After many years of waiting, one of the best unsung genre films of the 1980s finally gets the release it deserves as Geoff Murphy’s modestly-budgeted but highly effective 1986 apocalyptic drama The Quiet Earth lands on Blu-ray on 18th June courtesy of Arrow, joining other more famous but perhaps lesser films in the “last man on Earth” sub-genre.
Filmed in New Zealand, The Quiet Earth stars Bruno Lawrence as scientist Zac Hobson, who in an opening sequence lovingly ripped-off by Danny Boyle for 28 Days Later wakes up alone and naked in a motel bedroom in the city of Hamilton.
When he ventures forth he discovers that every other living creature has vanished in the blink of an eye: breakfasts sit partly-eaten, kettles are boiling, petrol pumps are refuelling empty vehicles and not a human or animal can be seen anywhere.
Over the next few days Zac ascertains that he is indeed the last living creature on Earth and that “the Effect,” as he calls it, appears to have been triggered by an experiment he was a reluctant part of, a global initiative that would have supplied unlimited contactless power, free of batteries, wires and plugs, anywhere on the planet, a visit to his research lab suggesting that he has somehow been transported to an alternative mirror dimension when the Effect was triggered.
Zac spends the next few days doing what any normal human would do in that situation: breaking into luxury hotels, raiding shopping malls, experimenting with some light cross-dressing and generally going a bit crazy, but he discovers he is not, in fact, alone and is joined by Joanne (Alison Routledge) a young free-spirited woman who throws in her lot with him, the two quickly becoming lovers.
At the same time, Zac’s continuing scientific observations suggest to him that the universe around them is inherently unstable and, unless the equipment in his lab can be shut down for good, the Effect will trigger once again in only a few days. Aiding the couple in this endeavour is Api (Pete Smith), a third survivor who reluctantly joins Zac and Joanne and subsequently forms the classic romantic triangle common to this genre.
A prominent figure in New Zealand cinema of the eighties and nineties whose career was cut short in 1995 by his death at the young age of 54, Bruno Lawrence ably carries the film for most of its running time and is prepared to do things most American actors would never contemplate which makes this a refreshing addition to the canon.
The other two characters are a little more cliched in their depiction, but Routledge and Smith do what they can with the material and the offbeat nature of the film’s setting and treatment of a fairly-hackneyed sub-genre makes it interesting and entertaining to watch with a few unexpected twists and turns along the way.
Geoff Murphy’s direction is competent and atmospheric and services the script by Bill Baer, Sam Pillsbury and Lawrence well. A leading light in the early days of New Zealand’s emerging cinema industry in the eighties with his raucous comedy thriller Goodbye Pork Pie and historical thriller Utu, both of which also starred Lawrence.
The Quiet Earth probably representing the high point of his career which would see him continuing until 2009 as a director-for-hire, often on sequels such as Young Guns II, Under Siege 2 and Fortress 2, this is a film that any director would be proud to have on their resume.
Treading a well-worn path but in a sufficiently individual manner to make it well worth the investment, for any genre aficionado who has yet to sample this rare delight The Quiet Earth can be recommended very highly, especially as the transfer used for this release is stunning, the flawless print a night-and-day improvement on the previous DVD.
An exhaustive commentary track has been supplied by critic Travis Crawford and there are also two short specially-commissioned features, one from Kim Newman delivering his usual lucid contextual analysis and the other an audio essay by critic Bryan Reesman illustrated with excerpts from the film; all are very informative, though inevitably but there is a fair amount of thematic overlap in the discussions.