I’m surprised with the current (and seemingly endless) zombie craze that Thom E. Eberhardt’s Night of the Comet hasn’t gotten a bit more of a revival. Maybe it’s because there are only a handful of zombies in the whole film. Maybe it’s because it’s more apocalypse than living dead film. Maybe it’s the 80s costuming.
Night of the Comet was made under the Atlantic Releasing banner by executive producers Tom Coleman and Michael Rosenblatt (whose names are displayed prominently, twice during the opening credits). The company produced and released a number of films from 1974 and into the late 80s, mostly B-level material like 1983’s Valley Girl (with Nicolas Cage). Michael Radford’s Orwell adaptation 1984 was perhaps their most notable release.
Eberhardt would go on to direct two cinematic giants a few years later – Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley in the Sherlock Holmes film Without a Clue. Here, Eberhardt’s material is of lesser quality. The script – which he also wrote – moves quickly enough, but is filled with hilariously cheesy lines, non sequiturs, and cardboard characters. There’s some decent plotting, a nice twist towards the end, and an attempt at a commentary, but the real fun of Night of the Comet comes in a few montage sequences.
Towards the beginning of the film Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) is on her way home, amidst the eerie silence of LA following a comet’s passing that seems to have wiped out much of the population.
Eberhardt’s series of shots begins with the red-miasmic city at a standstill:
Following several more of these he cuts to various machines, still coming to life without any human intervention. There’s the creepy mechanic-shop clown that suddenly begins to operate:
On a lesser scale, the lone bike wheel turning on a riderless bike:
And then his best sequence. A wide-shot of a pool, cuts to a close-up of the automatic timer (look at that stucco wall behind the timer. It’s a tiny detail but makes the location immediately recognizable as almost any American poolside):
A cut to a medium shot of the side of the pool as bubble form and the rubber ducky rocks away is followed by another medium shot as the pool cleaner revs into action:
It’s great. Four shots of cause-and-effect, showing a simple action in a really interesting, cinematic way and driving home the two points I’ve listed below. The montage includes other moments that I’ve left out here (including a driverless car playing music at a stop light and lawn sprinklers starting at once). All point to the same idea: that perhaps a) our machines have more longevity than we do, and b) they don’t need us to operate on the day-to-day.
There’s a later montage where Regina and her younger sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) go on an end of the world “shopping spree.” Though unfortunately accompanied by Girls Just Want to Have Fun (the whole film is too music dominated), Eberhardt again shows a nice touch. Here are two of the best shots from the montage. The first shot below is towards the beginning of the montage and marks its onset:
This is pretty emblematic of something Eberhardt does frequently in the film. Start with a pretty innocuous, pastel, 80s image…and then remind us of the situation (in this case through the hilarious inclusion of the automatic weapon). It’s smart for some of the small decisions – holding on the shoe display without the gun for a second drives home its normalcy; leaving a perfect place for the gun in the center of the display makes it feel as though it was meant to be a part of the rack all along.
There’s another small shot that I like in here, partially because it reminds me of Mannequin (1987), but mostly because it employs a similar level of surrealism as the shot directly above:
The Loneliest Planet
I mentioned this film in my “Best of” year-end post. Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet suffers from at least one major flaw. It is way way too long. The film clocks in at 113 minutes long. It feels closer to an 80, maybe 85 minute piece to me. Part of the additional runtime is due to Loktev’s penchant for allowing her wide-shots to linger on-screen for a damn long time.
That complaint aside, there are moments in the film that I loved. Here’s one of my favorites, which is pure poetry.
An engaged couple Nica (Hani Furstenburg) and Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) go on a backpacking trip through the Caucasus Mountains. Before they leave they make love in a small hut. Loktev shoots this with a slightly overhead camera, just behind their heads. They rock in and out of a small sliver of light (you can hardly see Alex there, frame right). The sound is only diegetic – just their slight movements and breathing:
The next cut is to this:
That’s Nica’s bright red hair in the foreground, blowing back towards us. The sound of the motorcycle also abruptly cuts in. Loktev hangs on this shot for a long time, but here it works. We’re so shocked by the change in color, movement and sound that it takes awhile to notice that there are two other people in the frame (both are slightly more visible in frame 2, above).
Loktev is smart to frequently use Furstenburg’s shockingly red hair as a guide for our eyes or a way to surprise us. It’s beautifully done here as she transitions from quiet love to the flaming ride to what will be a testy (and testing) trip.
There’s a moment that I really want to discuss later in the film but to even mention it would give away the crux of the entire piece. Suffice to say that it takes place around the halfway mark and involves Alex’s reaction to an extreme situation. It’s a truly great moment, and one that speaks on many levels: to the stereotype of a male/female relationship and the expected chivalry involved; to a life and death situation; to the evolution of a relationship.
Yes, it takes too long to get to and too much slowness follows it, but this moment (sorry for being vague) got me. If I was only visually into the film – and a little bored – at that point, I was fully in for the remainder.