Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Scotland walled off from England, in the movies at least


Well, is there any reason that England should turn back history and wall of Scotland? History buffs will probably blog about this, but that is how the current genre bio-horror thriller “Doomsday” begins. The film is directed by Neil Marshall, and was shot around Glasgow, London, with some outdoor scenes both in South Africa and southern California. The distributor is “Rogue Pictures” (formerly part of October Films and Gramercy Pictures) but now a division of Universal Focus, which plays the same role in Universal as Screen Gems does with Sony/Columbia.

First, and as to the theme of this blog, the “Wissenschaft.” A smallpox-like virus appears in Glasgow on April 3, 2008 (we just have a week or so, folks) and within a week almost everyone is dead. England, first declaring martial law, quarantines all of Scotland and builds a 30-foot steel “Wall of China” (a kind of sci-fi "Hadrian's Wall"). By 2035, Scotland has turned into a world of “Life After People.” But then the virus breaks out in Central London, and the Brits try control the population by monitoring the flood gates on the Thames. Some researchers go back to Scotland and try to get material for a vaccine.

All of this ignores the extremely violent and presto-paced, frantic nature of the film, denying the need for attention span. There is a little bit of society left in Scotland after all; some of it has degenerated to cannibalism (there is one horrific ritual scene), and others have survived with natural immunity and have started building a feudal, low-tech knighthood-like society that echos the Middle Ages, literally of the Glazounov Suite. (Sorry, the only classical music in the movie is Offenbach’s Can-Can, which precedes the bizarre ritual.) One of the survivors says “I earned my right to live by natural selection.” That is, he earned his rights by surviving "The Purification." In fact, the researchers (aka fighters, led by actress Caryn Peterson, who even “wears” the artificial eye camera) journey back into time in technology (an idea I experiment with in my Project Greenlight “Baltimore Is Missing” screenplay), commandeering a steam engine train in an impressive outdoor (justifying 2.35:1) sequence with Scottish scenery. For the car chases (moving back ahead) it looks like either southern California or South Africa, or both. In the film’s final acts, the concept is more about mixing levels of technology within one scene in layered fashion, a somewhat original visual concept.

The movie really does throw all movie genres into the kitchen sink: the Mad Max movies (Australia), the “28 Days” movies (Britain), the King Arthur genre, and a bit of (female) James Bond in the car chase at the end. (I could even add Stephen King’s “The Stand”). In the end, one wonders about the idea of making a “statement” about the grave risk to civilization from a super-flu or super-pox pandemic. Maybe the directors are willing to leave that task to the History Channel’s mega-disaster series, and really want to entertain us. Lots of body parts roll in this one. The credits are longer than for any other “indie” “low budget” film I have ever seen. This “indie” flick probably cost about $30 million to make. I wonder if it has made money.

Other possible comparisons are "I Am Legend" (2007), ABC's "Bird Flu in America" (2005), and Hallmark's "Pandemic" (2007).

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