The South Korean triptych film Doomsday Book (2012) features three short films from two directors, taking a whimsical look at the apocalypse. Whimsy and the apocalypse don’t seem to mix you say? Well on the evidence of this film, you would be right.
Given the title, it is fair to say I was expecting a very different tone to what this film served up. It starts off with a light, comedy of errors segment, examining family relations. This part is delivered jaunty soundtrack and all. The same segment then flirts with the prospect of being an intense ‘patient zero’ focused look at the zombie apocalypse. In the end the first of the three segments lands with a thud. Really not working as either something fun or something intense. In fact it does not particularly succeed as being something of anything. With most films such as this, it is the job of the first short to intrigue the viewer enough to see where the filmmakers take us for the next segment. This doesn’t do that and instead it feels like a gimmicky stand alone short that would not realistically be able to cohere with anything that follows. And it doesn’t. You can dig down and find some thematic connective tissue between the three shorts, but it would be a very big stretch for you.
After holding zero anticipation going in, briefly the second segment ‘The Heavenly Creature’, holds a bunch of promise. A robot, utilised by a monastery, begins to exhibit signs of spiritual growth. But this promise is rubbished by something that cripples the entire film – really terrible writing. It is a shame that a story idea with such subtlety and scope is ruined by a script that is just plain dumb and lacking any of the required philosophical nuance. In fact most of the ‘philosophy’ here just sounds like a reading from Buddhism for Dummies. Along with a great central idea, ‘The Heavenly Creature’ also brings the other only real highlight of this movie. The robot, and the effects throughout the segment look really great. It is a wonder if they could do such a good job on the relative ‘straight’ special effects like this, why not take a straighter approach to the entire film, rather than aiming for the absurdity that is delivered. By the third segment, where a giant 8-ball meteor brings the end of the world as we know it, the film is too far gone to be any kind of a success. In fact throughout this section the film takes it up (down?) a notch from being not very interesting or well made, to verging very close to being incompetent.
Tonally all over the shop, the few good ideas in Doomsday Book are buried deep below terrible scripting and misjudged atmospherics. The reality is that it starts off by misjudging tone and it never recovers at all. A film dealing more or less with the end of the world that manages to establish absolutely no stakes results in a pretty miserable watch.
Verdict: Schooner of Tooheys New
I have this distinct childhood memory of being at a friend’s house late one night because my parents had been away somewhere and would be picking me up. After all the other kids had gone to bed, I stayed up to wait for my olds, whilst the adults watched The Towering Inferno (1974). That film scared the shit out of me. I have the most vivid memory of going home with my parents when they finally arrived, convinced that we were all going to die as our towering one story house was sure to be engulfed in some form of inferno. And even more vividly, I recall that my parents bought me back a gift from wherever it was they had been, and it was a pair of pyjamas. I can tell you nothing about these pyjamas, except that on the tag in big red letters were the words “Fire Retardant”. After double checking with mum that didn’t mean they were prone to spontaneous combustion, I was able to rest easy in the knowledge that my brand spanking new pyjamas would protect me from the looming and inevitable inferno.
I tell that longwinded and potentially meaningless anecdote to give you all a glimpse into my psyche as I checked out The Tower (2012), a South Korean flick that claims to meld the aforementioned Towering Inferno with Die Hard (1988). The second half of that claim appears to hinge 100% on the fact that the action takes place on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, The Tower chooses to make you wait a little for your skyscraper set carnage. First of all, it goes through about a half hour of telemovie standard motions. All of the various characters, who will no doubt find themselves 100 stories up later in the film, are introduced in a stock standard way. There is the dude who has just moved into the apartment block, the guy who tells his kid to come see him after school (bad move buddy), the lady at work he has a crush on and of course the rookie fire-fighter. Basically cliché after cliché. It’s all stock music, hammy acting and a script that lends itself to such performances.
But that is all fine, because if you are sucked in by the DVD cover of this film (as I was), then all you really care about is the carnage. And after the tepid first half hour, this film brings it in a satisfactory manner. It might catch you a little off-guard though. I for one was shocked when something went wrong in the scene where there are frickin helicopters flying around in between frickin skyscrapers with frickin fireworks goin off. No potential for carnage here I said to myself. How wrong I was. The meeting of helicopter and skyscraper in an extended scene is highly satisfying. There is massive carnage and a huge amount of fire that looks really stark on screen. Helping the fire to spread is the fact, as already established by the film in its telemovie exposition phase, that the sprinkler system in the building is busted. From here on out, the film does what the DVD cover had promised and it does it pretty darn well.
Overall, the film is not too intense. With one or two exceptions, you basically know who is going to live and who will perish. These initial sequences immediately following the helicopter incident, are the film’s most intense however. Especially effecting are the really quite realistic scenes of the panicked masses trying to evacuate. The scene where a bunch of people are literally cooked alive in an elevator is also pretty tough to stomach. Like all good films of the skyscraper ablaze subgenre, there are some cracking little set-pieces. I only have to mention that one involves a ‘gondola’ on the exterior of the building, and the other a sky-bridge between two huge skyscrapers, and you know the kind of awesomeness that will be involved. The film is very assuredly made. It is really well shot and especially early on there is some quite clever stuff done with slow-mo, surely the most tired of all visual techniques. Another favourite aspect of the visual side of the film for me was the repeated external shot of the building ablaze. This shot was a reoccurring one and it was a very cool way for the viewer to be able to track the level of destruction being wrought on the building and the change in circumstances of the people inside.
If you can manage to sit through the decidedly average first half hour of this, you will be rewarded with the tasty morsel of some really well realised skyscraper destruction. Essentially, if the idea of a well made film about a skyscraper ablaze appeals to you, then The Tower is well worth your time. If you are not keen for a film fitting that description, then I am deeply disappointed in you.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs