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Heading for a doomsday summer

By Staff | May 30, 2012

Alien invasions and flesh eating zombies dominate in the cinematic expressions of how human life terminates on planet earth.

The tent-pole summer blockbuster bally-hoo normally achieves the frights with state of the art digital special effects and the world survives through the triumph of a hero or heroine with extraordinary super powers or just plain old strong abs and good intuition.

For 2012, sandwiched between “The Avengers,” “Men in Black III,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” is an atypical group of alternatives to the raunchy screwball comedies or animated 3D family-friendly talking animal parades.

August normally brings the latest “Underworld” apocalyptic sequel (it does this year, too), but directors seem fixated on slipping the sky-will-fall mentality in the scope of more intimate groups.

The world as we know it still comes to (or close to) an end; yet, the countless shallow, predictable character traits have been confined to a finite number of characters. Romantic meeting, greeting and sticking together flicks have hit a stone wall, so comes the latest challenge – small group survival or finding a squeeze before the horn blows, THE END.

Horror found a new nuclear premise on March 16, 1979 based on industrial dangers. Instead of a stray or intentionally dropped bomb, the lingering potential for radioactive fallout originated within a power plant with a nuclear reactor that was not properly maintained. A television reporter, played by Jane Fonda, and her cameraman, played by Michael Douglas, witness a near-nuclear meltdown during a tour of a California facility. What occurs in the control room is swept under the rug to protect the electrical company’s ass; the supervisor, played by Jack Lemmon, faces a dilemma – protect his company’s billion dollar investment or reveal that the tremor and radioactive leaks have been falsified in the report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Ironically, less than two weeks later (March 28, 1979) Unit Two of the Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania plant nearly melted down. It was the more horrific commercial nuclear generating plant accident at the time. On April 26, 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl, Ukraine facility exploded. The radioactivity release forced a 19-mile exclusion zone, produced increased cancer in former residents, and lead to deformities in the future populace.

Last year, April 27, 2011, an earthquake and tsunami disabled the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan resulting in a series of explosions, contamination of the air and ocean, and still-to-be determined health consequences on the former residents and, perhaps, the entire globe.

The fictional scenario for “Chernobyl Diaries” comes from the director who generated ultra squeals through real-time shaky camera “found footage” perceptions (“The Blair Witch Project,” “Paranormal Activity.”) Oren Peli offers this chiller about a group of tourists trapped in forbidden territory near the still radioactive facility.

Written prior to unveiling the secretive scenario (a.k.a. “Cloverfield” and “8mm”), the answer to the “we are not alone” tags will not be known until the embargo is over. A little research turned up in advance pronouncements that a “popcorn film” will follow, just one set on the edge of a 20th century ghost town where far more than the official count of 26 people perished.

After hovering near a real-life doomsday venue, Ridley Scott’s cameras turn June 8 to a dark corner of the universe on the spaceship “Prometheus.” Efforts to save the human race are headed by Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender and Guy Pearce. The script has been rumored as a prequel to a simultaneously occurring interplanetary incident.

Come late June, Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Connie Britton and Adam Brody face an asteroid heading near earth without a heroic NASA, Bruce (“Armageddon”) Willis type, and deep riggers on a ‘nuke it’ mission. Carell, recently dumped, heads out on the fantasy road to search for his lost high school sweetheart as his young neighbor (Knightly) seeks to reunite with her family as everyone’s “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.” (Wouldn’t the Internet hook up ‘dating’ services swindle fortunes out of those lonely on the last days!)

“[E]ven though it’s about the end of the world, it’s weirdly one of the most optimistic films I’ve ever been a part of,” Knightley told Moviefone earlier this year. “It’s a life-affirming piece. That’s the thing, you make films about the end, and what they become about is what’s important in life, and therefore they become about life itself as opposed to death Hopefully, it’s an optimistic one.”

Judging by the musical track, it will be an upbeat celebration with “oldies” like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (Beach Boys), “This Guy’s in Love with You (Herb Alpert), “Dance Hall Days” (Wang Chung), “Stay With Me” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine” (Walker Brothers) and the hip-hop classic, “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” (P.M. Dawn).

Last year, indie moviegoers explored “Melancholia,” where Lars von Trier directed Kristen Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg in dealing with an interplanetary collision; a group of New Yorkers barricaded themselves in the basement to escape a nuclear holocaust and are forced to confront dwindling supplies and emotional breakdowns in “The Divide.” Earlier this year, IFC issued a world ends at “4:44” production and in July “Safety Not Guaranteed” has a couple of journalists looking into an Internet ad from a scientist requesting a traveling -through time — companion.

August brings the remake of “Total Recall,” where inhabitants of the future can take an ultimate stay-cation, simply by having memories of a journey around the world – to NYC, or the beach or Mars – implanted in their heads. Considering the economic and political torrents of this decade, would you delight in memories of success, a white picket fence, kids, and two cars even though the long term American Dream has been replaced by “how do I pay off this damned student loan?”

The original film shared Mars and earth settings, but the remake follows a factory worker in Euromerica which is at war with New Shanghai.