Directed By: Robert Amram, Rolf Forsberg
Starring: Orson Welles, Hal Lindsey, Babetta
Tag line: "Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away. Matt. 24:35"
Trivia: Portions of the film were shot at the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park in California
We kick things off in biblical times, with an elderly man (Beaumont Bruestle) on the run from an angry mob. Doing everything he can to avoid his pursuers, the old man makes his way to the top of a steep cliff, where a younger man (Timothy nicely) hits him on the head with a rock, causing the poor guy to stumble, then plummet a hundred feet to his death. Cut to modern day. His bones are lying on the ground in exactly the same position, and Orson Welles steps into view, bends down, and picks up the old guy's skull. He examines it, turns to the camera, and says “This was a prophet, a false prophet, some 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. Why did they stone him? He made a mistake, probably”.
Gee, you think?
Thus begins The Late Great Planet Earth, an apocalyptic, and painfully dated, vision of things to come. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, The Late Great Planet Earth sets out to prove that the prophesies recorded in the bible, most notably those in the Book of Revelations, were, at the time, a scant few years away from coming true. Along with the book's author, Hal Lindsey, Welles interprets the words of the prophets Jeremiah, Isaiah, and even Jesus himself to establish that mankind has just about reached the end of the line.
And what were these prophecies? What was it that had Lindsey, Welles, and many others believing the late 1970s were the beginning of the end?
Well, let's see...
First off, there's the cataclysmic event that was due to begin when the planets aligned in 1982, and was supposed to trigger volcanic eruptions worldwide. Then, if we somehow survived that ordeal, we'd be facing widespread famine, stretching as far as Europe and the Americas all thanks to the out-of-control population boom. Also, natural resources were rapidly depleting, and wouldn't last us to the new millennium, while water pollution would make it nearly impossible for us to breathe. Oh, and then there's the “world dictator”, whom Lindsey calls the Anti-Christ, a man “alive right now, and unaware of his future role in mankind's downfall”. But don't take his word for it; a handful of scientists chime in as well, including Dr. George Wald, a Nobel prize winner who says, with total certainty, that he didn't see how man could survive to the year 2000. This is one of the few predictions made in The Late Great Planet Earth to actually come true. Dr. Wald didn't see it. He died in 1997.
The Late Great Planet Earth was designed to make people think, to force them to change their ways before it was too late, and I imagine it did raise a few eyebrows in 1979. I remember another movie titled The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, which I caught on cable in the early '80s. Also narrated by Orson Welles, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow was about Nostradamus, and his take on how the world would end. I was around 11 years old, and that film scared the living hell out of me (I'm not sure how many of its prophecies actually came true, but if memory serves me correctly, we should already be living in a world like the one in The Road Warrior).
Yep, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow and The Late Great Planet Earth sure packed a wallop back in the day. Now, they're good for a chuckle, and nothing more.