* The headline became too unwieldy, but, just so you know, my original title was: "The Top Ten Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Flicks With Dogs, Hot Chicks, Robots, or Zombies." Please consider the following list accordingly!
In these difficult economic times, it's encouraging to see that hundreds of people found gainful employment destroying the world (again). Roland Emmerich's 2012 opens tomorrow and apparently employed every living soul who knows how to create havoc on the big screen. The trailer promises large-scale destruction of well-known landmarks, a prescient, disheveled, very concerned parent / ex-husband (John Cusack), and last-second narrow escapes. That doesn't sound too familiar, does it?
Meanwhile, The Road, which finally opens November 25, stars Viggo Mortensen in an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's bleak, devastating novel about a father and son trudging through a post-apocalyptic world with nary a glimmer of hope. Between those two extremes -- popcorn and pessimism -- lie my favorite kind of post-disaster flick: reasonable possibilities in a world forever changed -- but still with dogs, hot chicks, robots, or zombies.
1. Mad Max 2 (AKA The Road Warrior)
George Miller pushed Max (Mel Gibson) to the edge in the first film; in the sequel, Max well illustrated the changes wrought upon ordinary people by extraordinary circumstances, as the family man was transformed into the ultimate loner, an action hero for the new millenium. Thrills, chills, and missing heartbeats play out amidst the carnage of last-chance heroes and the bewildered affection of a feral child. At least Max had his dog.
Harlan Ellison's superb novella furnished the basis for L.Q. Jones' very good (and mostly faithful) film version, starring Don Johnson as Vic, a young survivor driven more by his hormones than any stray intelligent thoughts in his head. Fortunately for Vic, his guide through the wastelands is a telepathic dog named Blood (voiced by Tim McIntire), a most unlikely-looking super-canine. An "R- rated, rather kinky tale of survival," the poster promised. Indeed.
I don't remember any dogs, but George A. Romero's 1978 sequel sure has plenty of zombies! Night of the Living Dead lay the groundwork for the character development and social commentary that runs rampant throughout the film. (Cinematical's Todd Gilchrist has more analysis.) This moves toward the darker end of the scale, where the post-apocalyptic future might still kill those lucky (?!) enough to survive the first wave of destruction.
Desperate mankind is running out of time, and crazy Bruce Dern is the best darn gardener they've got! To be more accurate, the poor guy is a botanist, charged with protecting the last living green things from Planet Earth, and he's the most humane member of a spaceship crew composed of cretins who couldn't get any other jobs. Oh, and little robots named Huey, Dewey, and (fill in the blank). Trivia point: Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter) is credited as one of the writers. Also, our own Scott Weinberg reviewed the movie years ago and found it "mildly amusing and intermittently intrigued." He's wrong, of course, in my opinion.
Even if you've never seen the movie, surely you must know by now that it takes place in the far future, after something horrible has happened and apes have evolved from men. ("Your breed made a desert of it, ages ago.") Charlton Heston doesn't like those "damn dirty
dogs apes." Linda Harrison as Nova is the requisite hot chick, as is Kim Hunter as Zira, if you like that sort of thing.
Speaking of hot chicks, Janet Munro burned up the screen in Val Guest's 1961 British flick that wondered what would happen if two nuclear bombs accidentally exploded and tilted the Earth off its axis, leaning it toward the Sun. The result? One of the most sweltering, sweat-inducing films I've ever seen. To be fair, the setting is mid-apocalypse, but this is definitely the kind of disaster where you wouldn't want to be the last survivor.
When I see John Cusack racing around to pick up his kids in the trailer for 2012, I'm reminded of Ray Milland as a father protecting his family in this flick from 1962, which the actor also directed. It's a cheap-o production, with stock footage and a handful of actors standing in for the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area, but the threat of a nuclear holocaust was very real and Milland's survivalist instincts were shocking for the time. Jean Hagen, Mary Mitchel and Joan Freeman are hot chicks, providing that restrained, 1962 family kind of nuclear heat.
More a production design extravaganza from director William Cameron Menzies than anything else, but what a stunning piece of work that simultaneously gives voice to H.G. Wells' ahead-of-his-time ideas. I think it's safe to say that the movie's post-apocalyptic world view is unlike most any other. It's been years since I've seen it, and it still resonates strongly, even without the preferred elements.
9. Logan's Run
Jenny Agutter is a very hot chick, and Farrah Fawcett ain't too bad, either, plus we've got Box, a shiny, malevolent robot (voiced by Roscoe Lee Browne). The world of this future looks very much like a shopping mall which, for most of us, means it resembles hell more than heaven. If not for the barely-dressed young ladies, it might not be tolerable at all.
10. I Am Legend
Until a certain character makes an appearance, Francis Lawrence's version of this thrice-told story, starring Will Smith as Robert Neville, is powerful and haunting, an amazing evocation of what Manhattan might look like some years after a disaster that leaves most of the populace dead -- or transformed into ravenous monsters (not unlike zombies, come to think of it). At least Neville had his dog.