Friday, November 16, 2007
THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH (1976; United States)
Hal Lindsay, false prophet
THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH (1976)
D: Robert Amram, Rolf Forsberg
"It's almost as if we had an unconscious desire to see the biblical prophesies fulfilled," frets narrator Orson Welles, ominously, in this classic piece of Christian fearmongering. Quietly insane evangelical minister Hal Lindsay attempts to marry revelation to then-current affairs in an effort to prepare us for the Armageddon that lies just around the corner. Obviously, with 30 years of hindsight, we now know he was wrong, and continues to be wrong, but had really swingin' fashion sense circa 1976.
Many actual scientists and deep thinkers appear on screen in LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, and you'd be forgiven if you felt that some of them (who are clearly talking along evolutionary lines) were being taken out of context to support Lindsay's crackpot theories. Lindsay's apocalypse is scotch-taped together out of all the Bad News® that was available at the time of production. Thus, Lindsay's world was set to end as a result of any number of nasty afflictions. Recombinant DNA! Brazilian killer bees! Viruses from Hell! Atheists and witches run amok! And, as Orson says with deathly gravitas, "Nucular" Holocaust. It's Hal's nauseating belief that if you don't have hardcore Christian faith, then your ONLY possible options are witchcraft, astrology, transcendental meditation, Hare Krishnas or the Rev. Sun Myung-moon's wacky Reunification Church! In any case, Hal sez you haven't got a prayer.
The late, great Orson Welles
As always, Hal saves the best for last, enlightening us as to the coming of the antichrist, a figure he believes is alive today (at least as of 1976), and who would achieve omnipotence through seemingly good deeds and the establishment of world peace before enslaving everyone with microchip implants supplied by the then-fledgling computer industry. Or something. Apparently, only those who heed Hal's book and movie can avoid falling under the spell of this evil megalomaniac. He then proceeds to illustrate his argument with imagery designed to stoke the usual cold-war paranoia: before or around 1982, sez Hal, Russia and China will invade the middle east (didn't happen, at least not the way it's predicted here), the European market will grow to a prophesied ten member nations (25 and counting and still no Armageddon), and the "nucular" bombs will rain from the skies like the falling stars seen by the biblical John on his island retreat (well, we're still waiting!). Nonetheless, this allows the filmmakers to go mad with stock footage, a delirious and depressing exercise in escalating doom that runs a full six minutes, unnarrated. Oh, the humanity!
Just because radical fundamentalists love to fulfill prophesies, or see fulfillment where none rationally exists, doesn't mean the prophets were right. It just means that we'll always have to live with people like Hal, desperate to prove their "faith" has substance rather than just keeping it to themselves, and actually learning from it.