Mindy Newell: Ain’t No Cure For The Summertime Apocalypse

transperceneigeIn this last of meeting places
/ We grope together
/ And avoid speech
/Gathered on this beach of the tumid riverThe Hollow Men • T.S. Eliot

Yesterday, Mike and Martha went to the movies in New York City to see Captain America’s Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and a host of international stars in Snowpiercer, a post-apocalyptic movie based on the 1983 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacque Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette. It’s been generating a lot of buzz here in the States while having already earned, according to Entertainment Weekly, $80 million in the overseas market. (EW profiles the film this week in an apocalyptic-themed issue – along with the cover story of the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, due in 2015). I didn’t go because I had already penciled in some Grandma time with baby Meyer on my calendar, and although a story of the remnants of humanity careening around the Earth in a train sounds right up my summer movie alley – environmental disaster brought, politics and class warfare, and some excellent visual effects – visiting with my grandson, who is already nine months old – almost a year? Already? – is a no-brainer when it comes to Mindy’s afternoon delights on a fine early summer day.

So hopefully next time, okay, gang?

Anyway, reading the “doomsday in the movies” issue of EW while sipping on my breakfast tea and inspired me to tell you about some of my favorite “end of everything” about all the great movies and television shows that have centered on the destruction of us and/or the Earth and which ones of them are my favorites.

Top of the list in making me feel true dread: On The Beach.

Originally a novel by British author Nevil Shute, written after he had emigrated to Australia and published in 1957, it is the story of people living in and around Melbourne and how they deal with the coming, inescapable annihilation of the human race as the radioactive fallout from a total nuclear war in the northern hemisphere a year earlier inexorably expands to cover the globe, slowly drifting across the equator and into the southern reaches of the Earth. (I always wondered where the title On The Beach came from; thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that it refers to a Royal Navy phrase that means “retired from the Service,” which is very apropos as the main character is a U.S. Captain in the submarine service who is co-opted into the remains of the Royal Navy fleet. It also refers to T.S. Eliot’s poem and the lines quoted above.) The book was adapted into a 1957 film written by John Paxton, directed by Stanley Kramer, and which starred Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins, along with British and Australian actors, and Shute’s story of hope mating with despair to give birth to fatalism is brilliantly enacted.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, the movie from which the phrase “pod-people” was born, is based on Jack Finney’s 1954 The Body Snatchers. It was adapted twice, first in 1958 and then twenty years later in 1978. I like both films, but I prefer the original, which starred Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, and was directed by Don Segal, which, while differing from Finney’s novel, is much more faithful. In the fictional town of Santa Mira, California, an alien invasion is taking place – people are being replaced with doppelgangers devoid of any human emotion or individuality. An allegory of paranoia in the post-WWII years about – pick one: (1) conformity; (2) Stalin, Soviet Russia, Mao-Tse Tung, China and communism in general; (3) dehumanization and isolation; and (4) McCarthyism (a bit of irony here in that Kevin McCarthy, who plays the heroic local doctor in the film, has the same last name as the onerous Joseph McCarthy, Republican Senator from Wisconsin and the instigator of the notorious hunt for communists and other “disloyal” Americans in the government and the U.S. Army.

The Andromeda Strain: Released in 1971 and based on Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel of the same name, it is one of the first stories to deal with the danger of out-of-control viruses and/or bacteria, although in both the book and the movie the deadly microscopic organism is alien in origin. In it a team of government doctors and scientists race to discover a means to stop the spread of a virus brought Earth by a crashed satellite. So far the only survivors are an elderly man and an infant. The thing that is scarily prophetic about this film is that we, the human race, us, are currently creating our own super-bugs by the insistent and pandemic use of antibiotics in everything from the food we eat to the dishwashing liquid we use to clean the plates we eat from. Combine that with the lack of new R & D by Big Pharma (not one of them is developing any new antibiotics or anti-virals to fight the increasingly resistant strains of bacteria and viruses prevalent around the globe) because they’d all rather make quick gains on the stock market exchanges producing new erectile drugs, and we’re not going to need an extraterrestrial bug to kill us all.

And finally (at least for this column):

You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!””

Yes. Planet Of The Apes.

In 1968 I went with my boyfriend to the DeWitt Theatre in Bayonne to see a movie with a very weird title, but my parents had encouraged us because Charlton Heston was in it and because both had read the book by Pierre Boulle, who had also written The Bridge on the River Kwai, which had been made into a (now-classic) Oscar-winning film.Not really knowing what to expect, Michael and I walked out of the theatre two hours later with mouths agape.

Everybody knows the story, and of course since the debut of the original film the whole idea of a “planet of the apes” has been derailed into a cheesy franchise, a couple of really lousy remakes, and (I presume) a steady paycheck of royalties for Roddy McDowall until his death in 1998.

Because of this, the impact of the original has largely become forgotten in the mists of celluloid history, but, let me tell you, folks, that final scene, with Charlton Heston collapsed on the shore of a dead sea in front of a beached, half-buried Statue of Liberty still bravely holding her torch high above her starred tiara, banging his fists into the ground in total shock and hopelessness and anguish…

It’s a killer.