Friday, May 15, 2009




“In another time... in a world ruled by tyranny and violence... only one man can stop the nightmare.”


While attempting to avoid certain death at the hands of pursuing Omega law enforcers and post-apocalyptic punkers, The Rider inadvertently drives his talking Supersonic Speed Cycle through a secret doorway into the lost world of The Outsiders. Once inside, The Rider is informed by The Enlightened Elders that he is the prophesized savior who has come to defeat the Omegas and their eeevil leader Prossor. To accomplish this, he is told, he must sneak into The City to rescue Prof. McWayne, leader of the New Way. Unimpressed by the prophecy or the notion of doing something for the greater good, but rather impressed by the body of McWayne’s daughter Natasia AND the gun she shoves into his… motivational region, The Rider gives in and agrees to the mission. Overcoming the dangers of one immobile snake, three squeaking tarantulas, some oatmeal faced mutants, and a legion of Omega soldiers who couldn’t shoot the nose off their own face, The Rider succeeds in getting McWayne back, only to have Natasia captured in the process. To ensure greater success the second time around, The Rider decides to recruit an army from the various gangs living in junkyards outside The City, which he accomplishes by first single-handedly beating the living crap out of all of them. With this impressive force backing him up, The Rider launches a final assault on the Omegas and frees The City, only to find a brainwashed Natasia once again pointing a gun at him, albeit aiming a bit higher this time. Can The Rider find a way to fulfill the prophecy and save Natasia, or will Prossor and the Omegas triumph in the end?


In her essay Apocalypse And Dystopia In Contemporary Italian Writing published in Trends in Contemporary Italian Narrative 1980-2007, Gillian Ania, Senior Lecturer in Italian at the University of Salford, contemplates possible reasons for what she sees as a rise in “end of the world” themes in Italy’s literature during the last part of the twentieth century. “Particular dates (such as the end of a millennium) certainly seem to bring out apocalyptic sensibilities, and human beings, despite refuting the significance of such boundaries rationally, can be infected on the one hand by a sense of decay and cultural decline, and on the other by a search for renewal. [Frank] Kermode nevertheless stresses that “apocalypse can flourish… quite independently of millennia”. Historical events, indeed, exert a far stronger pull and apocalyptic literature is more aptly classed as “crisis literature”, presenting or illustrating a crisis (experienced or perceived) as well as giving an alternative picture of reality.” Well, okay. Ms. Ania sounds like a smart, reasonable person, so I’m sure there’s some valid points in what she suggests. But around these parts, we think there just might be one other teensy little factor at work in the current Italian obsession with the apocalyptic.

Mel Gibson.

Now hear me out; I’m not just kicking a guy when he’s down. Just do the math. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior hit theaters in 1981, after which it took the Italians somewhere around 15 minutes to start cranking out blatant rip offs of the movie at the rate of about one every… oh, 15 minutes. In fact, there were so many Italian produced rip-offs of The Road Warrior in the 1980s that there’s little to conclude but that the whole country had developed some sort of obsessive national man-crush on Mel Gibson. (Must have been that tight leather outfit.) All of which means that the last few generations of Italians have grown up on a steady diet of films chock full of post apocalyptic desert wastelands, armored dune buggies, authoritarian dystopias, and fetish wearing nuclear mutants. That’s GOTTA do something to the psyche of a future writer. (I rented as many of these things as I could get my hands on and look what happened to me!) And if you peruse Ms. Ania’s works cited list, I think you’ll find it bears my theory out. Almost every author she mentions started writing after 1985 with the majority of them not really getting going until after 1990. The math works out. So, with all due respect to Ania’s insightful analysis, I purport that it was most likely Mel Gibson and his leather pants, or at least their vu compra knockoffs, which really seeded the minds of late twentieth century Italians with visions of Armageddon.


Irrespective of whichever one of our theories turns out to be correct, however, I believe there is one thing Ms. Ania and I could probably reach agreement on; watching the blatant Road Warrior rip off which is Warrior of the Lost World is enough to screw with anybody’s head. Why so? Well, As Ania sees things in her essay, today’s Italian apocalyptic authors are “writers who revere the ‘lessons of history’ and scry the future, partly as a way of externalizing their personal fears, distaste and disenchantment, and partly as a warning to society.” If that description can be applied to the apocalyptic filmmakers as well, then the creators of Warrior of the Lost World are externalizing some pretty freaky internal fears.

First off, they seem really concerned that the only real advancements in technology will come in the area of sound design. Everything in this movie (cars, guns, computers, etc.) looks like it was either made in the exact same year as the movie was filmed, or decades earlier. But it all SOUNDS really futuristic. The motorcycle Supersonic Speed Cycle hums and whirrs, the plastic machine guns laser rifles pwew pwew, and the ColecoVisions futuristic super computers all bloop and beep busily. Heck, the Atari 400 mindboggling artificial intelligence attached to the Speed Cycle even talks. And talks. And talks. And by that I mean the thing’s whiny synthesized voice obsessively repeats everything two or three times in a row until it gets to the point you wish that you could bodily kill a machine in a gruesomely slow manner just for the sheer joy in hearing it screech out, “I’m dying! I'm dying! I’m dying!”… But I digress. The point is that the film makers appear to be warning us that the future will sound really neat, but look like total crap.


They also seem suspicious that automobile safety will not sufficiently improve in the days to come. In the future envisioned by Warrior of the Lost World, sentient motorcycles will somehow veer straight into clearly visible rock walls (where’s K.I.T.T. when you need him?), speeding autos still won’t have enough momentum or maneuverability to make it out of the way of dump truck sized Megaweapons creeping along at 5 M.P.H., and cars will unwaveringly steer themselves over the sides of cliffs, even if no such cliff appears to have existed 10 seconds earlier. Worse still, all vehicles will explode upon the slightest contact. Even eye contact. For a mobile society like ours, the times ahead appear dark indeed.

Worse than those two problems, however, is the coming breakdown of society into smaller and smaller cliques of people who have no individuality outside of their group identity. This is most noticeable in the scene where the Rider attempts to recruit his army from the various gangs living on the outskirts of town. None of them are even given a name in the credits, each being referred to only by their gang affiliation. You have pot-bellied rednecks Truckers, beefy guys in karategi pants Martial Artists, feral lesbians Amazons, weenies in army surplus fatigues Mercenaries, geeks Geeks (huh?), and a solitary dwarf whose individual worth is so unimportant that the Rider simply picks him up and uses him as a weapon to pummel someone with. (Long time nerds will remember that a properly wielded dwarf can do a respectable 5 or 6 points worth of HP damage.) And it’s just as bad inside the city where the population can easily be categorized into three basic groups based entirely on their uniforms. You have the robed Elders, the black suited Omega Guards, and the Workers, who apparently emptied every post-apocalyptic Wal-Mart within 100 miles of Dickies coveralls. To compound the loss of personal identity, the Omegas have made it illegal for anyone to show intense emotion within the city. So dedicated is the cast to portraying the devastating effects of this particular requirement that they continue to follow the statute throughout the course of the movie, showing an almost inhuman lack of range of emotions, regardless of whether their characters are in the city or not. (Lesser thespians would surely have succumbed to the temptation to act, but not these professionals.)


But by far the most blood chilling thing the makers of Warrior of the Lost World see in our collective future is the notion that our freedom might be illusionary. You see, after all of the Omega forces have been crushed and the eeevil Prosser has been shot dead and The Rider and Natasia do a little obligatory snogging (ewwww), we are treated to a bizarre scene in which Prosser’s body is wheeled into a lab, cut open and revealed to be (dom dom dommm) a robot. So, even as our heroes traipse merrily about celebrating what they perceive as their newfound freedom, the real Prosser remains alive and well and claiming that he is somehow the true victor. It’s never explained how, but that’s what he says. Natasia’s cryptic last words to The Rider hint that she may realize this, but everyone continues on as if all their problems have been solved. It’s a sobering commentary on the future of humanity.

That’s a lot of fears packed into one movie. And at the source of it all is something so obvious that it’s easy to overlook at first. These future movie worlds, especially the post-apocalyptic ones, almost never have religion. As Ms. Ania writes, “Critics have variously categorized literary apocalypses, dividing them into religious or secular, Christian or anti-Christian, high or popular, ancient or modern (or postmodern), demarcations that can be helpful in assessing patterns or models. Of particular relevance… is the system defined by John R. May (and used by Zimbaro for her classification of apocalyptic literature) wherein the two broad categories are religious and secular. The first subdivides into traditional (Judeo-Christian, following Revelation) and primitive (less structured, and beginning with some kind of paradise); the second into three: anti-Christian, humorous, and the apocalypse of despair. The religious grouping offers hope at the end, the secular the absence of hope.” So whether the future is one where the veneer of religion is used by those in power to help keep the masses under control (Zardoz) or, like most of the Road Warrior knock-offs, one where religion has been abandoned altogether (Blood Of Heroes), a Godless future is a dark and fearful one indeed.

[A quick note: I have the inescapable feeling at this point that someone out there in Internetland will be tempted to try and counter that last statement with Star Trek. Please spare yourself the embarrassment. It should be common knowledge by now that the series is at its best when it sticks to interpersonal relationships and general pronouncements on the near indomitable nature of the human spirit. It’s at its piss-poor worst when it tries to shovel secular humanism down the viewer’s throat. If you haven’t caught on to that yet, I suggest you pop in your (likely unopened) copy of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, then sit down and be silent. Even Star Trek without God sucks.]


While most of the fears touched on in Warrior of The Lost World are things to be concerned about (I certainly don’t want my own car throwing itself over suddenly appearing cliff sides), it is the failure of the characters to recognize the shallowness of their so-called freedom which places the movie squarely in the atheistic camp of '”the apocalypse of despair.” As Ms. Ania notes, “We began by stating that apocalyptic texts were traditionally intended to both console and challenge, yet it is clear that modern presentations do not have this dual capacity. Writers today offer little consolation, theirs is more a kind of ‘resistance/protest literature’ against a society in which physical wellbeing and myriad ‘freedoms’ and ‘rights’ have been gained, but at the expense of individual maturity, wisdom, and ideals such as honesty, loyalty and common morality.”

Interestingly enough, as we’ll see in a second, Ms. Ania’s statements on what constitutes true freedom are remarkably similar to the teachings of the Church on the subject. But what she doesn’t do, at least not in this essay, is make the connection between the kind of society the atheists are fraught over and the fact that it is their lack of belief which so often leads to those societies in the first place. The Catechism, however, has no such problem bridging the two. “Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude… Man's freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God's plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom… By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself (Ania: individual maturity), disrupts neighborly fellowship (Ania: ideals such as honesty, loyalty and common morality), and rebels against divine truth (Ania: wisdom)."


Perhaps all of this seems like a stretch, but I think it shows through most clearly in the central protagonist of Warrior of The Lost World. The Rider is ostensibly a hero because he overthrows (or at least thinks he does) a dictatorship. But, as he keeps telling everyone throughout the movie, his actions aren’t really directed toward anything, not towards Natasia, not towards the good of society, and certainly not towards God. He’s just going through the motions. (A gun in the crotch may get a person moving, but it doesn’t really inspire true belief.) That’s why, after the snogging (is that a country song?) The Rider, imprisoned within himself, simply takes off and leaves Natasia behind, his uncompleted (and unexplained) “mission” taking precedence over any loyalty he may feel to Natasia and her people. Because his actions aren’t really directed towards the greater good of a common morality, they can’t ultimately result in a true freedom for the people of the city. And that’s why I believe the film makers felt compelled to throw in the scene with Prosser, if for no other reason than to accentuate this truth. At least I hope that’s why. Because the only other possible explanation is that these guys truly thought there was going to be a sequel to this train wreck of a film, and that… that’s just madness. I don’t want to go there.


One of the interesting things that popped out at me while reading Gillian Ania’s essay was the overall tone that suggested academia readily accepts the notion that the atheistic view of the future is dismal compared to that of religion. But as it turns out, that’s just me buying into the notion that all college and university professors are Godless heathens when in fact, according to a 2007 study by the Harvard Divinity School, only 23.4 percent of them are. In contrast, 35.7 percent of the respondents claimed “I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it.” while everyone else camped out in the wishy-washy middle ground of belief in some kind of undefined higher power. In defense of my surprised reaction, however, I will point out that the study has no statistics on which group has the biggest mouths and gets the most press coverage.


MissJean said...

"I suggest you pop in your (likely unopened) copy of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, then sit down and be silent."

You mean people actually bought that movie for themselves or (gasp!) gifts? I haven't seen that since my best friend and I saw it in the theatre. The only redeeming quality is that it allowed us to say to each other in exaggerated tones (for years), "Shaare your pain!"

EegahInc said...

I'm assuming it's got to be in some box sets out there somewhere. But, yeah, the thought of someone going in a store just to buy that particular movie by itself... that's kind of scary.

D. G. D. Davidson said...

What would happen to me if I admitted that's more-or-less my favorite Star Trek movie? Giant floating head shooting lightning out its eyes! And let's not forget this one: "Now, bring me the starship...or watch these pitiful creatures...die...horribly..."

D. G. D. Davidson said...

And let's not forget that cat girl who jumps on Kirk's back just because the film-makers decided it was time a cat girl jumped on Kirk's back.

EegahInc said...

Well, perusing my own movie review index, I'm certainly in no position to cast stones. I'm afraid, however, I had my fill of floating heads with Zardoz. I did like Part V better than most of the TNG movies though.