Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What's Up With Apocalypse Movies?

Downloaded some trailers on my PS3 and saw some TV commercials.

Got some movie called "Knowing" where it seems some numerologist finds a list of numbers and finds it lists the casualties of various disasters, and predicts the end of the world based on the remaining numbers.

Got "2012", which you can already guess. Trailer I downloaded featured some Tibetan mountaintop monks urgently ringing some bells, followed by an enormous tsunami rolling completely over the mountains and washing away the monastery. Another commercial implied that the world's governments won't try to help, and encouraged you to "learn the truth" at the movie's website.

And I think the third one was called "Angels and Demons" and had more DaVinci Code conspiracies. Don't know if it was really apocalyptic, but I groaned anyway.

And I just now saw History Channel (ugh) starting a show on some new Nostradamus predictions about 2012.

What the hell is it with woo-prophecized Armageddon? Hell, I don't really understand the deal with disaster movies in general. With woo prophecy, however, my suspension of disbelief is broken right away. With that 2012 super-tsunami, it was pretty well shattered before I got anywhere near the theater. Where'd all that water come from? Magic?

Personally, one thing I'd like to see sometime: Take the apparent premise of "Knowing" with a numerologist who predicts the end of the world. He predicts the end down to the day. Nothing happens. He thinks he forgot to carry the one, and calculates the "real" time. Nothing happens. Rinse and repeat right up to the credits rolling, with the lead getting more disheveled as time progresses. Wonder if that'd plant any possible seeds of skepticism.

Illuminati plot with a twist: It turns out it's just twelve guys sending codes to one another as an in-joke inflated into a hobby, having fun pretending they have an influence on world events. When the "hero" confronts them, they laugh derisively and point out the impracticalities of worldwide conspiracies, especially if anyone of average intelligence like him could break their code.


Neil Cicierega said...

The same thing that makes a myth interesting to people in real life (and therefore easily spread despite factuality) also makes it interesting in fiction. That's why stories about ghosts, aliens, and monsters are popular. Personally I think apocalypse myths are some of the more boring supernatural subjects, but clearly there's something attention grabbing about them.

King of Ferrets said...

Angels and Demons is the prequel to the DaVinci Code.

Bronze Dog said...

With stuff like ghosts and aliens, I usually get a feeling of "Magic A is Magic A" and a detachment from the real world, where those different rules are in effect.

With apocalypse movies that are supposed to be about the real world, it feels like the rules have been violated already.

Lifewish said...

Yeah, the 2012 thing is silly. Everyone with a brain knows the world will actually end in 2038, when God's computer suffers an integer wraparound bug that reboots the universe (it goes without saying that God uses UNIX).

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to remember how Neil Gaiman put it in Signal to Noise... Something like:

"Escahatology provides a vision of salvation which is:

1. Imminent
2. Collective
3. Miraculous

The privileged feel no need for new beginning, or a righting of wrongs."

Unknown said...

That "Illuminati" plot could actually work: Most of the story is in the chase anyway and you could throw in some oopsing into things for excitement.

Another possible twist is to have those playing realize partway through that someone is looking for them . At which point they ad him to the game, (not that he gets to know that he's playing).

MWchase said...

I could see adding in some psychological stuff after the middle, with the reader getting hints that the group isn't as powerful as they seem.

King of Ferrets said...

That's a... strange... spammer.

Bronze Dog said...

Spammer eliminated. Didn't see the "free movies" link, last time. New way to hide, apparently: Copy someone else.

King of Ferrets said...

Do spammers really think they'll fool anyone for more than a couple seconds?

Clint Bourgeois said...

Your idea of having the friends sending messages isn't too far off from the plot of Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. Of course they meet a rather messy end.

King of Ferrets said...

It just occurred to me; could that Nostradamus 2012 thing be the same thing I wrote about a while back?

Bronze Dog said...

I wouldn't be surprised.

Anonymous said...

Angels and Demons was, IMO, much better than DaVinci Code. Your thing about the Illuminati being a bunch of pranksters? Not that far off.

Still has ridiculous clues and such, but it's a much better story.

Tom Foss said...

I've never much cared for end-of-the-world movies. "The Day After Tomorrow" is a particularly egregious example that highlighted one of the biggest problems with the whole "disaster" genre--there's no satisfying ending. In "TDAT," the storm just...stops. Nothing our protagonists do brings about the resolution, they just have to deal with the new world the disaster left behind...which is really where the movie should be starting, not ending. The futile quest to save the world doesn't make for particularly compelling fiction, the struggle to deal with a world that has changed dramatically in the last week is more interesting...though perhaps less easily plotted.

And that's a problem with most of this sort of film--either there's a total deus ex machina ending, or the situation is stacked so that the protagonists can't win, and really can't even act. The event, rather than the plot, the world, or the characters, is the central focus of the film, and that's as much a problem in movies as it is in comic book crossovers.

The other thing that turns me off about the films you're talking about is kind of what I discussed after seeing the new Indiana Jones flick. It rubs me the wrong way to see real-world woo in movies, because it seems to lend credibility to the woo outside the movie. The phenomenon is really hard for me to pin down and quantify--I mean, I don't mind psychics or ghosts or abducting aliens or Arks of the Covenant in films, but I'm bothered by EVP and the 10% brain myth and so forth.

Part of the problem, I think, is the setting: is the piece set in the real "ripped from the headlines" world, or is it set in a more blatantly fictional landscape where the woo is part of the universe's established rules? That much is kind of the difference between "it's our world except psychics are real" and "it's our world and psychics are real."

Part, I think, is the tone of the reference. When the movie is more centered around the woo-idea, I think it generally lends less credibility to the idea than when the woo-idea is used as some throwaway fact by the resident expert, for example. This is a muddy area, all about subjective stuff like tone, so it's difficult to explain.

And part of it, I guess, has to do with how the movie is used by the woo-proponents. Is it being cited as proof or evidence of the woo-idea's existence? Fred Clark's series on "Left Behind" talks about this a lot, the way that the fundies use the fictional books as evidence for the reality of their prophecies (the rest of these complaints largely apply here too). This is less a knock against the movie, I suppose, but how the woo-idea is used in the movie can really make or break the woos' ability to use the movie as evidence.

In short (too late, I know), I totally understand where you're coming from, BD, even if I don't understand why.

By the way, how awesome is it that Neil Cicierga's commenting here? I can't watch Degrassi anymore without thinking about how fat and sassy the students are.

Don said...

And that's a problem with most of this sort of film--either there's a total deus ex machina ending, or the situation is stacked so that the protagonists can't win, and really can't even act.

There's one apocalypse flick out there that really broke this rule. I don't remember what it was called, but I remember that it came out around the same time as Schwarzeneggar's "End of Days," and was overshadowed by it. I also remember that it starred Winona Ryder.

The ending was this: she was sitting in a car with the guy who would, if the prophecies were true, become the anti-Christ at midnight with a gun held to his head. They watched the clock as the minutes ticked by. It hit 12:00 and nothing happened, and they both breathed a sigh of relief.

Seconds later, though, the clock began flipping randomly between numbers and the ground began to shake. The guy looked at her, frightened. She shot him in the head, got out of the car, and walked away. Roll credits.

In high school, I was dissatisfied with that ending, but looking back at it, it's the only ending to any of these immanent apocalypse movies that makes any sense at all. No deus ex machina, no lameness, just a bullet between the eyes with no remorse.

Anonymous said...

Angels and Demons was, IMO, much better than DaVinci Code. Your thing about the Illuminati being a bunch of pranksters? Not that far off.

Funny thing there... You know the whole Rennes-le-Château / Priory of Sion business that DaVinci Code is based on? It was an elaborate prank set up by a couple of French surrealists in the 1950s, which was then taken for real by the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which was then massively ripped off by Dan Brown.

The really funny thing about it is that the key piece of evidence supporting the whole thing was the Dossiers Secrets d'Henri Lobineau - a document purporting to contain the jealously guarded secret history of the Priory of Sion. Where did they find this secret information? Why, in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, of course! Where else would you keep the most closely guarded secret in the world?