Friday, December 22, 2006

Spot Reviews

I watch almost all my movies through Netflix these days. Over the next few posts I'll talk about some that I've seen lately.

This is one of those Movies That Everyone's Seen But I Haven't. It was just okay for me. Actually, it was pretty boring in several parts. I wound up fastforwarding through a lot of it. None of the characters clicked with me, and the hunt for the shark just wasn't engaging. Oh well.

Panic in Year Zero / The Last Man on Earth: Double Feature
These two, both from the early 60s, come together on one double-sided disc. Both are about different types of post-armageddon worlds.

Panic in the Year Zero starts off with a great jazz song over the image of a classic car radio dial, with the title splashed on top. I immediately thought, oh yeah, this is gonna be fun! (That's not ironic, btw; seems like it might reat that way.)

Your standard 'nuclear family' from Los Angeles is going on a fishing trip in the mountains. After they're in the hills and out of sight of the town, they see a huge flash in the rearview mirrors. When they pull over to investigate, they see a gigantic mushroom cloud where LA had been.
The rest of the movie is about how the family struggles to survive, and the conflicts that arise both from outside and within. The mother and father are at odds almost instantly. She is most concerned with finding out if her mother is alright, while he more quickly accepts that life as they knew it is over and survival is their new occupation.

I got really frustrated with the mother pretty quickly. She wants to pretend that things are going to be alright when it's very clear that they won't. Later, when the family has to resort to violence in order to survive, she's far more concerned about her husband and son doing something wrong than she is about them not getting killed. It's all part of her denial about what's happened.

It speaks well of the movie that it got this sort of reaction from me. I got emotionally wrapped up in the issues of survival and civilization that the movie was trying to get at.

The Last Man on Earth stars Vincent Price in an adaptation of the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. (The novel was later adapted again as The Omega Man, and is being adapted yet again as I Am Legend.) A plague that turns people into roving undead has struck the world. Morgan (Price) was a scientist who had worked on a vaccine, but failed. He, and apparantly he alone, possesses an immunity to the virus. The movie follows his story of survival in his undead-filled city.

These undead don't fit neatly into any of the traditional categories. The film calls them vampires. They do have many of the traditional weaknesses of vampires, namely daylight, garlic, crosses, and mirrors (they cast reflections, but are repelled by them). However, they are brutish and slow like zombies. They can speak, but do so with little inflection, repeating one or two phrases over and over. It's quite creepy when one of them, a former friend of Morgan's, stands outside his window, droning on about how they're going to get in and kill him.

Morgan has made a small fortress out of his suburban home. Everything is boarded up and warded with crosses, garlic and mirrors. During the day he goes out for supplies, and to hunt down the undead's nests, where he can easily kill them. At night he stays up listening to the phonograph and remembering his wife and child, both taken by the virus three years ago.

The story really gets going when Morgan runs into another living human being. What he learns from her introduces a big twist, and moves the story to its conclusion.

Price lends his uniquely classic creep quotient to the role. He's particularly convincing as a man of logic and science who has been forced to resign himself to the reality of this quasi-mystical plague. He's not so hot in the action scenes. He's also effective in the couple of scenes where his character allows himself to believe that life could get better.

Apparently this movie was filmed in Italy, and much of the cast appears to have been Italian. Their parts have been overdubbed, but it looks like they were are least trying to deliver their lines in English. Maybe the producers just wanted American accents.

There's some very obvious religious imagery in the final scene. I didn't like this, as it didn't make much sense to me. Basically, Morgan becomes a Christ Figure at the end. However, he's Christlike only in the fact that his death is ironic, and his death scene contains some of the iconography of Christ's death. Nothing else he does in the movie reminds the viewer of Christ.

I long ago grew tired of the "Christ Figure" motif, and I really hate seeing it. I am a Christian, and so I'm all about the actual Christ, his life, death, and resurrection. I hate the "Christ Figure" because it is grossly over used, and because it is such a lazy shorthand about what it represents. You may not want to read me go into a diatribe about it, so I'll just say this: the story of Christ is about tremendously more than just a sad, ironic and tragic death scene. (Is tragedy inherently ironic? Hmmm.)

I've also seen The Omega Man. It is fairly close to The Last Man on Earth. It stars Charlton Heston. In it, the undead are instead mutants (still nocturnal), and the religious imagery is even more pronounced and more incongruous. The scenes of the hero wandering around the empty city are much more effective, however; and the fortified suburban home becomes a fortified apartment several floors above the ground, which seems a much cannier place to hide out.