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May 17, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #176 - The Quiet Earth

The "last man On Earth" storyline has been played out a few times in sci-fi history, but rarely with the conviction that lies within The Quiet Earth. Produced in New Zealand in 1985, The Quiet Earth is a powerful sci-fi film that overcomes several faults thanks to an ambitious script and a fantastic performance by co-writer/star Bruno Lawrence. Modern film fans will immediately see some similarities to 28 Days Later (right down to the "guy wakes up totally naked to the camera when we meet him" aspect of each film), but The Quiet Earth is pretty much the tonal opposite of Danny Boyle's horror epic.
Lawrence is Zac Hobson, a scientist working on something called "Project Flashlight" in an underground lab - that is until he wakes up at 6:12 one morning and realizes everyone else has vanished from the world around him. What follows in the film's first act is a collection of Zac's reactions to his newfound status as "the President of the Quiet Earth" - which primarily consist of representations of his changing emotional state and a ton of interesting shots that show how small he is compared to the empty city that surrounds him.
Zac is an interesting character primarily because we can tell that there had to be plenty wrong with his mental state before "the event" that left him to fend for himself in the world. I've no doubt that most of us would go a little mad if we woke up alone in the world, but Zac seems to slip into previously untapped desires and urges very quickly. Part of his journey seems innocent - one of my favorite bits shows Zac admiring a model train set, followed immediately by a grinning Zac taking a full size locomotive for a spin - but it does not take the film long to show Zac slipping away from reality. It takes less than a half hour of screentime for us to find Zac wearing women's clothing and addressing a crowd of cardboard cutouts that includes Adolf Hitler and Richard Nixon, and that's gotta be some kind of record.
The character is obviously unhinged, and that's interesting in it's own right. But Lawrence's powerhouse presence really takes the film to a new level during the first act, in which he works to come to terms with his predicament. The commanding presence should remind genre fans of actors like Klaus Kinski who dive into a role and never look back, because Lawrence never seems to waver in his portrayal of a man who is on the edge of extinction. The first 35 or so minutes of the film are gripping and bizarre, and almost all of that is thanks to the man in the lead.  It wouldn't be wise for the film to put this much of a bizarre burden on Lawrence for the entire film, however, which leads us to the film's second and third major life-changing events.
As you might ahve guessed, Zac isn't alone entirely. The film's most touching moment is possibly the one where a female survivor named Joanne (Alison Routledge) finds Zac's location. After a brief standoff, the two instinctively move into a comforting embrace, and the relief that each has to feel the presence of another seems to pour off of the screen. The film follows with a brief reprieve from insanity for Zac and Joanne, but this too is a short lived feeling of peace.
Everything changes for a third time when Api (Peter Smith), an imposing Maori man finds the duo and becomes the third member of what's left of humanity. Two guys and one girl is always a crowd - one that's been exploited by movies of all genres - and tension quickly develops. Zac is also increasingly concerned that another major change is coming thanks to his old project, which leads to a few awkward sequences where the film struggles to balance the sci-fi threat and the desires of these three characters. It seems like the easy way out for the film to go ahead and create a love triangle, but when you think of what's at stake here (the fate of humanity, for example) it makes sense that these people would get caught up in a few petty games. I don't mind the story adding this tension - it's essential in Zac's journey - but it throws a few cogs in the machine as we try to follow what's going on with the experiment that may have ended humanity.
It doesn't seem like I should say that the film goes through another major change - I think I've said enough about the plot thus far - but if there's one thing that becomes completely obvious throughout The Quiet Earth, it's that that Zac Hobson is something of a catalyst for mayhem. There are some pretty fantastic theories out there about what The Quiet Earth actually means (this is one of the rare times when I've actually found intelligent and interesting discussion on an IMDB message board, if that means anything) and the film works as a fantastic "AND THEN...." movie. (Meaning, of course, that every time the movie seems to be slowing down the screenwriters said "and then this happens!" and started the film down a new path.) At the middle of every development is Zac Hobson, and Bruno Lawrence always seems to give him the perfect response to whatever is going on now in the film's twisty universe.
It's abstract and it's bizarre, but The Quiet Earth sure knows how to keep a viewer's brain moving in the best way. It's not always profound - that love triangle and the tension that comes from it seems to fill too much of the final 40 minutes - but it always seems to have one more trick up its sleeve. If nothing else, the ambiguous ending is a jaw-dropping addition to the film, and the discussions that can be had after the credits roll are well worth the 91 minutes that precede them. The film's unpredictable nature, beautiful cinematography and fantastic lead performance are all great reasons to seek out The Quiet Earth, which still stands as one of the most unique science-fiction classics of the 1980s.

(If you're up for it, here's the full movie on YouTube. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, go watch the trailer. It spoils everything. This is a movie you must see blind.)

5 comments:

willy jerk-off said...

I just liked the bit at 49:55 when that sexy bird turned around and showed her gorgeous arse, its a shame the geezer was still in the shot because that spoilt my 'attempted' wank when i tryed to jerk-off to it. What a lovely arse that bird had.

willy jerk-off said...

Imagine buggering that gorgeous bird senseless (in 1985 at the time "The Quiet Earth" was made, not as the bird is now obviously), talk about being in heaven ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Hey, The Mike, Talking of 1985, would you agree that when Pauline Hickey was 17 in 1985 she was THE most gorgeous bird of all-time ! ?.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Hey, The Mike, whats your favourite kind of porn ?, i like the Windows Vista Media Centre clips, the same 5 or 6 thrusts of the dick in and out of the birds bum over and over again or the same 5 or 6 squirts of spunk into the birds gob over and over again, somehow i find it easier to jerk-off to the repetition of those clips rather than watching the entire movies, perhaps because the clips are such beautifully encapsulated and perfectly modulated masturbation-aids par-excellence, where-as the complete movies can sometimes be rather eratic in their content (both with regards to actual quality and type of scenes on veiw, as it were) there-by making them slightly more difficult to concentrate and focus on than the total perfection of the clips.

The Mike said...

I whole-heartedly, unreservedly, totally, and completely agree with EVERYTHING that was said in the last 4 com-girl-ts.