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What to watch during the Mayan Apocalypse

The conspicuous lack of panic over the world's rumoured end next Friday is probably accounted for by one of the following reasons: 1) No one's heard about it. 2) No one cares. 3) Mayan calendars are hard to read.

In fact, most people who are aware of the Dec. 21 prophecy are looking forward to it – everybody knows the end of the world is cool. A fan of doomsday stories since the nuke-obsessed Twilight Zone, I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb around the time I first understood the end of the world meant the rise of a civilization led by armed gorillas on horseback. Cool.

Moreover, as Planet of the Apes promised, and Beneath the Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, Soylent Green and even Earthquake confirmed, Charlton Heston could survive any disaster no matter how devastating to the rest of the human race. As long as he was around to kick mutant/ape/zombie/alien ass, why worry?

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Curiously, Heston – who survived apocalypse more often than anyone – is completely MIA from the TIFF Cinematheque's Countdown to Armageddon program, which kicks off tonight with Stanley Kubrick's slapstick kamikaze cold war farce Dr. Strangelove.

And even though imagining the end of the world without Heston – crawling bare-chested and armed to the tightly-clenched teeth from the irradiated rubble – seems unthinkable, with only a week until Judgment, it seems churlish to quibble.

There's abundant end-of-days worthiness in the program – Children of Men (Dec. 17), The Quiet Earth (Dec. 19), Don McKellar's countdown-in-Hogtown Last Night (Dec. 21), The Road Warrior (Dec. 21) and even the rapturous blow-dried disco-era dystopia of Logan's Run (Dec. 15) – there's also Reign of Fire (Dec. 21) and Armageddon (Dec. 20), two post-apocalyptic stinkers so awful you'll be praying for a giant asteroid.

In pop culture, Armageddon and apocalypse tend loosely to refer to any globally cataclysmic event that reduces everything to an elemental struggle between good and evil. Ergo, it's a perfectly reasonable fixation. It's the ultimate frontier: a ground zero for the testing of mettle and foundation of a new order, a global Wild West ripe for redemption. This is the macho apocalypse of Max Max, The Omega Man and even The Road, and it's also the flex behind a lot of zombie movies, particularly those that envision an epidemic of the flesh-eating undead as an excuse to blow the heads off anything that moves.

But there's more to the total obliteration of human civilization than fun and games, and the program's inclusion of Geoff Murphy's The Quiet Earth and Lars Von Trier's Melancholia (Dec. 16) are examples of movie Armageddon's gentler side. One must certainly include Andrei Tarkovsky's trancelike Stalker in this category, although for detractors the most frightful thing about this 1979 movie's vision of the future is just how slow and subtitled it will be. Whatever. The point is the end of the world provides an opportunity for existential reflection as well as open season on zombies, aliens and flying dinosaurs, because nothing prompts the pondering of the meaning of human existence quite as handily as wiping it out.

Not surprisingly, there are a number of movie apocalypse forums and websites out there, and all contain the usual squabbling over which rightfully belong on an all-time-best list. Apocalyptic movies have virtually exploded in number since the mid-50s, and especially so in the past 20 years. The genesis is obviously the eruption of of the atomic age, and the more recent proliferation possibly nudged by the millennium, 9/11, global warming and the terrifying popularity of Mob Wives.

Nor can we forget CGI. We may not yet have perfected the technology to make celebrity plastic surgery look any less terrifying or colonoscopies any more fun, but we can blow the world up better than ever. Which we love to do because, let's face it folks, there's nothing more fun watching the whole enchilada explode in the microwave.

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Geoff More


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