Although he became a right-wing icon, it’s hard to think of the guy who uttered such cynical and dark anti-human sentiments in three iconic apocalyptic films of that cinematic cesspool known as the late ‘60s/early ’70s as being conservative.
Well, okay, it’s hard to imagine Ronald Reagan saying those things. We don’t have to imagine Heston saying these things, because he did.
In the first, and by far the best, movie of the pseudo-trilogy is Planet of the Apes. Heston wanders around a sort-of 19th century desert world where non-human primates struggle with Enlightenment ideas and a hugely restrictive religion that’s bent on covering up a dark past. It’s a grossly cynical movie that works because it’s also a great action film, a Twilight-Zone-esque mystery, and for all its cynicism, does not come across as a nihilistic film.
I should read Pierre Boulle’s novel. If I understand correctly, his story took place in a world more like the world of the 1960s, and I think was more meant as an indictment of consumerism and social satire. Tim Burton’s remake sort of touches on that idea–but that movie is haunted by the greatness of the original and contorts itself into absurdity trying to surprise.
The second film in the trilogy is The Omega Man. This is the second adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller I Am Legend. I’ve talked about it in the link there, so I won’t rehash it much. This movie is the most wildly uneven of the three: The high points–the horror and action setup–are as high as the low points–the whole hippie-as-vampire thing–are low.
I mean, I’ve been impressed by how good parts are, and also how much other parts make me positively wince.
So, I suppose, it’s fair to argue that Soylent Green is a better movie. Meh. It’s so steeped in the sort of thing that our current science czar believes that I find it too hard to take seriously. And it was meant to be taken seriously–and people did.
Omega didn’t really leave any culturally legacies. Soylent left one really prominent one (and a few lesser known ones). And of course Apes is almost up there with Wizard of Oz as far as iconic screen moments and bits of dialogue go.
Still, it’s hard not to look back at those days and think, “Thank God, they’re over!” At least for me, from a cinematic standpoint, anyway. The ’80s would set its own post-Apocalyptic tone with the highly entertaining Mad Max series. Then the point became not “here’s how the world ends” but more “well, now that the world’s ended, let’s party!”