring the audience is the worst thing a movie can do. This is the only Albert Pyun movie I've seen and although it doesn't make me want to seek out more of his movies it wasn't *that* bad and I think it's more memorable than something like Babylon A.D.

The Film Connoisseur said...

@LLJ: I've never seen the Evangelion movies, but they are on my must watch list now!

@leopard13: Glad you liked the article man!

@RV Chris: I never did understand the hatred for the tribe of kids...I mean, it's actually a good idea, an Oasis in the middle of the apocalypse. Children of the Atom bomb...for me it works, and it gives Max a purpose in his isolated, lonely life. He becomes a father figure to them all.

I never did get why the Final Fantasy film was so different from the game, I mean what was the point of calling it Final Fantasy? As a stand alone sci-fi flick it's good, but as a Final Fantasy film, it isnt.

As for Cyborg, yeah it's a bad movie, but it's also very post apocalyptic which is why I decided to include it in here. I mean you can really smell the end of the world on this one. Pyun is one of those directors who just loves making post apocalyptic films so I had to have him in there somewhere. Most of his movies are terrible to be honest, but this one is the most watchable of all. I want to re-watch his Nemesis films though, at least the first one.

Thanks for commenting everyone!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

TFC

First of all - I loved the entire post. Splendid job. Great, classic opening image. A true icon of the post apocalypse.

My sincere thanks for the inclusion on this big bomb of a post.

Enjoyng the feedback here.

I appreciate Thursby's nod for "compelling." Thank you. Glad it was that.

I really enjoyed your additional remarks on MM III Franco. Nice to see we are on the same page with that one. It is a terrific film. I agree - flawless. Certainly, there is no way for the third film to exist and have the same impact on its own without the previous two classics, but would it have received the same kind of, well, resentment had the other two never existed? It's a fantastic film on its own. Anyway, I go to the end of time convinced of it and grow to respect and appreciate it more with each new viewing.

There are powerful messages indeed and additionally, you're right on your remarks about Max with the children Franco. I would add that Mel Gibson plays his third Max film character just right caught somewhere between survival and learning to simply go it alone, still finding his heart and managing to provide something to those kids despite not professing to be their hero or savior or wanting the job. There is deep himanity there buried beneath the post-apocalyptic rubble of his heart and soul.

So I really didn't feel Miller pulled back but evolved and the character evolved and he actualy pushed the envelope in ways that gave us iconic moments and concepts. It's an unexpectedly epic and eventful finale to the series.

But I understand why seeing some emotion creep back into the film series might seem like a softening, but Max came from a place of love in the first film and I think those kids reawaken him to an extent.

I'm also with you on your visceral reaction to Damnation Alley. Great point Franco. That film simply scared the bejesus out of me when I saw it. I was at just the right age to be frightened mad by the concept so well said.

LLJ- Boy, fair enough on The End Of Evangelion. Your point is a good one. That's still very much considered a "film" and it is explosively apocalyptic in ways You Are Not Alone doesn't quite attain. I guess I went with You Are Not Alone to give people a taste of what they are missing and give people a starting point to look at the series. The End Of Evangelion while brilliant would land people at the ... end. Awhile that is THE END and a great apocalyptic end at that, they should know a lot more going in.

Still, The End Of Evangelion is a favorite of mine as well. Great idea.

L13- Reign Of Fire. Right.! I'm so with you. Why is it scorched ;) by the critics so badly? It's such a great little apocalyptic film!

RVCHRIS! I really loved your points about Final Fantasy. Speaking of swords, it was like a double-edged sword trying to use the Final Fantasy moniker eh?

I mean, you are so right. The film had nothing to do with the video game which I actually now very little about and relaly deserved a different title out of respect for the fans, but the producers no doubt wanted to pull in a certain fanbase to generate buzz because it looks nothing like Advent Children.

Still, I don't know how much better the film would have done. I suppose it couldn't have done worse. A better title? Hmmm. Interesting.

Thanks again to Franco and J.D. for the colaboration. I really enjoyed the concept and would welcome putting our mad minds together again some day.

I will be back to comment on your posts later.

Love the comments! Keep them coming. All the best, sff

Jack Thursby said...

Yeah, The Spirits Within was a pretty enjoyable film but it also had some problems. Don't get me wrong, it had some stunning sequences and a really interesting story thread but everything was overly explained. As if the filmmakers were scared the audience would get confused if they didn't spell everything out clearly.

And I think that was partially because it was designed for a Western audience. It really needed to cut back on the dialogue (or at least make it a bit more naturalistic) and some of the characters felt too cliched. Aki was the only character that came across as fully formed.

The Film Connoisseur said...

SFF: Collaborating with you was great, you have a passion for films that is admirable! But we're all a great bunch of film freaks! Ha!

So yeah, Mad Max 3, your right, Max came from a place of love as you say, when the first film opens, he is a family man, with a kid and those moments where we see him sharing time with his family show us the real Max. He went "Mad" only after that happiness was taken from him, therefore, it feels just right when he decides to take back his role as father and help these obviously unexperienced kids out. I too think it was a natural evolution of the character, fits right in with the first film actually!

By the way, I am so pumped up for Mad Max: Fury Road! Have you seen the pics of the cars they have ready to go? Miller has already had these cool post apocalyptic looking cars for the films...it's going to kick so much ass! I got my eyes on that project thats for sure.

The Film Connoisseur said...

@SFF: Good to see some love for the Ladmaster on your review for Damnation Alley, your right, the vehicle does upstage the actors and is kind of the actual star of the film! I remember loving that about it, actually, I put the Landmaster in my 40! Memorable Movie Cars article a while back.

That scene with the roaches was so effective when I was ten years old, ha, I need to re-watch and review this one for this post apocalyptic month!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hi Jack

I know what you mean about Final.

Actually, as you probably know yourself, a lot of the Japanese anime, comes off a bit talky at times. The writers definitely enjoy exposition and I think that may be a part of what you are talking about. And, perhaps, they wer elooking to overly explain things. Even then, some people were still confused, but it's a thoughtful picture where the parts are indeed strong. I really loved the Aki character myself.

TFC! Amen. I concur completely. And there's no question Max came full circle which is why it remains one of the finest trilogies ever. I, too, look forward to Fury Road. Will Mel be making an appearance? I kin dof hope so but I suspect not.

As for the other films by my colleagues here.

J.D.
I really want to see A Boy And His Dog. I always have.

That film Testament also intrgues me a great deal. I know TFC mentioned Costner appeared in it with his fantastc review of The Postman. I loved your look at this picture and it's another to keep on watch.

The Quiet Earth is another I have wanted to see and well, you've covered three that I've been hesitant on. This should be enough of a tribute to them for me to check them out.

I never cared for HArdware much when I saw it in theatres years ago, but I was young and I think I may ned to reevaluate that as well.

Excellent being apart of this post with you.

TFC- Likewise, you continue on with additional selections.

Loved your look at 12 Monkeys, a film that continues to fascinate me on a number of levels. Gilliam is quite a director.

Waterworld, as you say, another really entertaining film that suffers from the very things you note I'm certain, because it was never as bad as critics would have us believe.

Your look at Cyborg was interesting too. I can't say there is much by Van Damme that would intrigue me, but this ranks close to the top next to JCVD. Maybe I will make it happen.

And Parasite is an interesting choice to close it out. Very good. I have not seen it and can't say that I will with so many good selections you noted above that one.

Exceptionally good fun here. Cheers for opening my eyes to entries I've missed.

All the best, sff

J.D. said...

Sci-Fi Fanatic:

Some excellent and unpredictable choices! I like it. I was pleasantly surprised you picked REIGN OF FIRE, a film that got dumped on when it came out and isn't very highly regarded but I love it. Fantastic, pulpy fun. I really enjoyed the friction between Bale and McConnaughy's characters - it gives the film an added intensity and rivalry that only enhances my enjoyment of the film. It's weird seeing Gerard Butler in the film after now seeing him so many high profile films. Too bad he didn't have too much screen-time.

Also surprised that you included MAD MAX 3 and spoke so highly of it. I remember enjoying it well enough when it first came out but, for me, it hasn't aged too well. I still think the Thunderdome stuff is amazing and easily the best sequence in the entire film but the kids Max encounters later on tend to get on my nerves. To be fair, I haven't watched the film in ages but I think that the reason I'm so harsh on it is that THE ROAD WARRIOR is such an amazing film that it's reputation and legacy is hard to compete with.


The Film Connoisseur:

As a HUGE Gilliam fan, it was great to see you pick 12 MONKEYS. I love that film and it was great to see both Pitt and Willis cast against type at the time. They really rose to the challenge and Gilliam got some incredible performances out of them. I also love the use of the architecture of Philadelphia throughout - it really added to the neo-Gothic atmosphere.

Great to see SIX-STRING SAMURAI in there. I love this film also! I have it on DVD and pull it out every so often. Despite the annoying little kid sidekick, this is a pretty cool film and I love all the rock 'n' roll references mixed in with the post-apocalyptic genre.

Nice choices!

Thanks again for asking Sci-Fi Fanatic and myself to participate. It was a lot of fun and I liked the challenging of narrowing down the choices to only 5 films. So much to choose from and it forced me to really think hard about my selections. Good stuff, my friend!

J.D. said...

Jack Thursby:

I love HARDWARE. I have a soft spot for Cyberpunk fiction and films and this is one of THE best of that particular genre. It's amazing what Stanley did with so little money.


le0pard13:

Oh wow, I'd LOVE to hear Ellison's thoughts on the film after all these years. I know he wasn't crazy about the ending. Good to see that you're also a fan of HARDWARE.


RVChris:

I remember reading about Ellison's reaction. Yes, he was not crazy about the ending.

I agree that CHERRY 2000 certainly has its flaws, esp. the first third where it is a little slow to get going but once we meet E. Johnson and they go through the wasteland, the film picks up considerably.


The Sci-Fi Fanatic:

I'd be curious to know what you think of A BOY & HIS DOG. It certainly is an acquired taste kind of film.

TESTAMENT is an excellent film and very understated in many respects. It focuses much more on character dynamics and the relationships between each other as opposed to spectacle and the "big picture."

THE QUIET EARTH is incredible. Such a great film and quite influential as evident by the visual homages in both 28 DAYS LATER and THE WALKING DEAD. The ending gets me every time.

If you get a chance, check out HARDWARE. The new version released on DVD/Blu-Ray is excellent and we finally have Stanley's version of the film available.

The Film Connoisseur said...

SFF: Yeah, 12 Monkeys is one of the greats on Gilliam's repertoir. I just love how manic the camera movements and the pace are on that one, frenetic. The film almost doesnt let you breath!

With Six String Samurai it's lots of style all the time, and after a while you can get to feeling like it's all going nowhere...but this kind of film is more about making things look cool. I admire it because they did a lot with very little.

And I agree with J.D., Hardware is worth a re-watch. I've grown to appreciate it more with each watch.

Testament was a shocking film to watch, it's interesting because it doesnt focus on the big scale of the thing. We dont see the bombs destroying cities or even special effects at all. This was more a story of a family and how they take the chaos that ensues on their suburban, everyday american neighborhood. Loved the scenes with Lukas Hass, his story was so touching, sad.

I'll be reviewing A Boy and His Dog in the coming days, that's the one I am most curious for! But a lot of the movies on this list will be getting reviewed...great list dudes!

Thanks again!

The Film Connoisseur said...

Hey, SFF, weird thing about Reign of Fire: I rented it the other day but was bored to tears by it. I liked the stuff with the guys who threw themselves out of choppers to stop the dragons, but the rest of the film somehow bored me to tears! I didnt hate it, but I wasn't pulled in by it. I'll be reviewing it soon, but dont know what it was about it, I need to nail down what it was that didnt grab me, it might have been the characters that simply. I couldnt connect with them for some reason. They felt kind of cold and disconnected.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

That's funny. Well, on that one I'm sorry to hear that. I've seen it several times and love it and clearly I'm not alone on that picture.

I am surprised.

J.D. said...

I'm with SFF on this one. How could you not dig this film? I would think it would be right up your alley? Yeah, it does have its lulls but you've got Bale and McConnaughy trying to out-Alpha Male each other and some pretty tasty dragon battles. I think the problem I have with it is that the direction is kinda lifeless. In the hands of a more stylish director (like Christophe Gans for example) this could have been a top notch pulpy action film.

The Film Connoisseur said...

It could be the direction as you say, but also, the fact that the dragons never have a visceral interaction with the protagonists...it's like these CGI dragons flying in the background, but they never get up close and personal with the humans, they are always far away.

But I loved the idea with the dudes who jump off choppers to capture dragons, it kind of felt like a whole movie could have been made out of those guys alone!

The director, David Bowman mentioned that he wanted to make a b-movie with A-list production values...he got A-list actors...but the film kind of falls short for me, the dragons needed to be more in your face for me.

I didnt hate it, I just didnt find it all that exciting for some reason. Might give it another chance soon.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Another thing that bothered me about Reign of Fire was that so many years have passed since Dragonslayer (1981) that I was expecting this one to surpasss it...I mean with the advancements in technology I was expecting superior dragons.

Unfortunately in my opinion no Dragon movie has ever surpassed Dragonslayer yet. The Dragons in Reign of Fire have no personality...as opposed to Vermithrax Pejorative (the dragon in Dragonslayer) who was one mean mother. You could see the evil in that Dragons eyes...not so in Reign of Fire's creatures.

J.D. said...

I agree with you re: DRAGONSLAYER. No one has surpassed that in terms of dragons. Should be interesting to see what Peter Jackson does in THE HOBBIT as that features a dragon rather prominently.

The Film Connoisseur said...

You're right, that should be interesting, and now that you mention it, the dragons in The Lord of the Rings trilogy were pretty cool, but still, Dragonslayer is so visceral with it's depiction of Dragons...the creature really gets right there in your face, you can almost feel the heat...and the evil in it's eyes...and it looks tangible, like it's right there. Dragonslayer's remains my favorite dragon movie, so when I saw Reign of Fire I was expecting something superior, and though the dragons do look cool, they just didnt have that tangibility to them.

Kaijinu said...

So glad you guys included Hardware in your list! This flick needs more luvin'!

The Film Connoisseur said...

Yeah Hardware's pretty awesome, if The Terminator and Blade Runner had a baby, it would be Hardware. Only on a really low budget, but honestly, I love how cramped and claustrophobic everything feels on that one.

What I loved about the Hardware DVD is that it included some of Richard Stanleys earliest attempts at making films, I mean short films he made when he was just a kid, pretty cool stuff. Very imaginative, you could tell all he needed was money.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Oh and by the way Kaijimu, heres a link for my review of Hardware, wrote it a while ago:

http://filmconnoisseur.blogspot.com/search/label/Hardware%20%281990%29

Damn-Deal-Done said...

When the Wind Blows (1986) should get an honorary mention. Very different take on the end of the world. Very poignant.

Wonder if anyone can enlighten me about a film I have been trying to remember for a long time now. It is set in a post nuclear setting. The two characters live in bunkers and when they leave they wear gas masks. there's a memorable scene in which silhouettes/shadows of fish swim over the buildings. This makes me think it could even have been a short film. I really don;t have much to go on. Maybe this is early 90's or mid/late 80's.

Cheers

Damn-Deal-Done said...

The film was 'In The Aftermath (1989)'. The film takes parts of Mamoru Oshi's Anime Angel's Egg (1985) and blends them with live action film set in a post apocalyptic world. Was a tough one to remember. I must have seen it when I was like 13 and just getting into Anime.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Thanks for the recommendations Damn Deal, I've always enjoyed Mamoru Oshii's films, though they can be slow at times, they are always a delight for the eyes and soul.

Damn-Deal-Done said...

Think slow is an understatement. I would always credit Ghost in the Shell as a great anime but I do find his films difficult to watch. Patlabor 1 and 2, Jinroh, GitS 1 and 2. All feature some amazing action sequences, but the parts in between were always two people walking around very slowly whilst explaining the plot to each other. Yes they do tackle deeper themes but I never thought the balance worked, except for GitS 1.

Another great post apocalypse anime I love is 'Fist of the North Star'. The original anime, not the series. It gets slated a lot but if you see the original language version it really is a great film. Heavily influenced by Mad Max.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

I've never seen the Fist of the Northstar anime, but I did review the feature film a while back, I enjoyed that movie even though it was obviously a low budget effort for such an epic story. Here's the link to my review:

http://filmconnoisseur.blogspot.com/2012/05/fist-of-north-star-1995.html

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