At exactly 6:12 am, government research scientist Zac Hobson (a powerhouse performance by Bruno Lawrence of SMASH PALACE and UTU) awakens to discover that he may be the last man on earth: homes, highways and entire cities are deserted. Empty planes have fallen from the sky. Every living thing has disappeared. But for Hobson, the ultimate shock is still to come months later when he finds that he is not alone. With the addition of a beautiful young woman (Alison Routledge) and a Maori trucker (Pete Smith), the apocalypse suddenly becomes very personal. What has happened to everyone else on the planet? Why has Zac himself survived? Will sexual tension lead to sudden violence? And what is the ultimate responsibility for a man of science when the end of the world may be just the beginning?
The "last man on Earth" sci-fi sub-genre is reasonably well represented by director Geoff Murphy's The Quiet Earth, a 1985 film from New Zealand that earned plenty of Kiwi kudos in its day but still fails to measure up to the great expectations engendered by its premise. Bruno Lawrence is Zac Hobson, a techie who's involved in "Project Flashlight," a vast energy grid that allows war planes to circle the planet without ever refueling (leave it to "the Americans," who are blamed for the whole ensuing mess, to come up with such a diabolical idea). When what Zac drolly describes as "a malfunction" (thereafter known as "the Effect") occurs early one morning, he awakens to discover that he's apparently the only survivor, human or otherwise, of a catastrophe that has altered the very fabric of the universe. Lawrence is terrific in these early scenes, which find him gradually losing his marbles as the gravity of his situation sets in; wearing nothing but a woman's slip, he stands on a balcony and grandly addresses an "audience" of cardboard standups (from Queen Elizabeth and Hitler to Bob Marley and Alfred Hitchcock), declaring himself "president of this quiet Earth." But effectively sustaining such weirdness is tough, and although Murphy, to his credit, doesn't over-rely on special effects and scientific gobbledygook, the film isn't up to it. Turns out Zac isn't the only survivor, and when first a pretty young woman (Alison Routledge) and then a Maori man (Peter Smith) appear, the director tries to balance the human dynamics with the sci-fi elements (seems the Effect may not be over after all) to awkward and unsatisfying effect, and the film loses most of its momentum. As for the ending, well, safe to say that it will leave some viewers perplexed, others feeling that they've been bamboozled, and still others thinking that its mystery and lack of explicable closure are perfect. --Sam Graham