The Quiet Earth is a 1985 New Zealand science fiction post-apocalyptic film directed by Geoff Murphy and starring Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge and Pete Smith as three survivors of a cataclysmic disaster. It is loosely based on the 1981 science fiction novel of the same name by Craig Harrison. Its other sources of inspiration have been listed as the 1954 novel I Am Legend, Dawn of the Dead, and especially the 1959 film The World, the Flesh and the Devil, of which it has been called an unofficial remake
Plot5 July begins as a normal winter morning near Hamilton, New Zealand. At 6:12 a.m., the Sun darkens for a moment, and a red light surrounded by darkness is briefly seen. Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) is a scientist working for Delenco, part of an international consortium working on “Project Flashlight”, an experiment to create a global energy grid. He awakens abruptly; when he turns on his radio, he is unable to receive any transmissions. Zac gets dressed and drives into the deserted city. Investigating a fire, he discovers the wreckage of a passenger jet, but there are no bodies, only empty seats.
He enters his underground laboratory; a monitor displays the message “Project Flashlight Complete”. The mass disappearance seems to coincide with the moment Flashlight was activated. He notes on his tape recorder:
“Zac Hobson, July 5th. One: there has been a malfunction in Project Flashlight with devastating results.
Two: it seems I am the only person left on Earth.”
ReviewBefore we get started, a little caveat for the reader: this may not be the easiest film to find at your standard video rental outlets or libraries. Your best bet will be an online rental service (it’s available at Netflix) or a purchase from Amazon. But if you ask me, it is worth it. You may also be scratching your head at the release date. Why should you care about an obscure Kiwi (being of or from New Zealand) science fiction film from 22 years ago? Simple. It is a great film. Not only has it obviously influenced many contemporary films, but it also trumps these films on a variety of levels. Allow me to elaborate.
Prior to The Quiet Earth, Geoff Murphy made a handful a good films (Wild Man, Goodbye Pork Pie, UTU) in his native New Zealand. Shortly thereafter he helmed an unfortunate number of Hollywood films (Young Guns 2, Freejack, Under Siege 2, Fortress 2) that may be considered guilty pleasures at best. He was also called upon by fellow Kiwi director Peter Jackson to head up the second unit on all three Lord of the Rings films. So what is the point of this little history lesson? Hollywood kills good directors (John Woo and Sam Raimi, prime examples).
But I digress. Despite the a lackluster couple of decades, Geoff Murphy does have a grand if only marginally well-known legacy in The Quiet Earth. Science fiction and horror fans will recognize and appreciate the premise; Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) wakes up one day, goes through the motions like any and every other day, and slowly realizes that he is, inexplicably, the last person on earth. The scenario plays out basically as is expected but it is the manner of the presentation and plotting that make it remarkable.
The film ultimately has only three characters, whose dynamic touches on Alfred Hitchcock and Shakespeare without any pretense. Zac’s subtle and deliberate decline into the reality of his new position in the world leads to him swinging from disbelief to depression to mania to megalomania to acceptance and back to disbelief. The storytelling and character interaction allow for empathy without distraction and the science fiction elements are beautifully woven into the fabric of the drama so that the one doesn’t overshadow the other.
There are several mysteries involved in the story that are revealed with wonderful precision by the director through a series of well placed flashbacks and the subtlety of mood and movement, but you’ll have to find the film and watch it to understand the full glory.
This is not a flashy film. It is, however, a master stroke. It is unfortunate that this film has all but vanished into obscurity along with its director, but they both still exist and there’s always a second wind. Always.
Review by Matthew C Holmes