Thursday, October 17, 2019

Hubrisween 2019 :: L is for The Late, Great Planet Earth (1979)

We open in the familiar terrain of Vasquez Rocks, where the Batley Townswomens' Guild is apparently doing a re-enactment of a scene from The Life of Brian (1979) ... No. Wait. That’s not right. Well, turns out we’re not that lucky and have stumbled into something completely different as we follow an older gent, sporting one of the worst paste-on beards of ever, flee from a pursuing mob of zealots armed with very large rocks, their intentions clear, who run the old man to the top of Deja-Vu Peak before he plummets to his death on the rocks below. Their obligation done, the posse disperses.

Cut to two thousand years later, same spot, where our narrator (Welles) looks over the man’s bleached bones, and then picks up and examines the skull. Apparently, this skull belonged to a prophet -- make that a false prophet. Seems back in ancient times, the Hebrews felt prophets were God’s direct conduit to them, meaning they’d best be accurate, sincerity be damned, with no margin for error or, like this poor fellow, they wound up stoned to death for heresy.

Thus, as the narrator continues, unlike the other ancient empires, who gave us the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the great library at Alexandria, massive fleets like the Phonecians, or great art and architecture like the Greeks, the nomadic Hebrew’s legacy were tribal histories and prophecies collected into one book, thee Book. And unlike those other empires, which completely disappeared over time or are now left in preserved ruin, the Bible’s influence, for good or ill, continued on through the ages, whose lore, parables, and predictive text should be taken as, well, gospel.

For example we have the tale of Jeremiah, who was at first hesitant when God called upon him to relate his displeasure because the 12 tribes of Israel had managed to piss Him off again AGAIN. Pushing the reluctant prophet by “putting words of fire in his mouth,” Jeremiah then predicted the Israelites would be conquered by the Babylonians and enslaved for 70 years. History, the narrator points out, shows this prediction came true. Jeremiah also predicted how Solomon’s great temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed and then later rebuilt 200 years later, which is also historically accurate.

But the temple would fall for a second time as prophesied, when the Roman legions arrived and the Hebrew nation was destroyed and its people scattered -- as was also predicted. And so, whether you believe this was all part of natural history or some predestined Divine plan, the facts fulfilled from these predictive texts should not be ignored, says the narrator. For if you do, you do this at your own peril. 

Which brings us to John the Revelator, whose Divine visions of a coming biblical apocalypse formed the basis of the Book of Revelations, which, among many other things, talks about how when the Jewish temple is rebuilt on the same spot in Jerusalem for a third time means the end of the world is nigh and God’s final judgement is ready to be unleashed upon the world at long last.

Now, all of this is related with another dramatic reenactment, which includes a look at the Whore of Babylon, the dead unearthing themselves and walking the Earth, constantly blaring trumpets, and a whackadoodle mix of stock-footage of the D-Day landings, a cavalry charge, a mushroom cloud, tanks on maneuvers, and a rampaging dinosaur (-- wait, What?! Yes. A reasonable facsimile of a dinosaur culled from an old Irwin Allen movie,) to represent the gathering of kings and the final battle on the plains of Armageddon before the Second Coming, where evil is vanquished and True Believers ascend into Heaven for their just reward while everyone else gets left behind or rots in hell. And here, the narrator ominously intones that 70% of biblical prophecies have already been fulfilled, and the rest, if we’re reading the signs right, will most likely come to fruition within our lifetime...

In theology circles, dispensation refers to a literal interpretation of the Bible where it is broken down into certain and definable epochs based on and defined by how God relates to mankind during these quantified periods of time. This branch of dispensationalism can be traced back to the early second century, and since its inception the number of these distinct periods has varied over the millennia. Thus and so, depending on which biblical scholar you subscribe to, there is either three, four, seven, or eight of these dispensations, which is then broken down into subcategories and sub-sub categories. Confused? Me, too!

Anyhow, for today’s review, we’re gonna use the four dispensation model because it seems the simplest and will be easiest to relate to you, gentle reader, as I try to make sense out of all of this. Thus and lo, in the beginning we have the Patriarchal epoch, which covers the events of Genesis through the Great Flood. Next is the Mosaic epoch, which covers Abraham’s covenant to the exodus from Egypt and ends with Moses refusing to enter Canaan. Then the Ecclesial epoch, which covers everything after Moses until Christ’s crucifixion and the scattering of the Israelites somewhere around 70 A.D. And lastly we have the Zionic period, which can be broken down further into the Millennial Kingdom period, which covers everything after Christ’s resurrection to the coming Rapture, the Tribulation, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and then we reach the end of our final destination in the Eternal State, where Christ returns for a 1000 year reign on Earth before God’s final judgement is passed. Maybe. I don’t know. It’s all very confusing. And contradictory.

This, then, currently puts us in the Zionic period of things. Of course, no one knows for sure when Judgement Day will arrive -- if you even believe in such things, I sure don’t, but there are those always on the lookout for signs over the centuries that the end is nigh -- especially the dispensationalists. Some thought World War I heralded the end, others thought for sure Hitler was the Antichrist but, nope. However, Hitler’s Final Solution might’ve started the ball rolling to some biblical scholars as things really started to come together in 1948 when the sovereign state of Israel was re-established in Palestine.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, one of the key components of the coming Apocalypse to a dispensationalist Christian is the return of the Hebrew people to the Holy Land and the reconstruction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem for a third time. And this became a distinct possibility in 1968 during the Six Day War, when the Israelis, flush with victory over an alliance of Arab nations, were able to capture the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, and parts of the West Bank, including a good chunk of Jerusalem, and then refused to give any of it back when hostilities ended with a brokered peace. 

And, you guessed it, part of those spoils was the Temple Mount; the site of the old temple, whose only remnants was the Wailing Wall. Fraught times for true believers -- some could argue giddy times, for sure. And if the end really was nigh, and the countdown to extinction was on, perhaps it was time to try and cash in on the coming Apocalypse -- no matter if it actually ever arrived or not. Enter Hal Lindsey...

A native of Houston, Texas, Lindsey was one of those Christian Zionist evangelistic dispensationalists. In 1969, at the age of 40, Lindsey was watching these developments in the Middle-East with a keen interest and decided to write a book about his findings and theories, where he tried to hammer all of these round prophetic puzzle pieces into the square holes of his foregone conclusions about the coming Apocalypse, tapping into the crypto-addled 1970s and a lingering nuclear war anxiety, resulting in the best-selling book, The Late, Great Planet Earth.

In the book, which, technically, was ghost-written by Carole C. Carlson -- who would later get a co-author credit on later editions, Lindsey lays it all out, reiterating with the worldwide dispersion of the Jewish people coming to an end, the Tribulation, as described in Revelations, might’ve already begun and we’re on a ticking clock to Doomsday. Allegedly, as The Late, Great Planet Earth is a thesis of “literalist, premillennial, dispensational eschatology,” which means a literal reading of the Bible that removes any meaning of symbolism or metaphor behind the text, and the world would end before the year 2000, by linking Bible prophecies to contemporary events of the day, so we can suss out when the world will -- sorry, “might” end.

This, of course, gives Lindsey plenty of wiggle room on his evidence -- like any good con-man or carnival huckster, he doesn’t have to be right all of the time, just partly right some of the time, with just enough authenticity sprinkled around the already “fulfilled” biblical prophecies as proof of the Bible’s infallibility to keep the faithful in a dither over the mounting climactic evidence of the as of yet but just you wait "unfulfilled" prophecies.

Citing the global sociopolitical upheavals of the 1960s and an increase in famine, war, and natural disasters as omens of ominous portent, Lindsey also draws a line between the Book of Ezekiel and the Soviet Union being Magog from which Gog would emerge, whose hordes would overwhelm Israel in the end-times -- not to mention his theories on the growing threat of China and equating the newly formed European Union as the revived Roman Empire destined to be ruled by the Anti-Christ.

As the 1970s progressed, Lindsey started doing the daytime talk show circuit, and there were rumors of adapting The Late, Great Planet Earth as a prime-time television special around 1975 (-- I have vague recollections of a syndicated Hal Lindsey Report type program from way back then), but then The Omen (1976) hit and this tale of the Anti-Christ pulled in over $60-million, making it the No. 4 movie at the box-office. And what came in at No. 5 that year? In Search of Noah’s Ark (1976), I shit you not, a pseudo-documentary courtesy of our old pals, Charles E. Sellier Jr., James L. Conway, and Sunn Classic Pictures -- the same guys who gave us The Mysterious Monsters (1976) and The Bermuda Triangle (1979), which purports the remains of Noah’s vessel might’ve been found on Mt. Ararat through dramatic (and cheap) historical reenactments, stock-footage, and ah-lot of conjecture but not much physical evidence to the tune of $56-million in ticket sales, outdrawing the likes of King Kong (1976) and The Bad News Bears (1976).

And what that all means is there was no way in hell Lindsey wasn’t going to cash-in further with a feature film adaptation of his own book. Thus, The Late, Great Planet Earth (1979) went into production in late 1976, when producers Michael Leone and Alan Belkin came aboard, who would later produce a ton of early Chuck Norris vehicles -- A Force of One (1979), The Octagon (1980), for American Cinema Releasing, and noted documentary filmmaker, Robert Amram, was brought in to direct, which consisted mostly of collecting interviews and splicing a metric ton of stock-footage together to fit Lindsey’s narrative. But Amram’s final cut of the movie fell well short of feature length. And so, the release was delayed so Rolf Forsberg could write and direct a series of reenactments to pad out the running time and “help make a movie out of the mess of images."

In the film version of The Late, Great Planet Earth (1979), Lindsey also serves as one of those talking heads, who once more hedges all bets on his prognostication skills, claiming, “Things will only become truly clear after the determining event.” It’s a circular logic that will allow him plausible deniability when things don’t pan out as predicted and the ability to say, I told you so, when they do with impunity. He also updates his claims, pointing to the mounting oil crisis and the Yom Kippur War as mitigating circumstances for foreign nations to seize control of the Middle East and battle over the world’s diminishing fossil fuel supply by appeasing the Arab nations and throwing the “burdensome” Israel under the bus.

Climate change, over-population, pollution, and the pending environmental collapse is also roped in as a Doomsday sign, with much hand-wringing and cynicism from the talking heads, Tal Brooke, Dr. Emile Benoit, and Paul R. Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb. Science also takes a hit as mankind starts tampering in God’s domain on a genetic level, and my brain kinda broke, here, when the apex example of this allowed them a brief interlude to address that 1970s staple of eco-disaster screeds: the outbreak of Killer Bees in South America.

We also must be wary of false prophets and false religions with the rise of transcendentalism, paganism and witchcraft as they corrupt men’s souls, so be wary of new age gurus and the cult of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. There’s even a period of conjecture that one of the current U.S. presidential candidates -- Carter, Reagen, Kennedy, or Brown, might just be the Anti-Christ, who, through the advent of computers, will assign us all a number: 666, the Mark of the Beast.

But despite all the doomsaying, failure of science and knowledge, planetary alignments, tidal shifts, and ICBM doomsday comets, all of Lindsey’s running theories run into a major snag when the narrator reveals the needed Jewish temple cannot be rebuilt due to the inconvenient presence of The Dome of the Rock -- a mosque built on the same site; and apparently, Jewish law forbids the desecration of any place of worship no matter the denomination. And so, it’s kinda out of their hands and it’s up to someone else to get it out of the way. (And we’ll be addressing that “need” in a second.)

And so, as Lindsey prays for an earthquake or outside intervention, the film ends with a kind of amazing Dr. Strangelovian montage of desert warfare on the plains of Armageddon, ending with several mushroom clouds and the end of all that was to make room for what will be as our narrator reads us out with the last few verses of Revelations.

The late, great Orson Welles served as our host and narrator for The Late, Great Planet Earth; and always the professional he delivered his lines with both passion and a sense of assured authority as he guides us through this nonsense, giving the film an air of authenticity it so thoroughly does not deserve. There’s a scene where he bemoans the current state of the human condition due to the myriad poisons in the food chain: DDT in our livers, mercury in the brain, asbestos in our lungs, radium in our bones, and lead in the blood, making us, according to the FDA, unfit for human consumption that is downright chilling.

Thus, this film comes off as a mondo movie at times -- a good alternate title would be Mondo Apocalypto, or a cut segment from Welles’s own film, F is for Fake (1973), a delightfully self-aware tale of con-artists, fraud, and misdirection while assuring you it’s all genuine and authentic. But it’s not. Sadly, Welles was at that period of his life where he was that desperate for money to complete his own films, like Don Quixote and The Other Side of the Wind, by starring in things like this and Bert I. Gordon’s Necromancy (1972).

Meantime, Hal Lindsey doesn’t come off nearly as well as the proselytizing Marbolo Man, who, ironically enough, has a lot in common with that false prophet featured in the opening segment. Yeah, as someone summed up so beautifully in an anonymous Amazon review for his first book, seems old Hal tends to “write a new book every three years denoting how the world will end in 5 years. Each subsequent book explains how he wasn’t wrong in the previous book and the world will really end in the next, next 5 years.” And Lindsey has followed this same pattern for over three decades now and a dozen books, so maybe declaring yourself the foremost authority on Biblical prophecy is a tad pretentious if not a bald face lie. And for someone who is so sure the world is about to end, Lindsey maintains a rather plush lifestyle as he sinks his royalties into long-term real estate investments and has a current net worth north of $42 million. Weird, right?

Thus and so, whether you believe in God or not, let's be perfectly clear: Lindsey is a fertilizer salesman, who deals in horseshit, nothing more, nothing less. Even a broken clock is right twice a day and Lindsey’s is permanently set at five minutes to midnight. And the man’s still shoveling it around today, adapting with the times and technology, morphing into an Alex Jones surrogate, making him even more evangelical than ever as he decries the spread of Islam. And this stance brings me back to a quote from the film, where he talks about a corrupted mankind assisting in the process of bringing about Armageddon; an unconscious desire to see these prophecies fulfilled. And as you watch, read, and listen to his garbage, there’s nothing unconscious about this, and you see it is possible to be both anti-Semitic and pro-Israel in his rhetoric as the Israelis are simply a means to an end and the Muslims are simply in the way. There’s a prophecy to be fulfilled after all. Somebody’s gotta clear away that mosque. And while these sentiments are scary enough, it’s the sincerity you should really be afraid of.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween! 26 Days! 26 Films! 26 Reviews! And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage as The Fiasco Brothers and Yours Truly countdown from A to Z all October long! That's 12 reviews down with 14 more to go! Up Next: It's the Proto-Joker vs. the American Ninja in the Horrors of Picking Up the Wrong Hitchhiker.

The Late, Great Planet Earth (1979) Amran :: RCR :: American Cinema Releasing :: Pacific International Enterprises / EP: Michael Leone / P: Robert Amram, Alan Belkin / AP: Joy Shelton Davis / D: Robert Amram, Rolf Forsberg / W: Robert Amram, C.C. Carlson, Rolf Forsberg, Hal Lindsey / C: Michael Werk / E: Victor Costello, Hugh Kelley, Lynn McCallon / M: Dana Kaproff / S: Orson Welles, Hal Lindsey, Babetta, Emile Benoit, Paul Ehrlich, Beaumont Bruestle, Judith Roberts

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