With 2012 underway and the world still intact (give or take a few dwindling economies), one might think the Mayans were wrong to stop producing calendars centuries in advance and, in so doing, confuse gullible fatalists across the globe. However, we at Idiomanic firmly believe that, should the world end, humanity would pursue its business as usual. After all, if post-apocalyptic fiction has taught us anything, it’s that man’s story continues well beyond the end.
When I think of the end of the world, only one video game comes to mind… Well, two, but one turns out considerably less cataclysmic than the title would have us believe. Anyway, Fallout takes place in 2161 California about a hundred years after a nuclear war with China. Players are initially tasked with safeguarding water supplies for their fallout shelter but soon end up having to fight the Master, who is assembling an army of super mutants in the hopes of bringing about a new world order.
Fallout has spawned many sequels, but the 1997 original remains the best. The role-playing game stands out for its intricate sandbox experience. As they travel across devastated wastelands, players are given different optional tasks with numerous ways to complete. Their characters also offer variety, what with four separate features to develop: attributes, skills, traits, and perks. This means they can become any sort of person in the game, from a dumb, unstoppable juggernaut to a wimpy but sneaky thief. More importantly, it means every play-through is unique, kind of like radioactive dust flakes after a nuclear explosion.
Thundarr the Barbarian (1980-1982)
Imagination gravitates toward extremes, and, in a post-apocalyptic landscape, it finds fertile ground. I’m going to sidestep the obvious though and crack open a heady embarrassment from the biographical vault: Thundarr the Barbarian! The 1980-1982 Saturday morning cartoon comes in swinging from the opening lines: “The year: 1994. From out of space comes a runaway planet hurtling between the Earth and the moon, unleashing cosmic destruction! Man’s civilization is cast in ruin! Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn…”
I don’t have the heart to ferret out the YouTube clips because there’s no way Thundaar would hold up to scrutiny. Back when I was a kid though, its Kirby-inspired characters and techno-magical mysteries fed me the seeds for countless future stories, all in a shape and size I could digest with my spoonfuls of Fruit Loops. There was the powerful, noble barbarian freed from slavery with his sword made of light, his hairy sidekick, and his quick-witted princess. There were evil wizards, werewolves, the moon split in two, and, of course, the shameless cribbing from other franchises. Yes, Thundarr had it all, including one of the most important rules in all of sci-fi. That is, the requisite extra consonants in a character’s name.
The Road (2009)
I was introduced to this 2009 adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel years ago when I sent my husband to the video store to get a fun, lighthearted movie. I love dumb comedies, action thrillers, murder mysteries, musicals, and the occasional rom-com. The Road is none of those. I don’t know how my hubby got it so wrong, but, after the first minute, it was clear to me this was another one of those heavy-with-human-misery films that Viggo Mortensen keeps gravitating toward. Still, as an avid Viggo fan, I persevered. Ugh. Viggo, grubby and gaunt, portrays a father hell-bent on ensuring his son’s (Kodi Smit-McPhee) survival in a world where all plant life has withered and cannibalism has become a popular diet choice. Being “the good guys”, they eschew human meat and make do with forgotten cans of Coke and other foods immune to nuclear holocaust.
I don’t regret having watched The Road, which raises poignant questions about human nature, the love of a parent, and despair. However, I’ll pass on a second helping. Sometimes, one can like a film without enjoying it. If you’re looking for a haunting, high-quality feel-bad movie, look no further, but I recommend chasing it down with Zoolander (2001) before you become suicidal.
I Am Legend (2007)
Spawning three big screen adaptations, none of which capture its profound humanity, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend isn’t just a pulpy sci-fi yarn about a world overrun with vampires. It’s also a twisted Robinson Crusoe pastiche, a post-nuclear reinterpretation of Gothic tropes, and the rousing tale of a man coming to terms with his species’ mortality. To me, though, the 1954 novella constitutes first and foremost an expression of modernist sensibilities at their most poetic.
For obvious reasons, most entries in the post-apocalyptic genre portray the end of humanity as a bad thing. However, Matheson understands that man plays only a bit part in a larger, equally wondrous cosmic process. This view resembles that of the Mayans, whose circular calendars signal the start of a new cycle in 2012, not the end of the world. According to their culture, everything comes full circle, you see, including tongue-in-cheek collective Web articles.