31 August 2010

The end is nigh

Last June, I wrote about 2012, a disaster film that I eventually watched when it was released in November. I enjoy the genre. Depictions of humanity trying to survive the possible end of humankind due to some form of calamity draws out the strengths and weaknesses of people.

The September 2010 edition of Scientific American, is a special issue focusing on 'The End'. They have published an online only article on their editors' picks on 'visions of the apocalypse' in film and literature. What a great list it is. I have only included the ones that I have read/seen (refer to link above for original list). My additional comments in italics.
1. Astronomical catastrophes
Day of the Triffids (novel 1951)
A beautiful meteor shower brings widespread blindness to all who watched it, causing civilization to descend into chaos—resulting in the release of bioengineered plants that move around and attack people.

Armageddon (film 1998)
NASA sends oil-rig workers on a mission to blow up an asteroid that is on course to destroy all life on Earth. An overbaked action version of Deep Impact. But it has Bruce Willis!

Deep Impact (film 1998)
The world braces for the impact of a seven-mile wide comet that threatens to cause mass extinction. A touchy-feely version of Armageddon. This one has Morgan Freeman. As the President!

Sunshine (film 2007)
The sun is dying, so a heroic crew travels by spacecraft to deliver a massive bomb to reignite the Sun. And the crew appear to be tripping!

2012 (film 2009)
Neutrinos released from a massive solar flare melt Earth's inner core, triggering a chain of catastrophic natural disasters, and survivors struggle [to] take refuge on a small number of arks. Bad science but nevertheless fun. None of the survivors deserved to live.

2. Biological Calamities
A Sound of Thunder (short story 1952, film 2005)
A time-traveling hunter inadvertently crushes a butterfly during an excursion to the Jurassic period. It causes a succession of “time waves” to batter present-day Earth—and its embattled human occupants—and wrenches reality onto a different evolutionary path. Think baboon-dinosaurs besieging your local gas-mart. A time-travelling 'butterfly effect'.

I Am Legend (novel 1954, films 1964 (The Last Man on Earth), 1971 (Omega Man), 2007 (I Am Legend))
One lone man is immune to a pandemic virus that ravages humanity. He struggles to develop a treatment to save the infected.

The Andromeda Strain (novel 1969, film 1971, TV miniseries 2008)
A satellite returns to Earth with a deadly microbe that wipes out an entire town except for a baby and an old man.

The Stand (novel 1978)
A deadly virus is accidentally released from a research lab, wiping out humanity. The story chronicles the confrontations that occur among the survivors.

12 Monkeys (film, 1995)
A terrorist release of a virus has devastated civilization, forcing the remainder of humanity underground. Scientists send a convicted felon back in time as part of an effort to stop the release. I still haven't worked this one out.
28 Days Later (film 2002)
A chimpanzee harboring a deadly virus escapes from a research lab and infects the entire population, resulting in societal collapse. The film focuses on four uninfected people and their struggle to survive. The sequel '28 Weeks Later' was not as interesting.

Reign of Fire (film 2002)
Dragons suddenly populate Earth and wipe out all people in their path. Small bands of survivors across the planet struggle to evade the dragons and fight for their lives.

3. Geophysical Disasters
Soylent Green (film 1973)
The planet has warmed significantly and is overpopulated. Food is scarce; humanity clings to survival by consuming a processed food called soylent green, which contains a horrifying secret ingredient. And 37 years later, Scientific American still don't want to spoil the ending!

Waterworld (film 1995)
The polar ice caps have melted, leaving civilization underwater. Small bands of survivors drift across the waters seeking land. Kevin Costner and it flopped at the box office.

The Core (film 2003)
Earth's inner core has stopped rotating, and its magnetic field dies. A heroic crew must travel to the center of the planet and detonate a nuclear bomb to restart the inner core and save humanity.

The Day After Tomorrow (film 2004)
A series of severe weather events brought about by climate change triggers a devastating ice age that prompts survivors to flee to warmer latitudes. Bad science, but the effects were stunning.

4. War
On the Beach (novel 1957, film 1959 and TV movie 2000)
A nuclear World War III has wiped out most of the planet, except for a band of survivors on Australia. This story follows the lives of these ordinary people as an impending radioactive cloud nears their refuge, bringing certain death. A very slow way to die, unless there were alternative ways.

Planet of the Apes (novel 1963, film 1968)
Astronauts crash land on a distant planet with a civilization of walking, talking apes that are hostile to humans. Sequels to the 1968 movie include Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Escape from the Planet of the Apes.

Mad Max (film 1979)
Set in the wastelands of post-apocalyptic Australia, the film tells the story of a vengeful policeman and his clashes with a violent motorcycle gang. Sequels: The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985).

The Day After (film 1983)
Fictional account of the devastation wreaked by a nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

5. Machine-Driven Takeovers
Logan's Run (novel 1967, film 1976)
In a futuristic society, every aspect of people’s lives is controlled by a supercomputer, and, to keep the population and planet's resources in equilibrium, no one is permitted to live beyond the age of 21.

The Terminator (film 1984)
In a post-apocalyptic future, intelligent machines devise a plan to exterminate the remaining humans. The film led to several sequels, a television series and two gubernatorial victories in California.

The Matrix (film 1999)
Machines harvest humans for energy by keeping their minds trapped in a simulation of the late 20th century. Sequels: The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions
I would probably add to that list, Damnation Alley (film 1977).

Perhaps a screen-writer might combine all the elements of different catastrophic into the ultimate disaster movie. Not a parody either.

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