The Quiet Earth

The Quiet Earth (dir. Geoff Murphy, 1985)

An old school NZ sci-fi classic finally gets released on DVD.

Review by Hugh Lilly

After finding major critical and commercial success with Goodbye Pork Pie in 1981 and UTU in 1983, New Zealand director Geoff Murphy made The Quiet Earth, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller with long-time collaborator Bruno Lawrence, best known at the time for his roles in Pork Pie and Rodger Donaldson’s Smash Palace. Lawrence would go on to star in a number of film and television productions including the brilliant ABC series Frontline, a cynical and satirical look at the workings of an Australian current affairs programme, before succumbing to lung cancer in 1995, at the age of only 54.

Based on Craig Harrison’s novel, The Quiet Earth is a nuclear annihilation parable that stars Lawrence as Zac Hobson, a scientist working on something codenamed Operation Flashlight, a global collaboration to create a worldwide power grid, the implementation of which goes awry creating “the effect,” signalled by 2001-like special-effects, the result of which is the vanishing of almost everyone on earth. Waking up to find himself alone, Hobson traverses this newly barren world in search of signs of life, finding nothing but crashed cars and deserted Remuera mansions. Soon enough, though, he finds that he’s not entirely alone: two others have survived the effect, and the really interesting part of the plot involves working out why they were spared and everyone else disappeared into thin air.

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Bruno Lawrence delivers a standout performance, and Ken Durey’s economical special effects, even though they’re a bit crude, work pretty well in context. Worth a mention is John Charles’ accomplished Jerry Goldsmith-esque score, which complements the narrative perfectly. The Quiet Earth has its antecedents in the “last people on earth” sub-genre of 50s B-movies – although it is far more sophisticated than those films – and has been quite influential: it was referenced in 28 Days Later and it has arguably had an impact on the mood of films such as Primer, Cypher, and 2007’s Los Cronocrimenes, to name but a few.

Released to massive critical acclaim, The Quiet Earth won eight New Zealand Film Awards and enjoys ongoing local and international commercial success. Co-writer/Producer Sam Pilsbury’s illuminating commentary is interesting for the trivia it provides – Bruno was an accomplished drummer, and he and Geoff Murphy were in a band (Blerta) together; a young Lee Tamahori was first A.D. – and the film itself is fascinating for its documentary aspects: shots of the Warkworth satellite station, Eden Park and One Tree Hill, and mid-1980s Queen St., complete with old ARA Yellow Buses, for example. Both picture and sound have been restored and remastered on this new release of The Quiet Earth which is available, for the first time on DVD, at vendettafilms.co.nz

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