So…since I’ve done a few posts on books and movies and music related to history, why not look at some stuff that hints at the future? Not all of these take place at the ‘end of the world’–many are dystopic, meaning ‘frightening’ or ‘anti-utopian’. The list is alphabetical. The first great dystopian movie was Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’. You’ll find that here–don’t worry.
28 Days/Weeks Later: Released in 2003 and 2007, they explore the effects of an animal-borne virus that spreads from monkeys to humans because of animal-rights terrorists. In terms of end-of-the-world movies, 28 Days Later does one big, important thing for cinema–it changes zombies from shambling, slow-moving creatures into frenetic berserkers that descend on victims like packs of wolves or schools of piranha. 28 Weeks Later takes up the story after Britain has recovered–until it doesn’t and the virus spreads beyond Britain, setting up a third movie…that never got made.
Blade Runner/BR 2049: Neither movie did well in theaters, but both are film-noir classics, created 35 years apart. Based on Philip Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the movies take up the theme of what it means to be human–and whether an android can be human. The world is dark, the Earth slowly dying from atomic war (the book) or unknown causes in the movies. The movies make things interesting with the central city of the story–massive, sprawling, and a complete mosh of cultures and languages. For philosophy, the book is better–for imagery of what a world falling to pieces could really look like, the movies are better.
Blood of Heroes: Known outside the US as ‘The Salute of the Jugger,’ this is a movie about a sports team traveling the wastelands, gambling on winning for things like food and supplies, moving from one poor area to another–until they get a chance to get back to the underground city where wealth still exists and they have a chance at glory against a professional team. They never tell you what the disaster was that caused the world to go to Hell, but you can play the game they invented for the movie. Info is here.
The Book of Eli: From 2010, it has Denzel Washington in a nuclear wasteland heading west towards Alcatraz where the people there are trying to save the best of the past. He’s fighting to get through a post-apocalyptic ‘Wild West’ where Gary Oldman runs things. People either love the movie or they hate it. There aren’t many in between on it. I have a personal odd relationship with the movie–it’s the last one I watched with my mom before her final trip to see my sister where she died a few days later.
Clockwork Orange: Ahh, Malcolm McDowell. What a weird, wild movie by Stanley Kubrick–England dominated by thugs (droogs) and violent criminals. One is arrested and subjected to psychological torture/conditioning to change their behavior…becoming a political tool in an election campaign with no one realizing he has been ‘cured’ of his conditioning. Honestly, the most disturbing part of the film is the juxtaposition of the violence with the classical music:
Dawn of the Dead: This is part of Romero’s series starting with ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and was filmed in 1978. It’s redone in 2004, but don’t watch that version. Dawn of the Dead sees a few survivors occupy a mall, looking to survive the Zombie Apocalypse there with the mall’s food and services. …except it wouldn’t be a post-apocalyptic movie without things going wrong, bikers rampaging without care across the remains of the world. It’s also a great movie about consumerism and the mindlessness of American customers (the mall, sadly, no longer exists).
WARNING–>this is low budget…but with that said, Tom Savini did amazing work with the zombie guts!
This discusses both versions of the movie…with a bit of snark.
Death Race 2000: From my childhood (1975), one of my favorites–never mind that I was too young to even understand the nudity-sort of stuff. This was wild cars running over people on the streets for points! It’s an interesting take on modern America–a president who sits on a big throne (in his White House–in China!), controls the population through the media and the creation of a driving superstar: Frankenstein. There’s a resistance movement, too, fighting back against massive government and repression. It’s got some big stars including David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, and Mary Woronov, as well as Gopher from ‘The Love Boat’. After you watch it, you’ll start counting the point-value of pedestrians. Trust me.
Escape from New York/L.A.: Escape from New York was the first R-rated movie I went to. It takes place in 1997 after New York is turned into the US’s only maximum-security prison where prisoners are left to fend for themselves. It takes place at a time where the US is at war with the Soviet Union–with vital information for peace negotiations, the President crashes (due to terrorists) inside New York and only war hero-turned-criminal Snake Plissken (Have you heard of him? I heard he was dead.) can get him out–and he’s got 24 hours to do it. EfNY has great actors, great action, and a twist at the end.
LA is a different sort of movie. With this one, John Carpenter’s take is different. This is the dystopia of Hollywood/California life. Rather than the gritty urban scenes of Escape from New York, this is more…”cheesy” (for lack of a better word). You’re going to feel the oddity of California, get surfer-movie and Disney references in it as well. I’m one of the few people who finds both enjoyable. Many who see LA first like it a great deal–but those who love the ’81 New York movie and watch it over and over have their eyeballs bleed if LA is on a screen nearby.
And Escape from L.A.–it’s cheesy, but realize that’s Peter Fonda and intentionally so…not everyone understood that when the movie was released.
I Am Legend/The Omega Man/The Last Man on Earth: All of these are based on the same novel, I am Legend, by Richard Matheson. They are all about one man immune to a plague that has turned the rest of humanity into vampires. By day, the man hunts and kills as many vampires as he can while at night, he hides while vampires try and track him down to stop his murdering of their kind.
The most recent remake featured Will Smith. Before him came Charlton Heston and before him, Vincent Price, so it isn’t like these were schlubs starring in the films–and yet all three are just ‘okay’. I prefer the Heston version, but it hasn’t aged well–it looks like the 1970s. Price’s version looks like it was low-budget (which it was) while Will Smith’s looks the best/most timeless–but it just feels like it’s a generic attempt at a blockbuster summer movie. This is the trailer for Heston’s. See what I mean about it looking dated?
In Time: This isn’t the greatest movie in the world. I get that. It is entertaining though if you ignore the economics of it all. Basically when you become an adult, you get a clock that starts running on you. If it reaches zero, you die. When you work, you get paid in time–so the more time you have, the longer you live…and no one ever ages past 25, so everyone stays beautiful, too…unless you die.
Thus, the very wealthy accumulate time/manipulate the system to further their wealth and power while the bottom of society, the working class, can do nothing other than work/slave away. Yeah, it’s pretty Marxist…but in terms of a modern take on dystopia? Why not?
The Last Chase: Lee Majors from ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ (a silly title now in the era of athletes with $300 million contracts) is a race driver in an America left without oil where cars are banned. Top that off with a plague that killed a bunch of people. Now it’s time to escape to freedom (California) with a young boy and pursued by the government…and the only way to catch a race care lieft–a F-86 Sabre jet with the last living jet pilot.
I get that it isn’t a great movie…but was okay when I had the flu back in ’82 or ’83. It is interesting though in showing American fear of running out of oil after the OPEC crises of the 1970s.
Logan’s Run: From 1976, this movie needs to be remade! It’s about a post-nuclear war society where no one is permitted to live past 30…amusing since the Baby Boomer generation’s slogan was ‘trust no one over 30’. Of course, it’s been 40 years now and the Boomers have changed their beliefs–since they hold most offices. Now, of course, they cynically proclaim the wisdom of their advanced age. Go figure. Like Heston’s ‘Omega Man’, the costuming and envisioning of the future don’t hold up well which takes away from the plot and ideas.
Mad Max (series): Starting as a low-budget Australian film, Mad Max proved popular enough to spawn a 1980s trilogy–Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome and then a 21st century film, Fury Road. In Mad Max, there’s a semblance of order left as the oil runs out and people begin fighting for resources, but by the time of The Road Warrior, that’s gone and you get pure post-apocalyptic Australian wastelands. Big ideas, big action…Thunderdome is disappointing mainly because it’s good, not great like the others.
From the Mel Gibson ones:
From Tom Hardy’s:
Matrix (series): The first of these was great. Then you got ‘Reloaded’ which was good and ‘Revolutions’ which was all right, I guess (you also have the animated ‘Animatrix’ which has several small stories and is an interesting thing to watch). The problem is like many innovative movies–the sequels can’t capture your original amazement at what you see. The movies take place in a world where the world is actually inside a computer, except for humans resisting machine control…except that it could all be within another computer which seeks to erase everything as glitched. The original remains a great movie to leave on if you see it. Laurence Fishburne is great, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder, “Why do I see him and think ‘Why isn’t Samuel L. Jackson in this instead?'”
Also important–those special effects in this scene are now two decades old.
Metropolis: One of the first dystopian films–maybe the first as it goes back almost a century to 1927. It was long for its time–more than two hours, and it grossed about 2% of its production costs, about as big of a bomb as you can get. Yet here we are talking about it. It’s about the son of the city’s controller who tries to unite the workers and the city management for the good of all, a bridging of classes. In Weimar Germany, this was a large issue with a great divide between the wealthy, the middle, and the poor and communists. There’s an early 1980s release of it where they put in modern rock music from Freddie Mercury (yes, that Freddie Mercury). That doesn’t do anything for me, but I do like Queen’s song, “Radio Gaga,” which uses the film for inspiration.
Clip from the film:
Queen’s music video:
Planet of the Apes (Charlton Heston era): I don’t think they ever expected to make sequels and a TV show out of this. It’s a fascinating look at space flight and the horror of nuclear war and what happens when astronauts are thrown far into the future, humanity is destroyed, reduced to being animals, as various species of monkeys evolve and create a new world order. That’s where the astronauts come in–the apes have never seen a talking human before. They need to be destroyed. The sequels are entertaining and also serve as allegory for things like racism.
There’s one big problem with the movies and you have to suspend disbelief. Thousands of years in to the future and the apes have evolved and amazingly….they speak English. This (sort of) gets ret-conned by one of the later movies where an ape is taught to speak circa 1970 or so, but still….
Planet of the Apes (21st century series, and specifically NOT the 2001 remake by Tim Burton): Completely inspired by the first–and designed to be a movie series, the premise here is a serum that increases primate intelligence, but with genetic manipulation that causes a virus to cross over to humans which kills 99% of humanity off. This leaves equal numbers of intelligent humans and monkeys and a conflict between wanting power and wanting peace and trying to co-exist. What is nice is that they set up as prequels (mostly) to the originals. You can take these, then watch the first movie and they link together quite well.
Ready Player One: Based on the novel, it’s a world where everyone’s caught up in virtual reality. It has a ton of inside jokes regarding video games and ’80s cultural references. It’s not my cup of tea, but most people I know have found it entertaining. I think it’s just too obvious in terms of the power/downtrodden, wealthy/poor storyline. I appreciate movies with a message, but this is a bit too obvious.
RoboCop: The funny thing with this is that it’s got a sleazy city government led by a corrupt black mayor…which is exactly what happened 10-15 years after the movie was made. In an effort to cut costs, the city creates a cyborg cop to patrol the streets (conveniently with an attractive female partner…). It portrays a dying city, rife with drugs, crime, the works…which is pretty much what Detroit was becoming/became. The thing is, what you don’t get from this Dystopia–the hope of recovery. Detroit’s in better shape than it was 20 years ago, finally heading in the right direction.
Rollerball (James Caan version): This is the first Dystopian movie I can remember watching on ‘Channel 100’, the precursor to HBO. It’s the story of a man named Jonathan who plays the world’s greatest sport of rollerball for the Houston corporation. The sport is about the team, that no one can rise above as an individual–yet Jonathan does, so the movie becomes the story of the attempt to destroy Jonathan.
It’s still a great movie. The technology is a bit off–the movie is 40+ years old, but they get some things quite right–multiple, giant-screen televisions covering action from every possible angle, etc. I watched it recently with my daughter and she also thought it was a great movie. Ultimately, this is how you create a movie that’s fun/interesting to watch while presenting a moral dilemma for pondering later.
Also important–avoid the remake at all possible costs. You’ll never get those 90 minutes of your life back. It’s not even good as background noise.
Soylent Green: Charlton Heston was on a roll with these movies, having also starred in ‘Planet of the Apes’ (see above). This is the film adaptation of the Harry Harrison novel, Make Room! Make Room! which is the story of a cop in New York in a world overpopulated and out of resources, where people are assigned roommates because there just isn’t anywhere else for people to go.
It’s a dingy movie with a great, gritty feel. It builds slowly towards its emotional payoff and just like ‘Rollerball’, it entertains you without beating you too hard over the head with its message. Given the way corporations are governments are raping the planet right now, at a certain point, we still have to wonder–is this a possible future for us a century from now?
The trailer gives you a good feel for the movie–and spoils nothing.
They Live: One of my favorite movies of all time. The funny thing? It doesn’t have a movie star in the key role–it has a professional wrestler, the late Rowdy Roddy Piper. It’s another movie where the plot centers around the wealthy in a conspiracy to keep the poor oppressed and to exploit the planet’s resources. The catch is–they are in cahoots with aliens who are disguised and walking among us. The Resistance develops a way to see the aliens, Piper gradually gets involved, and it’s a roller coaster from there. Done by John Carpenter, it was in the middle of a serious roll of great films for him–‘Big Trouble in Little China,’ ‘The Thing,’ ‘Escape from New York,’ and ‘Christine.’
GREAT SCENE (and the origin of a line a whole bunch of people use….):
Not related to being a dystopic movie, Carpenter should be appreciated for his ability to make entertaining movies on low budgets, without relying on massive special effects. I also love that you can see a lot of the same actors in the various Carpenter films.
Zombieland: Over the past twenty years, zombie movies and products have saturated the market. There are hundreds of them. ‘Zombieland’ is different, a great deal like ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ except that SotD takes place in a normal, every day world–and concludes in a normal world with just a few changes to it. Zombieland takes place in an America where society has collapsed, leaving stragglers and survivors scattered. That’s nothing new for apocalyptic movies. What makes ZL different is that it maintains a feeling for human reaction/relationships and a great sense of humor, breaking the 4th wall at points. What happens to cultural icons when society dies? Will survivors seek out places like Disney as comfort? What happens when you realize you’ll never be able to eat your favorite snack again? –those aren’t issues you really ever see dealt with in a zombie movie.
(How many movies can combine silliness, violence, Metallica–all before the credits are done?
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