As middle age approaches, I've found myself battling an intractable foe -- the ever-expanding belly. For some reason, I can't seem to shrug off the calories like I used to, so mornings find me sweating away the calories. I've taken to sussing out odd or obscure movies to watch while I workout, anything to keep exercise from getting boring. And while trolling top-ten lists for viewing ideas, I stumbled across The Quiet Earth, a 1985 post-apocalyptic SF film shot entirely in New Zealand.
On July 5th at 6:12 a.m., the world ended. Researcher Zac Hobson woke mere moments later. Upon leaving his room, he finds no armed uprisings or nuclear fallout, no devastating plague or marauding mutants, only a city empty of all people and utterly silent. A search throughout the deserted metropolis turns up only a single clue at the scientific center where Hobson once worked, a blinking prompt on a screen that read, "Project Flashlight complete." Seems the global power grid he and his colleagues had worked on wasn't as harmless as they initially thought. Hobson begins taking steps to contact any survivors of what he calls The Event, broadcasting a looped message from a radio station and painting billboards with his contact information. But as the days stretch on, he begins to wonder: Could he be the last man alive?
Alas, anyone who picks up a DVD of The Quiet Earth will have that question quickly answered. Perhaps this is one production where the actors and actresses' names -- note the plural -- shouldn't be printed in plain sight. But some surprises still lay in store. The film revels in unexpected developments, some stunning, others bewildering. The initial scenes of Hobson wandering around abandoned shopping malls and highways strewn with empty cars possess an eerie beauty. But whenever director Geoff Murphy tries to amp up the intensity, the proceedings turn absurd. One would expect a man in Hobson's situation to undergo some mental strain. But to don women's lingerine, bust into a Catholic church with a shotgun, scream, "If you don't come out I'll shoot the kid!" and blast the crucified Christ above the altar? Yeah, not so much. Most pundits also dislike the ending, which is so unexpected it seems at first like the dictionary definition of a non sequitor. However, careful viewers may take note of the subtle clues that Murphy sprinkled throughout the narrative, clues that make the conclusion feel more appropos, and that may be worth the price of admission.
(Picture: CC 2009 by Marshall Astor - Food Fetishist)