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Murder Slim Review: THE QUIET EARTH

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The New Zealand film industry is not a big one. On average, they make three or four movies a year, and they're often co-funded by the government. It says something for the New Zealand government that they decided to sink their cash into a science fiction movie about the "last man on earth". If it was Britain's Film Council, it would be about a postal worker named George and his adventures in fucking Coronation Street.

Bruno Lawrence plays Zac Dobson. Zac has created the ultimate weapon to wipe out countries, a clear reference to nuclear weapons. Incidentally, since the movie New Zealand has become completely nuclear free... a campaign supported by THE QUIET EARTH's writer/producer Sam Pillsbury. In line with Pillsbury's beliefs, Zac is disgusted by his own creation. The story begins after he's taken bunch of pills to try and kill himself. When he wakes up - PHOOM - no-one is there. Someone's set off his bomb and everyone's been vaporised - except for him. Cue some mesmerising shots of empty New Zealand streets. Filmmaker Geoff Murphy went on to direct such "classics" as FREEJACK and UNDER SEIGE 2, but he's on top form here with some beautiful shots.

I like a lot of last people of Earth movies. OMEGA MAN, I AM LEGEND, DAY OF THE DEAD... even NIGHT OF THE COMET is fun if you have a vagina. The isolation of the movies gives you time to know and then understand the lead characters. The character of Zac is utterly fascinating as a result. He feels guilty over creating the weapon that kills the world, yet he doesn't want to kill himself any more. In an odd way, finally, he's free.

But Zac's fleeting freedom comes at a cost to his sanity. He dresses up in women's clothes, makes life sized cut-outs of world leaders, and then gives passionate speeches about how he's killed everyone. These scenes are completely engrossing. In fact, the first forty minutes of THE QUIET EARTH - when Bruno Lawrence is the only guy on screen - are incredible. There's many facets to Zac's character, and you feel annoyed yet hugely empathetic towards the guy.

Eventually Zac does find a couple of survivors - a Maori guy (Pete Smith, who appears in EVERY movie that feature Maori) and what appears to be Nicole Kidman's paler, even more ginger, sister. Briefly Zac holds hopes of repopulating the world with bald, pale skinned children with his new woman... but you know the whole time it isn't going to work out.

Bruno Lawrence also teamed up on UTU and GOODBYE PORK PIE with Geoff Murphy, but this is the pick of the bunch... partly because Lawrence gets so much more screentime in THE QUIET EARTH. In real-life, Lawrence was a hard drinker and partier, and he has that 'rough diamond' charisma that takes over scenes in his movies. At one stage in THE QUIET EARTH, he confronts God with a sawn-off shotgun and if you listen carefully you can just hear God shitting himself. For THE QUIET EARTH to succeed, Zac Dobson has to be damn interesting. Luckily, he is.

One note - try to avoid the British DVD release, which is a pan and scan one. Get the American widescreen version and see if you're equally astonished by the final shots of THE QUIET EARTH. Like so many elements of a great - yet largely unknown - movie, it really sticks in the brain.

Review by Steve Hussy