Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Laughing At The End Of The World

by Marcus Sakey

So I went to see Zombieland the other day. It was a riot, totally over-the-top fun with a little postmodernism sprinkled amidst the disembowelments. Woody Harrelson was pitch perfect, and the cameo—I love how the whole world seems to be respecting the ban on silence about the actor’s identity, by the way—just killed me. I’d definitely recommend it.

But the reason I bring it up is actually to talk about the previews.

I love previews. I don’t go to the theatre that often, but when I do, my ass is in the seat in time to catch them. They’re like tapas: I get to sample a little of this, a little of that. I can be snarky about the ones that look lousy and get excited about what’s coming next. Often, by the time the actual movie starts, I kind of wish I was watching one of the ones I just saw trailered.

One of the things that I love about them is that they serve as a condensed read on the current popular mood. What we as a people are thinking and feeling is generally reflected in the stories we chose to tell, and so watching six or seven previews gives you a nice overview. You have to look at it metaphorically, but it’s all there.

You can do the same thing looking backward, by the way. The monster movies of the fifties? Responses to fears about atomic energy and weapons. Serial killers in the eighties? Isolation, loneliness, and the sense that something was rotten in the system.

Usually, seeing trailers gives you a range of topics. You can get some psychological insight, but from the trailers at least, it’s hard to draw overwhelming conclusions. Not this time. There’s a trend that’s like a slap in the face.

They were all about the end of the world. Stranger still, they all seemed gleeful about it.

Now, I’ll grant you that they preceded a movie about a joyous rampage through the end of the world. I get that these wouldn’t all have appeared before Michael Moore’s new flick. But that doesn’t change the fact that all of these movies were made, that they all share the same topic and theme, and that they are all coming out about the same time.

Here are two of the trailers:

And here’s the trailer for Zombieland:

Add to it that in the next few months there’s The Road, plus not-exactly-end-of-the-world-but-pretty-bleak-horror films Saw VI and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and you’ve got an interesting mix of stuff.

So what do you think? Reaction to our political climate? Economic worries? Looming loss of global supremacy?

Or are we just laughing at the end of the world?

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Libby Hellmann said...

I love previews too, Marcus. At one point I wanted to make a film called "Coming Attractions"... and that's what it would have been.
Yeah, I think we're all pretty fried about what's going on in the world today, but the interesting thing is that most of these films must have been green-lighted before the Great Recession, don't you think? Which means someone or ones were fairly prescient...

David Heinzmann said...

I was flipping channels the other night and that trailer for 2012 was on three channels at once. Everywhere I flipped, there was John Cusack driving his limo through LA in a blender. I couldn't escape. Anyway, I don't really get why they make all these end of the world movies, regardless of the current Zeitgeist. It's the last thing I want to see. Zombieland, on the other hand...

Judy Alter said...

I rarely go to movies but wouldn't have missed Julie and Julia, which probably tells you something about my taste. But I endured--and I use that word deliberately--the trailers. They were all so noisy and violent and, yes, many about the end of the world. I didn't see it as a political comment; I saw it as a comment on our cultural taste as a nation--and it didn't make me happy.

Steerpike said...

In film school they made a point to talk about judging a culture by its popular cinema. For example, disaster films are at their most numerous when a nation is at or preparing for war.

Horror, with its hundreds of subgenres, is helpful in gauging society's morality - the fairy tale evolved into the horror film.

So many apocalyptic movies coming out so close together - not to mention the number of videogames and books that've materialized - well golly, it's kind of unnerving when you think about it. What could it mean about our collective cultural barometer? Nihilism? Screw-Youism? Acceptance? Worth exploring.

Michael Dymmoch said...

Seems to me that many of these apocalyptic stories are a form of wishful thinking--maybe if every thing gets blown up or torn down we can start over and get it right next time.