Thursday, 17 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: Special Bulletin

Special Bulletin (1983)

I don't know how much longer I can carry on doing this. I am starting to seriously think that it's doing me lasting psychological damage. It's fairly easy when the films you are watching are such crystalline turds that only the most bewildered sort of maniac - the kind of person who votes for the UKIP, say - could give any credence to. But in the cases where the films are quite good, or ring true, I'm starting to walk around the house afterwards in a daze, convinced the human race is beyond salvation. It is, of course, but I see no reason why I should deliberately seek reminders of this fact on a regular basis.

Special Bulletin wasn't on this list originally. The idiot who made it (Hello) left it out. Instead, its place was taken by a 1994 film called Without Warning. In Without Warning, a series of sudden and unexpected asteroid strikes decimate Earth, the story being told in the style of a real-time special news bulletin. But Without Warning failed on two of the fundamental criteria that the idiot who made the list (Hello) had laid down as being essential to any disaster movie. Firstly, aliens: the asteroids in Without Warning were all sent by extra-terrestrials in a sophisticated, if misguided, attempt at communication with the human race. Secondly, (spoiler alert) everyone dies at the end. Everyone. No-one is spared at all. Not even Malcolm's mum from Malcolm In The Middle, who I'd always considered pretty well bulletproof.

Having watched this 24-carat nugget of shit, however, I discovered another disaster movie that used the news bulletin format. This was Special Bulletin, in which disenchanted atomic weapon engineers turned disarmament campaigners hold a TV reporter hostage on a tugboat moored in Charleston harbour. Their demand: that the US government deliver all the triggers for all the nuclear weapons in the Charleston area so that their group might destroy them. Failure to do so would see them detonate a, yes you've guessed it, nuclear bomb that they'd built from half-inched plutonium. We can only hope that, in this age where global terrorism is such a concern, that no up-and-coming terrorists have such an underdeveloped sense of the concept of irony.

We interrupt this programme to bring you a special announcement: your mum's a whore.

Why Special Bulletin  is so very effective is that in its subject matter and also in its tone it is very much a film ahead of its time. The two key issues discussed, nuclear terrorism and the role the news media play in actively shaping events rather than just passively reporting on them, mean that this is a film that could easily have been made last week. It's a pretty chastening experience as a result. There are a lot of subtle digs at the way TV news makes entertainment and ratings grabs from the bleakest situations, and the denouement is chillingly imaginable. Special Bulletin gets a anus-clenching NINE out of ten disaster points.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

I know this isn't what you intended with this project, and it might not be lulz-y, but I want to hear more about the anxiety being ratcheted up by watching disaster movies.

You watch horror movies. I know this because I've watched at least one with you. Can you put your finger on why the disaster movies are freaking you out in a way horror doesn't? Is it just because the threat feels more 'real'? And if that's it, then do crime movies bother you? Because street violence is more of a real threat than zombies or nuclear holocaust.

I love horror but have very specific things that I won't watch, because they pull me out of a cathartic, pretend, safe terror and into a real-life terror. Disaster movies seem to be pulling you into a real-life terror. Just wondering if you've thought of why.

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