January 13, 2016


Edited by Karen A. Ritzenhoff and Angela Krewani. (2015, 231 pp).

Man, what movie lover wouldn't love taking a college course on the history of apocalyptic cinema? If such a course actually exists and the genre is your forte, it's a safe bet The Apocalypse in Film would be required text. This also means film readers of a non-academic persuasion should probably pass on this one.

The Apocalypse in Cinema - subtitled "Dystopias, Disasters, and Other Visions about the End of the World" - is not an encyclopedic movie guide, nor a comprehensive volume on the history of the subgenre (though some historical context is obviously included to lay the groundwork for themes discussed in various chapters). It's a collection of scholarly, analytical & annotated essays focusing primarily on how select films reflect the societal concerns and/or mindsets of the era in which they were first released. Many factors - such as religion, politics and gender roles - are thoroughly discussed by numerous film scholars and historians. Some ideas and suggestions have considerable merit (even creating a few 'a-ha!' moments), while others occasionally leave the reader wondering if the writer has been sniffing the ink on their dissertations. In either case, one can't totally dismiss any book brave enough to discuss the supposed themes of 2012 with the same objective seriousness as those in Dr. Strangelove or The Bed Sitting Room.

Surprisingly, an entire section is dedicated to a series of essays discussing Lars von Trier's Melancholia, which was apparently featured during a conference which inspired this collection. Since Melancholia isn't likely the first title which comes-to-mind regarding films dealing with the end of the world, this is inadvertently the only part of the book that could be accused of being subjective. Aside from that, none of the selected films are included for their creative, technical and artistic merits (or lack thereof). Instead, they are chosen for their effectiveness as social commentary. Sorry, kids, you’ll find nothing about the making of Armageddon.

As its contents and price tag suggest, The Apocalypse in Film is not recreational reading. Being a simple movie fan (even if you love the genre) may not be enough to enjoy what essentially amounts to a textbook. However, one whose interest in cinema transcends mere entertainment may find this collection of theories and analyses quite fascinating. Who knew such an inherently dumb genre could be intellectualized?

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