The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

The Laser Age


At Pitchfork’s new film site The Dissolve, Keith Phipps is writing a column about the science fiction movies of  The Laser Age — a period  “rich with idea-driven science fiction” that began in the late 1960s and ended in the mid-1980s with “the poor financial performance of films like Blade Runner, Tron, The Thing, and Dune.”

The first essay looks at the two films that ushered in The Laser Age, Planet Of The Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey, while the second looks at four post-apocalyptic films of the early 1970sBeneath The Planet Of The Apes, Glen And Randa, Gas-s-s-s, and The Omega Man:

Planet Of The Apes arrived at the beginning of a period of turmoil and dark times that made it easy to think the end was near. There’s a reason the longhaired kook appearing in Mad magazine during this era carried a sign reading just that: “The End Is Near.” Apocalyptic cults, and cults of all kinds, developed a foothold in the counterculture. Millenarianism wasn’t confined to the fringes, either. As Christian fundamentalism became a more powerful force in the American mainstream, the notion of preparing for the End Times became more common. Early Christian-rock star Larry Norman, a man with one foot in the counterculture and the other in fundamentalism, released a 1969 song titled “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” The message is right there in the title, but the song revels in the dark imagery of dead children and a period in which “a piece of bread could buy a bag of gold.” His mind was straining to imagine unthinkable horrors just around the corner, and to turn those horrors into entertainment carrying a warning.

I haven’t seen it for years, but I’ve meaning to revisit Beneath The Planet Of Apes for some time. There’s a bleak insanity to it that makes it strangely memorable. Certainly the mutant-humans worshiping the nuclear missile at the end of the film absolutely TERRIFIED me a kid (when death by nuclear war seemed quite a real possibility). Perhaps that’s why I haven’t quite got around to watching it again?

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