A man awakens on a morning just like any other. He gets dressed, leaves for work and stops to get some gas. The only problem is there's no one working at the gas station. In fact, there is no one anywhere at all. The entire city is deserted, except for a single, confused man. This chilling premise is the opening of Geoff Murphy's "The Quiet Earth," an intriguing science fiction movie from New Zealand. Released in 1985, the film has developed a considerable cult following, and Anchor Bay Entertainment has now unleashed it on DVD for its eagerly waiting fans.
Bruno Lawrence stars as Zac Hobson, the man in question who finds himself the last human left on earth—so he thinks. For the first half hour of the movie, Lawrence delivers a tour de force in what is basically a one-man show. He superbly conveys the paranoia, steady acceptance, and growing despair of his lonely character. This first act is actually the best part of the movie and is filled with a palpable intensity. As Zac prowls through the empty streets of the New Zealand city, he dives into the luxury items that he otherwise would never be able to enjoy, but this does not satisfy him for long.
The tone shifts when another person, Joanne (Alison Routledge), walks into the picture. She and Zac immediately bond, forming a camaraderie that is threatened when a third party shows up. Api (Peter Smith) is a young, streetwise Maori who, in time, becomes a rival for Zac. As personalities clash and secrets are revealed, the quasi-utopian existence that the three have set up for themselves begins to fall apart, proving that the conflicts that plague societies still exist regardless of how many people make up that society.
Although based on a novel by Craig Harrison, "The Quiet Earth" bears several uncanny similarities with the 1959 film "The World, the Flesh and the Devil." In that film, Harry Belafonte also finds himself in a deserted city, namely Manhattan. He later encounters the beautiful Inger Stevens with whom he shares a hot-and-cold relationship. The entrance of Mel Ferrer only causes more problems as tensions rise and the two men compete for the love of the last woman on earth. In addition to similar storylines, both films explore racial attitudes and the role of science in the contemporary world.
"The Quiet Earth" is indeed a fascinating movie on its own terms. For such a low-budget film, it is beautifully photographed and contains some inspired, yet deceptively simple visual effects. It does start to run out of steam toward the end and resorts to a rather unnecessary car chase, culminating in an ending that, although haunting, is perplexing and not entirely satisfying.
Anchor Bay Entertainment's new release is good, but not spectacular. In a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, the picture is acceptable, but it cries for a restoration. The quality is often grainy, much like a VHS transfer, and there is a red tinge throughout that doesn't seem natural. There does not seem to be any edge enhancement, which is a plus, and contrast is pleasing, but for such a good-looking film, the overall result is disappointing.
The soundtrack is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track, which is also less than stellar. Dialogue is soft and sometimes downright undistinguishable, while sound effects are notably clearer. The film features a great score by John Charles, but the audio presentation doesn't do it full justice here.
Fortunately, we do get an informative audio commentary by co-writer and co-producer Sam Pillsbury, who provides some much-needed explanation about some of the cultural aspects that might alienate American viewers. He also describes many of the film's memorable effects and set pieces and even expresses disappointment in his own writing during a couple of scenes.
A theatrical trailer follows, presented in fullframe. Although the package promises an eight-page collectible booklet, it alas is only six pages, though it does contain a nice review by Richard Harland Smith, critic for "Video Watchdog" magazine. He offers a brief but thorough history of the "last-man-on-earth" sci-fi genre and has glowing praise for star Bruno Lawrence, who sadly passed away in 1995 from lung cancer. I would also like to give kudos for the very attractive tin case that the DVD is packaged in.
All in all, "The Quiet Earth" is a thoughtful science fiction outing, and Anchor Bay's release should appease the fans who have waited too many years for it to make its way to the digital format. The presentation could have been better, but it will suffice for now. As an obscure curio, it's worth a look, especially for sci-fi buffs.