Brad Pitt vs. Zombies. Seth Rogen & Pals vs. Freak of nature. Simon Pegg & Nick Frost vs. Aliens. Robots vs. Kaiju. Will Smith & Mini Will Smith vs. The Earth. They have all arrived, or about to arrive, in local theaters this summer. They have one theme in common: the world as we know has ended. If you aren’t into another apocalyptic sci-fi tale, then you have the superheroes, where the world as know is about to end (and no, thanks to our hero in colorful costume). How many times can we destruct the Earth, over and over again?
(The bible of all apocalyptic films)
I used to take those apocalyptic tales as a proof that we had faith in the world we live in. You can destroy the world with your imagination only when the reality is comfortable and strong enough to pull you back from your daydream. And the word “hope” certainly was the keyword in the disaster movies of the past. Take Armageddon, where Bruce Willis sacrifices his life to save the Earth at last minute. The focus was on how human beings could find the solution amid the tension and chaos in time, to prevent the world from crumbling apart.
Yet the apocalyptic movies of today focus on the aftermath, not prevention. Brat Pitt desperately runs around to save his family (forget the world: it’s over), and Will Smith and his son are set to survive the future Earth, where no civilization exists any more. The world as we know has ended, and we audience accept it as a fact. Otherwise, blockbuster films, to which ROI (return-of-investment) is more important than artistic ideals, cannot use it as the central premise.
Roland Emmerich, a director with appetite-for-destruction-syndrome (next to Michael Bay), shows the changes himself. In his 2004 flick The Day After Tomorrow, the world gets frozen but ultimately human beings survive by migrating toward the warm South. In his 2011 flick 2012 (huh?), the world is totally decimated except for a handful of “chosen” citizens on the modern version of Noah’s Ark.
There are films that still focus on the prevention of total annihilation: superhero movies. Yet we all know: How realistic it is to imagine a guy in costume arriving just in time to save the world from an evil alien/mutant/scientist’s plot? Going back and forth between the ridiculous and unbelievable world of hope in superhero movies and the ridiculous yet believable world of despair in apocalyptic films, we are accustomed to the idea that it is indeed the end of the world as we know it. Those movies are preparing us (subconsciously) for the upcoming REAL disaster in the world devoid of resources, employment, and hope. When it becomes all too real, I believe we will start flocking to hopeful movies. Let’s hope that they contain some hints of real hope, not just all-too-pretty fantasies.