December 5, 2008

That's great, it starts with an earthquake

52689L.jpg Now that we've gotten vampire films out of our system, let's tackle a new genre: the post-apocalyptic. I'm ready to start psyching myself up for Fallout 3 (and the coming 40% unemployment rate) with a romp through the most gritty, whacked-out, disturbing, hilarious, and all-around awesome survival-in-the-wasteland stories.

The essential elements of the genre are set out by io9, including but not limited to scarce resources, warlords, degraded culture, forced breeding, cannibalism and pee-drinking. The big picture, of course, is society reorganizing itself on the ruins of collapsed civilization. Sorry, On the Beach fans, but that barely makes the cut. The apocalypse can be a single sudden event or a long, slow decline, but the post-apocalyptic (or the unfolding of the apocalypse) should be the center of the film, not a brief interlude as in the Terminator series (at least until Salvation).

I've been into this genre since I was a kid, when I devoured books like The Stand, The Tripods, Z for Zachariah, Warday and the very odd Riddley Walker. For whatever reason, I was put off by The Day After, probably because it was so heavily pushed as a Cultural Event. We may even have been required to watch it for school.

I have my own favorite movies, none of which, I admit, are exactly high art: Escape from New York, Road Warrior, Logan's Run, 12 Monkeys, Idiocracy. I've never seen the reputed classic A Boy and his Dog, though I've just bumped it up the Netflix Queue, along with 28 Days Later, which some people seem to count as more post-apocalyptic than zombie.

Which brings me to other great films that I'm not sure should really be included. Technically they seem to meet the criteria, but they feel like different genres to me: Dawn of the Dead, Planet of the Apes, Children of Men, the Matrix.

For the record, Waterworld is not as bad as it was made out to be at the time (it has some intriguing ideas and looks cool, though the script and acting are pretty, well, soggy). Costner's true apocalyptic crapterpiece is The Postman, possibly one of the funniest movies ever made.

Should we talk books? For pre-apocalyptic novels, of course, there's our own Kevin Shay's The End As I Know It, now available in paperback for your holiday gifting, but that's a different category. If you have not read Y: The Last Man, it's a must. One of the best post-apocalyptic visions in any medium. Incredibly thought-provoking, exciting and funny as shit. I will confess to having never read A Canticle for Leibowitz, a fact that appalls my Christian friends who know that I have read Left Behind and a dozen similar trashy propaganda works masked as end times thrillers. (For that matter, I've read the genre's secular equivalent, A Handmaid's Tale, which is better written, to be sure, but no less obnoxious, smug and delusional.)

Nor have I read The Road, and at this point I might just (gasp) wait for the movie.

So what do you recommend? After throwing this out to my Facebook circle and browsing a few online lists, there are some titles I'm totally curious about: The Blood of Heroes, Damnation Alley (not on DVD, sadly), Le Dernier Combat. I've heard mixed things about I Am Legend, though I'll probably see it eventually.

As for TV, I wanted to like Jericho, but it was so goddamn lame. With that in mind, can anyone vouch for Showtime's Jeremiah (baring in mind that I never got into Babylon 5)?

Finally, having seen The Day After Tomorrow, I know 2012 is probably gonna be dreadful, but this is one of the most snappy trailers ever.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


i can't believe you left tank girl off that list. sure, it basically sucks, but that's part of its charm.

i read your book this week and thought it was great.

@that chick: Never saw it, though I read at least some of the comics.

What about Silent Running? It's post-apocalyptic, but doesn't take place on earth. Disqualified?

As far as books, howzabout Simak's City?

Yeah, Silent Running (which I totally dig) seems to fall into that not-quite=right category. For me, the genre needs to have the whole remnants of civilization, rise of the new order thing.

Don't know City. But can't believe I forgot JG Ballard's High Rise, which I would love to see made into a movie.

I think Dead Man would count as post-apocalyptic. That would be my first choice.

And Hitchhiker's Guide, of course.

@Ingrid? The Jim Jarmusch film? Amazing movie (and great soundtrack) but never thought of it as post-apocalyptic. I guess I see what you mean, but an apocalypse has to be societal, not individual.

Hitchhikers definitely not. There's an end of the planet, but not of "the world."

My favorite book in the post-apocalyptic genre is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. Given its structure, it would make a great three-part miniseries.

Try "Mockingbird" by Walter Tevis. 3 of his books were filmed ("The Hustler", "The Color of Money", and "The Man Who Fell to Earth"), but "Mockingbird" never made it to the screen.


@therblig. Sounds good, but perhaps more dystopia than Post-A? More blurry lines, to be sure, but sounds very reminiscent of Brave New World, et al.

probably, as i recall, a correct assessment. well then, how about "Good News" by Edward Abbey? a little closer to the post-a.

For '80s teevee post-apocalypse there's always BBC's 'Threads'

threads: truly disturbing for any pet owner...or any pregnant woman...or anyone

"Planet of the Apes" is totally a post-apocalyptic movie! They'd just gotten well past the pee-drinking stage before the action starts. Maybe it's time for a pre-quel.

As long as we're name-checking dystopias that are ripped off of Brave New World (and aren't they all?) one of my faves is This Perfect Day (Ira Levin) which does make reference to a quasi-apocalyptic world war that preceded the action.

City is an interconnected series of short stories, starting just before the end of the current world. It's a little like Planet of the Apes, I guess, only with dogs instead of apes. "Jupiter" is the only story I still remember vividly.

@Cornelius. The thing about Planet of the Apes is that it's SO post the apocalypse as to render the apocalypse irrelevant. There is no remnant of human society left (I'm ignoring the sequels). As the title states, the whole thing might as well take place on a different planet. I'm not sure you can fit a film into the Post-A genre when you'd never know that it technically belonged there if not for the last two minutes.

Wasn't there some scandal about The Day After involving a scene showing someone reaching for a condom?

Correction: I find upon using the Google that the City story I called "Jupiter" (it takes place on Jupiter) is actually called "Desertion," and that contrary to my statement, I also vividly remember (but had completely forgotten for decades until just now reminded of it) the story "Huddling Place" with its searing depiction of the state of agoraphobia.

I think most Americans associate the Mad Max series with the second film, Road Warrior and, sadly, the third film, Thunderdome. The original though is a truly frightening film about regular people's lack of power against violent roving gangs after an apocalypse, and the resulting loss of humanity for those regular people when they need to fight to survive. I saw Road Warrior and Thunderdome many times on cable (and thought they were desperately silly) before I saw the original Mad Max which is very different and a really great movie.

Spider Robinson's "Telempath" comes to mind, though I can't recall if I read that or the novella on which it's based, "By Any Other Name."

Actually Mad Max takes place before the Apocalypse, it's the Australian Death Wish. But still really very good.

One of my favorites as a kid (this genre is why I stockpile weapons and buy but never eat canned food) was DefCon 4 but I bought it recently and it wasn't near half as nasty as I'd remembered it. The Road is a pretty quick read and even though I found it ultimately disappointing it has some use that might be worth hitting before the movie.

HG Wells' "The War in the Air" (1907) is about the [nuclear!] apocalypse and briefly touches the Post-a world at the end, already well-formed.

Doomsday (2008) is a fun take on the whole scene.

And of course Huxley's "Ape and Essence" is a baby-killin', forced-breedin' classic.

BTW, my parents didn't let me watch The Day After but did let me watch Threads. Whatever their reasoning (Threads is on PBS and it's from England) they were sure right. TDA is awful.

Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is awesome. Not "fun", but very un-put-down-able, moving, depressing as hell. Didn't think of it until I read Anonymous' comment about Road Warrior.

Damnation Alley:
You will be forever haunted by sound of giant, skittering cockroaches.

I finally read THE ROAD just a few days ago, and I will second Binky's nom. It's silly to wait for the movie since you can probably read it in less than two hours. As Bink says, it's not fun, but I promise when you turn the last page you'll want to go find your kids and hug them, which should probably be one of the criteria for great apocalyptic novel.

@Anon. Honestly it's been a long time since I've seen the Mad Max movies. I love both the first two (the less said about Thunderdome the better) and recall liking Road Warrior more, but it's possible there was something going on in Mad Max that I missed when I was younger. I'll put them both on the old queue.

@TG. My parents also approved of Threads more than TDA, I believe because they felt TDA sanitized the effects of nuclear war (they were pretty hardcore anti-nukers). Also, because TDA was essentially a stupid soap opera with mushroom clouds. Like Jericho, now that I think about it.

Is Doomsday really worth a rental, even for kicks. It looks frenetic, loud, wildly imprecise and so derivative that it doesn't so much seem to reference its antecedents as try on their famous images like a child playing dress-up. But I could be wrong about that.

@Kevin. I'll get around to the Road eventually, I guess, but frankly, if I wanted to hug my kids, I wouldn't be spending so much time judging anticaption entries.

I have a sick fascination for this type of stuff, which probably started when I was in elementary school and read "The Girl Who Owned a City," which was post-apoc fiction for kids. Cheery!

"Threads," the British film from the 1980s, scared the crap out of me. It will make you ill. Watch it. "When The Wind Blows" is also mid-80s, though animated, but still spooky. There are a lot of Aussie films that are not Mad Max based which came out in the 70s/80s which are post-apoc or apoc and worth seeing, like "The Last Wave" and "Chain Reaction" (note: uncredited, 10 second appearance by young Mel Gibson). A Kiwi film from around the same era is "The Quiet Earth."

Book-wise, "Wastelands" came out earlier this year and is a collection of apoc and post-apoc shorts; check out "What Niall Saw" if you can find it, and "Warday" is excellent. I've just finished James Kunstler's "World Made By Hand" which has all destruction off-camera (as it were) but is an interesting exploration of post-tech world living.

That's what I got off the top of my head.

@Randee. I read the graphic novel of When the Wind Blows back in the day. I still think about them crawling into their garbage bags for "safety." Spooky indeed.

I recall seeing the Last Wave a long time ago, but other than a few images and a general sense of foreboding, it didn't stick with me. I should check it out again.

By the way, I rented 28 Days Later last night and literally had nightmares. Totally worth it, though. Will 28 Weeks Later give me seven times the nightmares? What about 28 Days, starring Sandra Bullock?

The music in 28 Weeks Later, is wonderfully haunting. Of the songs in the soundtrack to that movie, my favorite is the song Code Red, with Go Go Go, played immediately behind it. And speaking of "Red", everything Red Queen tends to fascinate me, like the The Red Queen (played by Michaela Dicker) in the Resident Evil film series), as a state-of-the-art holographic AI super computer security avatar, for the Umbrella Corporation. The Red Queen, is of course, based on the Red Queen theory.

Acting quality in science fiction has been notoriously second, even to bad acting in porn. Yet the superb acting by Edward James Olmos as Admiral of the Fleet William Adama in Battlestar Galactica, makes that epic, easily one of my post-a favs.

28 Weeks Later isn't nearly as good. It's not horrible and certainly worth seeing at some point, but I would push it down the queue a ways. It's only going to seem worse if you watch them back-to-back.

@RC. Jeez, how could I have forgotten BSG. That show does the "ensure survival vs. preserve humanity" dilemma as well as any post-A work I can think of.

Thanks for the plug, which I just noticed. One of these days I really must go through and document my collection of Y2K-sploitation novels written in 1998/99, in which the world really does end, in a variety of hilariously unreadable ways.

Meanwhile, Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon is a lot like The Stand, but better; the original novel The Postman, by David Brin, is actually quite good; Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank is one of the original nuclear-age takes on the scenario.

As Kevin mentioned above, McCammon's Swan Song is pretty great. As is The Quiet Earth, a flick from New Zealand, I think.

The Walking Dead comic series is about a zombie apocalypse, but it's very character driven and focuses more on the humanity and inhumanity of the survivors than it does on the zombies. It's still very gruesome and gory though.

Josh Glenn (used to be at the Globe, has blogged for i09 I think) covered some of this ground earlier this year. See here and here.
Maybe nothing too new, but the book cover/movie poster art at the links is at least worth a click. The cover for _The Girl Who Owned a City_ is hilarious and terrifying.

Also, _The Omega Man_.

Doomsday is all that but it is still worth it. It also seems (to me) that beneath the fun it is a pretty amusing comment on Scottish nationalism. It is less chaotic than it seems. The first half hour I thought it was the worst thing I'd seen in ages but eventually you realize there is a sound consciousness at the helm and it warms up to (intentional) hilarity.

And thinking of the other films it blatantly rips off I am reminded of Reign of Fire, which was better than it should have been.

Also, Zardoz. And hell Comes to Frogtown. For completists.

'Starship', by Brian Aldiss, then, if 'Silent Running' doesn't qualify. It does indeed contain, on an interplanetary spaceship, the remnants of the civilization that sent them on a multi-generational journey. Some catastrophe happened, and now the ship is an overgrown jungle.

gosh I'm off the internet for five days and I miss all the fun! OK, my two cents on one of my favorite topics...

For me, "the Road" stands above all others because it actually manages to convey the emotional impact of the apocalypse. One of the reasons we find the genre fascinating is because there's a part of us all that longs for the restraints of society to be blown up in a big mushroom cloud. Right? Who doesn't want to roam the outback blowing up punks with a souped up dodge Dart? The road will cure you of that. Without being graphic or overly violent, it completely devastates you simply through the relationship of a father and son. The apocalypse is merely the background and the personal, emotional consequences are the real story. A level above because it's ultimately high art.

I also really enjoyed discovering a canticle for leibowitz last year. It's just a very different slant than anything else. It's really about the dark ages and the role the church has in preserving culture through these upheavals, but it's very multi-layered and surprising. I also read the sequel published 50 years later (and the only other book written by the author). It deals with the reemergence of tribalism, another frequent favorite of the genre.

Too duds that haven't been mentioned, but somehow were still worth watching for me where "I am legend," and "the happening." The will Smith vehicle devolved into the standard zombie freak fest, but started with a good last man alive motive. (too bad all the ford product placement made it a little ridiculous). The happening had such a great trailer followed by such bad reviews, I only just caught it on netflix last week. Like "the day after tomorrow" it suffers from trying to make a good horror movie out of global warming, but it did do a very good job of creating that day when everything falls apart and everyone tries to get out of the city at the same time. I was pretty excited.

Ok, guess I'll put some of the stuff mentioned here on my flix/reading list. Maybe i'll even try doomsday.

but one last thing... you're saying the PLANET OF THE APES IS REALLY EARTH???!!!!! HOLY FUCK!~!!!~!~

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