End-of-the-World Movies . . . Without Special Effects

In the last several years, there have been a number of interesting science fiction films that manage to avoid using special effects, or use very limited special effects. Maybe it is a response to the prominence of CGI, where so many movies are weighed down by images that you know just are not “real.” Maybe it is an attempt to return to using science fiction elements to actually say something besides blowing up things. In this genre, Chimesfreedom has discussed three films that we really liked: Robot & Frank (2012), Another Earth (2011), and The Man from Earth (2007). Another film that was interesting was Melancholia (2011). Two other films to add to this list are It’s a Disaster (2012) and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012), both now available on DVD and Blu Ray.

Of the two, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World has the bigger stars, featuring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley (as well as a small appearance by Martin Sheen). The film begins with Dodge (Carell) and his wife listening to the announcement that an asteroid is going to crash into earth in three weeks, resulting in his wife making a mad dash to leave her husband. Thus begins Dodge’s quest to find some company for the end of the world.

The movie, directed by Lorene Scafaria, has some laughs and some interesting thoughts on different ways people might react to the end of the world. The film avoids going the expected route of going for an all-out fantasy comedy or for going for futuristic reality. But because the movie tries to walk a middle ground between comedy and tragedy, it seems to zig zag back and forth, making for interesting but somewhat unsettling viewing, especially as the movie becomes more serious toward the end. Still, I enjoyed the film and the fact that it aimed for something a little unusual.

By contrast, It’s a Disaster is clearly a comedy. The film follows the interactions of several couples during a Sunday “couples brunch” as they gradually come to learn that someone has set off some dirty atomic bombs not far away and, inevitably, they are all going to die, probably within the day. But the film centers less on the morbid future and more on the relationships between the couples as they go about their afternoon finding things out about each other, occasionally taking some time to come up with ideas to figure out what they should do.

The low-budget film directed by Todd Berger pretty much stays inside the house for most of the movie, but it makes you laugh at the characters and what you would do in the same situation. As when you watch Seeking a Friend, at some point you also will start wondering how the movie might end. If you go into the film with modest expectations, you might enjoy the comedy of manners that takes place. To reveal much more would ruin your fun. It’s a Disaster stars Julia Stiles, David Cross, Rachel Boston, Kevin M. Brennan, and Laura Adkin.

Conclusion? Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and It’s a Disaster are two interesting minimal special effects end-of-the-world movies that are worth your time on a lazy rainy afternoon. While they are not great movies, they are somewhat unusual and might make you think a little while entertaining you. Of the two, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is more ambitious, while It’s a Disaster is a little more light-hearted take on a serious subject.

Other Reviews Because Why Should You Listen to Me? Rotten Tomatoes has mediocre ratings for Seeking a Friend for the End of the World from both critics (56%) and audience members (54%), perhaps reflecting the unevenness of the movie. By contrast, on Rotten Tomatoes, the less ambitious but more consistent It’s a Disaster gets a decent audience rating (68%) and an even better critics rating (77%). Jason Bailey at Flavorwire sums up It’s a Disaster as an “odd, funny, invigorating little movie.”

What did you think of these films? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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