Apocalypse obsessions

Why are we so fascinated by end-of-the-world stories? It’s personal.


Sci-fi is filled with apocalyptic stories, from asteroid flicks like Armageddon to zombie/plague movies such as 28 Days Later. And this end-of-world obsession is nothing new. Think back 2000 years ago to a book in the bible titled Revelation. What’s it about? Basically, the end of the world.

And now sci-fi themed website io9.com has a list of the most plausible ways that the world, as we know it (meaning human civilization) might end.

Their list:

1) pandemic

2) asteroid/comet impact

3) large igneous province (not a volcano, but a crack in the earth that oozes lava and toxic gases

4) climate change

5) radiation disaster, either nuclear war or a gamma ray burst from space

6) an invasive species that upsets the natural ecosystem and ruins our food supply

7) a black swan, or, something we have no way of accounting for (think The Terminator movies)

The point is we love to think about the world’s end. But why? I believe it’s because our world will truly end one day (at least on Earth). We will all die. That fact is inescapable, and it’s burdensome to think about it every day. Still, it’s there, and it seeps out into mass culture through armageddon stories.

We can’t change this fact, but at least we can have fun along the way.


Blurred lines – Zombie edition

Zombies through the ages have morphed, and they continue to do so.

The Hollywood Reporter has this cool slideshow on their website that takes us through decades of zombies in film. It starts with a 1932 movie titled White Zombie. But they weren’t zombies as we know it — they were simply people who were entranced.


The years that followed gave us more voodoo zombies, then on to George Romero’s iconic undead slow walkers — to the brain-eaters, up to today’s version — the viral walkers.

I have a soft spot for Romero’s zombies, especially the ones in Night of the Living Dead – they were my first, and I’ll always love their menacing ambling. Plus, there was something about the black and white of the movie that kept the creep factor high.


But I’m really digging the later versions as well, especially the one popularized by the British movie 28 Days Later. These were zombies created from a lethal infection, still vicious but not as mysterious. These latter-day zombies thrill the science geek in me.


So what will come next in zombie lore? Alien-induced zombieism? I can’t wait.

Helix: so much for zombies

Helix is Lost meets 28 Days Later with a little CSI thrown in. I’m in.

I was skeptical after seeing the previews. It seemed as if SyFy was trying to craft a CSI-style drama by grafting some vague sci-fi elements. The 15-minute preview wasn’t exactly encouraging. It relied heavily on a complicated backstory exposition involving lead Alan Farragut, his infected brother Peter, and his ex-wife Julia Walker (who became his ex because of Peter). Too soapy.

But… the premiere and the following episode delivered more than I expected.

The basics: Helix, which airs in the US on SyFy Friday nights, follows CDC scientists who travel to a remote Arctic lab to contain and identify a mysterious viral outbreak. This being TV, not everything is what it seems, and you never know the true identities/loyalties of the characters.

The big question: is this about zombies? Well, not in the dead-then-brought-back-to-life-to-eat-brains sense. Instead, think 28 Days Later, the great British horror flick (that also featured Doctor Who’s Christopher Eccleston). In Helix, as in 28 Days Later, the “zombies” are people who have been infected with some sort of pathogen. It doesn’t kill them. Instead, it makes them not quite themselves, as well as violent, aggressive, quick. There’s more, of course, which we’ll understand as the show goes on.

As for the rest of it, the soapy aspect that showed up in the first 15 minutes was quickly quarantined as subtext. After 3 hours of Helix, we’re already on Day 3. There simply isn’t enough time in the story for that type of boring drama. Good move by the writers.

The characters: We’ve got some complexity here, which is a requirement in books but seems to be optional in film and TV. The villain is nearly mustache twirling (and something else too…), but there are plenty of characters in Helix who are not as good (or bad) as they seem.

The setting: An undetermined number of people are trapped in an isolated, mysterious location. Sounds like Lost. I loved Lost, mainly because the writers focused on character. The writers of Helix have incorporated many of the best elements of Lost: the claustrophobic isolated location, unknown motives, mystery upon mystery. Let’s hope they don’t bog it down with crazy mythology too.

Bottom line: I’m hooked. Helix is fast paced, intriguing, and geeky enough to appeal to my science side. I raised an eyebrow at the angry black woman trope in one scene, but I’ll give them a pass on that one. Watch and enjoy.


Watch this movie: Attack the Block

British horror done right…


The British are known for many things: great music, bad food and teeth, and their one-time love of controlling the planet. But they’re not as well known for horror movies. Maybe this is good: they have little to prove, so there’s no pressure.

Case in point: two of the best horror movies of the past decade: 28 Days Later, a zombie-ish movie that starred Irish actor Cillian Murphy, and one of the coolest, underrated, most bad-ass and too-short-lived doctors from Doctor Who, Christopher Eccleston. It’s a hard-edged, smash-bang-fun time. Whatever you do, avoid the sequel (which shall remain nameless), as it nearly ruined the whole thing.

The second film is a horror/comedy, Shaun of the Dead, with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Couple dry British humor with gore and you have a classic. 

And then there’s Attack the Block, a low budget (I’m assuming) indie-style horror. Why low budget? Well, the monsters are kind of… rough. And the movie features the classic horror fail: the empty city streets. 

Get over it. I did, and it was worth it.

So here’s the plot in a nutshell, ripped straight from IMDB: a teen gang in South London protect their block from an alien invasion. There you go.

First, it’s great fun. The action starts pretty early, and once it starts, it rolls along, not too slow, not too fast. It lies somewhere between 28 Days Later (super serious) and Shaun of the Dead (tongue-in-cheek), though more toward the 28 Days Later end of the horror spectrum.

What stood out for me, most of all, was the unique set-up. You meet the teenage hero, Moses, as he, along with his juvy gang, are mugging Sam, a nurse on her walk home. Moses is cruel, someone who you would not choose to identify with, but over the course of the movie, he morphs into the hero of the story, in part because the other characters (drug dealers, vicious aliens) are so much worse, and in part because the extreme situation he finds himself in (battling aliens), forces him to grow as a person.

Rent this movie. It’s worth it, not just because it’s fun, but because it’s a great example of the anti-hero in drama, and it also shows another of my favorite literary conceits: the ordinary man (men and women in this case) forced to confront extraordinary circumstances. None of these people are Jason Bourne or James Bond, and their fight scenes reflect that, which makes it all the better.