I’ve made no secret of my boundless affection for ’70s schlockumentaries that use highly questionable pseudoscience as the jumping-off point for creepy “what if?” scenarios, so I freely acknowledge my predisposition toward junk on the order of The Late Great Planet Earth. Even though the film essentially says the world will end in the year 2000, an assertion that most would agree has proven untrue, I still enjoyed watching this irresponsibly provocative compendium of doomsday theories extrapolated from Biblical prophecies. Much credit goes to Orson Welles, who appears onscreen as host and provides voiceover narration. Although this was undoubtedly a quick paycheck gig that meant nothing to Welles, his unique speaking style, all melodic gravitas and poetic timing, makes the malarkey sound magical. Similarly, big props to composer Dana Kaproff, who contributes a hugely dramatic score suitable for a big-budget horror movie. Together, Kaproff and Welles give The Late Great Planet Earth scale and style. Make no mistake, this is a genuinely bad movie, 90 minutes of outrageous bullshit thrown onscreen by way of silly Biblical re-enactments, stock footage, and talking heads. But if you go for this sort of thing, as I do, you’ll find much of The Late Great Planet Earth darkly entertaining. That is, whenever the movie doesn’t slip into one of its periodic, sleep-inducing lulls.
The dude behind this ridiculous project is self-proclaimed Biblical historian Hal Lindsey, who is the main on-camera interview subject and also the co-author of the successful nonfiction book upon which the film is based. (Originally published in 1970, The Late Great Planet Earth reportedly sold over 25 million copies.) According to Lindsey, the fact that many prophecies expressed in the Bible have come true means that every prophecy in the Bible eventually will come true. The red flags this sort of sketchy logic raises are countless, so it’s best to simply groove on The Late Great Planet Earth as a paranormal thrill ride. Lindsey’s big move involves claiming that the formation of Israel in 1948 was the first in a chain of events foretelling the arrival of the antichrist. He and the filmmakers then create a laundry list of “signs” the end times are a-comin’. Somehow, computers, famine, killer bees, pollution, processed food, and recombinant DNA all meet the criteria, as does the spread of cults, Eastern religion, and Wicca. To illustrate these points, the filmmakers raid the stock-footage vaults, throwing everything from volcanoes to various shots of sunbathing women onscreen. The top of the picture is fun, with creepy Biblical vignettes, and the climax is wonderfully excessive with its Dr. Strangelove-style montage of mushroom clouds. In between is a whole lot of silliness, some of it laughably colorful and some of it laughably drab.
The Late Great Planet Earth: FUNKY