News Column

Summer movies: Hollywood loves a good ending (of the world)

June 9, 2013

YellowBrix

June 09--The end is nigh all summer long in movie theaters, where zombies, the religious apocalypse and robots threaten Earth and its inhabitants.

Doomsday themes abound every summer, and invading aliens and comic book villains never settle for, say, Cincinnati -- they want to destroy the world. But rarely have so many movies with an imperiled human race huddled as closely together on the release slate as they do in summer 2013.

Already in theaters, Tom Cruise's "Oblivion" and Will Smith's "After Earth" (a.k.a. box-office oblivion) revisit cinematic Earths that were rendered uninhabitable years earlier.

In the meta comedy "This Is the End," opening Wednesday, Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jonah Hill play themselves: actors, party participants and witnesses to the Rapture.

Later this month, Brad Pitt's "hot zone" specialist will travel to different countries seeking answers to a zombie plague in "World War Z," the $170 million budget of which makes it the most expensive zombie movie ever made (by about $100 million).

Space separates the haves and have-nots in "Elysium," the August Matt Damon-Jodie Foster sci-fi film in which the rich inhabit an orbital space station, leaving the poor to deal with a nearly ruined Earth.

So what gives? Does this pessimism derive from a period of prolonged economic uncertainty? Or all that Mayan calendar talk?

Because most films are conceived long before they hit theaters, the summer's bunching of apocalyptic films is more likely coincidence. "World War Z" was supposed to come out last year. "This Is the End" started as a 2006 short film.

"I don't think there ever hasn't been a lot of these movies, since 'The Omega Man,' " said Evan Goldberg, who co-wrote and co- directed "This Is the End" with Rogen. He's referring to the 1971 Charlton Heston film in which a plague ravages the population.

Among storytelling elements, "it just doesn't get any bigger" than the world ending, Goldberg said. It sparks endless dramatic scenarios, including the "lifeboat" one in which disaster survivors show their true colors.

That's the source of tension in "This Is the End." Rogen, Hill, Franco, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride play sometimes unflattering versions of themselves trapped together in a house by the reckoning outside. The comedy arises from putting "the least capable people -- actors -- into the most difficult situation as possible and seeing them deal with it as poorly as possible," Goldberg said.

The Rapture also anchors the new comedy "Rapture-Palooza," which features Robinson and just arrived on video on demand. In "This Is the End," Robinson is just one of the guys. In "Rapture-Palooza," he's the anti-Christ.

"They call him Craig 'Rapture' Robinson," Rogen joked about his "End" co-star.

Robinson said he did not anticipate the movies being released so close together.

"I read where someone wrote, 'Does Craig Robinson know something we don't?' " Robinson said.

If you are looking for one film on which to spend your apocalypse-movie dollars, Goldberg and Rogen, the co-writers of "Pineapple Express" and "Superbad" who make their directing debuts with "End," happily make arguments for theirs.

"I can confidently say there has never been a movie made that is really like this," Rogen said.

With a $31 million budget, it's also the scrappy underdog of the season's total-annihilation films, at least when compared with "Oblivion," "After Earth" and "Elysium."

"All the other end-of-the-world movies out right now are like 'Wall-E,' " Goldberg said. "And 'Wall-E' was probably better than them."

But instead of taking Goldberg's word for it, decide for yourself with this rundown of the biggest summer end-of-the-world movies. We detail how the world ends or is threatened, how characters respond, and also offer a "livability index," ranging from 1 to 10, for survivors.

'OBLIVION'

In theaters

How the world ends: Aliens attacked Earth 60 years before the movie's start, rendering the planet nearly uninhabitable.

The reaction: Humans eventually fended off the aliens, then hot-footed it off Earth, colonizing a moon of Saturn. Drones are used for any lingering skirmishes. Cruise's character, Jack, maintains the drones.

Livability index: 8. At least in the sleek sky tower where Jack lives. If you don't mind your memory being wiped.

'AFTER EARTH'

In theaters

How the world ends: It was destroyed 1,000 years before the story starts. A short montage shows fires and floods but not what caused them.

The reaction: Humans moved to a different solar system, patrolled by Rangers. Ranger honcho Will Smith takes his son (Smith's son, Jaden Smith) with him on a Ranger ship, which crash-lands on Earth.

Livability index: 2. Good news: There's plenty of vegetation and water, and the giant eagles are highly protective of 14-year-old actors who shouldn't have to carry sci-fi movies by themselves. Bad news: an inability to breathe.

'THIS IS THE END'

Opens Wednesday

How the world ends: A giant chasm opens up in front of James Franco's Hollywood pad, sucking partygoers into the void and stranding six actors in Franco's house, where they hide from the demons outside. Other (better) people are sent up to Heaven.

The reaction: The friends left in Franco's house divvy up food and water. Franco's precious artwork is used to board up windows. McBride freaks the heck out.

Livability index: 0. But at least there's a shot at an afterlife.

'WORLD WAR Z'

Opens June 21

How the world ends: It won't if Brad Pitt can help it. If he can't, it's all zombies all the time.

The reaction: Pitt's former U.N. specialist travels around the world trying to stanch the plague.

Livability index: 7. According to the movie's trailer, Pitt has 90 days to stop zombies from taking over the world. That's extraordinarily generous in doomsday-clock terms.

'ELYSIUM'

Opens Aug. 9

How the world ends: It hasn't quite ended, but director Neill Blomkamp ("District 9") shot Earth scenes in a huge Mexico City garbage dump, which signals to audiences how things are going.

Reaction: The rich people move to a space station called Elysium, leaving the 99- percenters in the dump.

Livability index: Elysium: 10. Dump: 2.

'THE WORLD'S END'

Opens Aug. 23

How the world ends: In this comedy from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, creators of the zombie-comedy classic "Shaun of the Dead," a group of old friends (including "Shaun" co-stars Pegg and Nick Frost) reunite for a pub crawl that's meant to end at a pub called The World's End. Robots kill their buzz.

Reaction: Fear, ale spillage.

Livability index: 5.6. Not sure what happens with the robots, but the middle-aged pub crawlers aren't exactly heart smart to begin with.

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