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NEAL CONAN, host: And now it's that time again, the long hot summer when true TOTN fans wait with bated breath for the TALK OF THE NATION summer movie festival. And this summer it's been hot, super hot, even apocalyptic.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

CONAN: Yes, it's time to reflect on the end of days. This weekend, Hollywood considers how we got there with the "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." But here at TALK OF THE NATION we want to be prepared for what happens once we find that Statue of Liberty on the beach after the zombies walk, the machines rise, the nukes fall and the alien overlords arrive. Of course we can't do it without you. What's the best or baddest post-apocalypse movie? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. There's a conversation at our website too. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

With us, as always, our favorite film buff, Murray Horwitz. And Murray, welcome back.

MURRAY HORWITZ: Thanks, Neal. It's good to be back. And you laugh now, but just wait.

CONAN: Just wait.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Ground rules as first. What defines a post-apocalypse movie?

HORWITZ: Well, it means the world and/or life as we know it have come to an end. I mean, it can be a manmade apocalypse and aliens, natural disaster, plague, you know - I mean, your usual catastrophe or cataclysm. It can be local, you know, the destruction of a whole city or area. Or it can be global, the end of the world. But it's not just any dysfunctional future. It can't just have evolved into this. There has to have been some event, so a bleak future does not equal post-apocalypse. So much as I love it, "Blade Runner" doesn't...

CONAN: "Blade Runner" is not an apocalypse.

HORWITZ: And as usual, no TV. So "The Day After" doesn't qualify, as good as it was. And we have to see life after the apocalypse. So another favorite film, no "Dr. Strangelove." We just see the bombs going off. We don't see what happens.

CONAN: We see the apoc.

HORWITZ: Yeah, but not the lypse. Thank you. By the way, there's no connection whatsoever between the fact that we've just been discussing the economy and employment prospects and now we're doing apocalypse.

CONAN: None whatsoever. None whatsoever.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: And you're talking about these kinds of films. We associate them with the Cold War, but they go back further than that.

HORWITZ: They go back further. There are some - I mean, H.G. Wells did many apocalyptic visions - or several, at least - famous apocalyptic visions that were turned into movies. Probably the one that fits this category the best is "Things to Come."

CONAN: And this is a movie that was made, well, before many apocalyptic things happened in Europe and seems to presage it in some interesting ways.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THINGS TO COME")

EDWARD CHAPMAN: (as Raymond Passworthy) Poor humanity's so fragile, so weak. Little, little animals.

RAYMOND MASSEY: (as Oswald Cabal) Little animals. If we're no more than animals, we must snatch each little scrap of happiness and live and suffer and pass, mattering no more than all the other animals do or have done. It is this or that. All the universe or nothing.

CONAN: Raymond Massey before he met Dr. Kildare.

HORWITZ: Right. And a very young and frightening Sir Ralph Richardson. And it pre - it really does look like the blitz of London like about four years before the blitz actually happened. But it's - I often say this, Neal, but we're really going to need help from the listeners because there's a ton of cheap post-apocalyptic movies. My son told me about a Rowdy Roddy Piper movie from 1988...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORWITZ: ...called "Hell Comes to Frogtown." And though you say - you're right - that these aren't anything new, my very un-mathematical survey indicates that there are a lot of very old movies in this competition. So we have to ask ourselves why the bulk of them appear in the '90s, in the 21st - after the end of the Cold War. Maybe we have some basic need to imagine the end of the world even when we don't think it's so imminent. And as Americans, we have to wonder why there aren't so many - there aren't many foreign films in this genre.

CONAN: It's kind of - we own the genre. They're scared to compete with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER )

HORWITZ: That must be it.

CONAN: Let's see if we could get Rich on the line, and Rich calling us from Reno in Nevada.

RICH: Howdy.

CONAN: Hidey.

RICH: I think the movie would be "A Boy and His Dog," one of the all-time worst movies ever.

CONAN: Oh, I love "A Boy and His Dog. It's based on a Harlan Ellison story, and it stars Don Johnson.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "A BOY AND HIS DOG")

TIM MCINTIRE: (as Blood) Now, World War IV lasted five days, just long enough for the final missiles to leave their silos on both sides. What's left here were once sweet homes and families with warm hearths.

DON JOHNSON: (as Vic) You could get off my back, you mad dog.

MCINTIRE: (as Blood) Now only desolation, civilization lies smothered and decaying under an ocean of mud belonging to anyone who's strong enough to kick and fight and take it for his own. Ah, that's dramatic. I like that.

CONAN: That was Don Johnson there, in the middle, as the kid.

HORWITZ: As the kid. They also got Jason Robards in it. And I had watched him read the telephone book, so you know?

CONAN: And a twist ending. Rich, what's not to like?

RICH: Oh, no. It's a wonderful movie. It's just so bad that it's wonderful.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RICH: And it rates right with, you know, any of the — just the really bad B movies in the world. It's a great movie.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. It's a good nomination. I've been very fond of that movie overall.

HORWITZ: Yeah. It's a great movie.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Roberto, Roberto with us from Portland.

ROBERTO: Hi. How are you, Neal?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

ROBERTO: I'm a big fan of the post-apocalyptic genre. The movie that I'd like to say that I really enjoy is Terry Gilliam's "12 Monkeys."

HORWITZ: Great movie.

ROBERTO: It's epic. And it shows you both the before and the after and what the people of the future in the post-apocalyptic world are trying to do to fix what happened before. And it kind of relates a little bit to "Planet of the Apes" with the animals and the monkeys being involved and all that.

CONAN: Well, except the monkeys turned out to be a bit of a red herring.

ROBERTO: It was a ruse, exactly.

CONAN: Yeah, exactly.

HORWITZ: It's true. It's a...

ROBERTO: Great cast and Terry Gilliam has done other movies like "Brazil" that also kind of have a feel of a kind of a future dystopic society. "Blade Runner" is another one that I love, too, even though it wouldn't be considered post-apocalyptic. It has kind of that vibe as well.

HORWITZ: Right. Right. Well, you're right about the cast: Bruce Willis and Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt. And what you mentioned about time travel, that - that's in a few of these movies where a hero or somebody else either comes back or goes forward in time to either stop the apocalypse or see what caused it. And "12 Monkeys" is a terrific film from a terrific director, Terry Gilliam.

CONAN: And in some ways, it relates to - and thanks very much for the call, Roberto. In some ways, it relates to a sequence of other films. And you think about the kind of, well, "I Am Legend" films. Here's, for example, Charlton Heston in "The Omega Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE OMEGA MAN")

CHARLTON HESTON: (as Robert Neville) Whether a state of war between China and Russia still exists is not important any longer. Our fellow countrymen are dying. The very foundations of civilization are beginning to crumble under the dread assault of that horror, long-feared, germ warfare.

CONAN: And one of the things I love about these films is they give lots of work to pseudo-newscasters.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORWITZ: It's true. It's true. And, actually, have you ever done this?

CONAN: No, not yet. I'm waiting to mature into the role.

HORWITZ: (Unintelligible) several NPR newscasters who have done - I think Liane Hansen did one and Carl Kasell did one and...

CONAN: And Dan Schorr did one.

HORWITZ: Really? I didn't know that.

CONAN: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORWITZ: He keeps on making a living. What can I - but I have to tell you that the - it's a great choice. And it's based on a Richard Matheson novel called "I Am Legend." And it was first made as "The Omega Man," then "The Last Man on Earth" or, actually, "The Last Man on Earth" maybe came first. And then, finally, "I Am Legend" with Will Smith. And why is Charlton Heston in so many of these post-apocalyptic movies?

CONAN: I believe that he's a favorite character. Let's go next to Chris and Chris on the line with us from Eureka in Illinois.

CHRIS: Much like your last caller, I think - much to my wife's chagrin, I'm very much a fan of the post-apocalyptic movies. I have to say my favorite is "The Road Warrior" with Mel Gibson.

CONAN: "The Road Warrior," the "Mad Max" film's special entry in the post-apocalyptic genre. Here's the beginning from the second, "The Road Warrior," where things are, well, guess what, pretty bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE ROAD WARRIOR")

HAROLD BAIGENT: (as Narrator) On the roads, it was a white line nightmare. Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive. The gangs took over the highways, ready to wage war for a tank of juice.

CONAN: Ready to wage war for a tank of juice.

HORWITZ: It's true. It's - I really love all, you know, "Mad Max," "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" really is probably the best of the three. And "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome," though, I really do love with - it does have Tina Turner, after all.

CONAN: It does have - it has Tina Turner in it.

HORWITZ: And why are there so many - here's another one. There's so many trilogies and series in this genre. I mean, we have tetrologies and we have quintologies and trilogies. It's something - we must find a post-apocalypse world of which we're really fond, like the one - the, I guess quasi-Australian one in "Mad Max."

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Chris. Speaking of trilogies, you can't get away from the one that Arnold Schwarzenegger inspired. The series of apocalypses, the "Terminator" movies in which the governator did not want to participate in the mandatory waiting period to purchase his weapons at a gun shop.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE TERMINATOR")

DICK MILLER: (as a Pawnshop Clerk) There's a 15-day wait with the handguns but the rifles you can take right now. You can't do that.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: (as the Terminator) Wrong.

CONAN: Wrong. He'll be back, by the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORWITZ: I know. In fact, they're talking about a movie called "Terminator 5." It's scheduled, if you look online, in some sources for 2014. And I have no doubt that it's going to be the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger in some way. I always wondered if this wonderfully imaginative action-packed series actually came about because they were looking for a way to feature Arnold Schwarzenegger without giving him too many lines.

CONAN: And you go through that first film, hardly anybody talked.

HORWITZ: That's true. And that's hard to do in a film. I mean, people have been - did in in the 19 teens and '20s a lot, but not so much lately.

CONAN: But not so much lately. Here's an email from Howell in Michigan or Lance, excuse me, in Howell, Michigan. My favorite apocalypse movie is "Soylent Green." It's scary how they talked about global warming, environmental poisoning, collapse, overpopulation and famine 40 years ago, and now we can see these as possibly coming through.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SOYLENT GREEN")

HESTON: (as Detective Thorn) It's people. Soylent Green is made out of people. Hmm.

CONAN: Yuck.

HORWITZ: Edward Robinson and Charlton Heston. There he is again. Speaking of imaginative filmmaking, Richard Fleischer, the director of that one, one of the most imaginative. And it's a great post-apocalyptic film, Lance. I agree with you.

CONAN: We've started the TOTN Summer Movie Festival. Our favorite movie buff Murray Horwitz is here with us. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's go next to John. John with us from Concord in North Carolina.

JOHN: Hi. My nomination would be the original "On the Beach" with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner.

CONAN: And Fred Astaire.

JOHN: And Anthony Perkins.

CONAN: We could go on and on. It was a big film. But is it post - well, I guess it is.

HORWITZ: It really is. And it's a - it was quasi-realistic. It's an apocalypse that, in the 1960s, when this film was made - actually, 1959 - people considered real. And we'll talk about this a little bit later when we get to my favorite. But it's important to remember that from roughly 19 - when was it - '47, when the Soviet Union got the bomb until the end of the Cold War, people really - I mean, we used to practice ducking under cover in our school rooms and all that, so the idea of an - a nuclear holocaust was not ever far removed from our minds. And so, yeah, it was absolutely post-apocalyptic.

CONAN: And we went through some of the stellar members of the cast. The biggest part in the film goes to a Coke bottle.

HORWITZ: Either that or a microphone. What is it? The...

CONAN: There's a Coke bottle tapping out Morse code...

HORWITZ: The Coke bottle tapping out the Morse code. I just remembered...

CONAN: ...on the window shade.

HORWITZ: ...something swinging in the wind and everything.

CONAN: Yeah, that was it.

HORWITZ: Stanley Kramer, who always had a social conscience - and I'm sure that he thought of this not as some science fiction thing, but something that really could've happen.

CONAN: Let's - thanks very much for the call, John. Let's see if we can go next to - this is John. And John's with us from Grand Rapids.

JOHN: Hi, Neal. Great topic. I'm a big fan of this genre. And my favorite film has to be "The Quiet Earth." It's an Australian movie from the mid-'80s. And I just realized that when we started talking, I like it, I think, because the apocalypse was not due to war in this movie.

HORWITZ: It really is. And it's a - it was quasi-realistic. It's an apocalypse that, in the 1960s, when this film was made - no, actually, 1959 - people considered real. And we'll talk about this a little bit later when we get to my favorite. But it's important to remember that, from roughly 19 - when was it - '47, when the Soviet Union got the bomb until the end of the Cold War, people really - I mean, we used to practice ducking under cover in our school rooms (unintelligible), so the idea of an - a nuclear holocaust was not ever far removed from our minds. And so, yeah, it was absolutely post-apocalyptic.

CONAN: And we went through some of the stellar members of the cast. The biggest part in the film goes to a Coke bottle.

HORWITZ: It's that - that or a microphone. What is it? The...

CONAN: There's a Coke bottle tapping out Morse code...

HORWITZ: The Coke bottle tapping out the Morse code. I remember...

CONAN: ...on the window shade.

HORWITZ: ...something swinging in the wind and everything.

CONAN: Yeah, that was it.

HORWITZ: Stanley Kramer who always had a social conscience — and I'm sure that he thought of this not as some science fiction thing. It was something that really could happen.

CONAN: Let's - thanks very much for the call, John. Let's see if we can go next to - this is John. And John's with us from Grand Rapids.

JOHN: Hi, Neal. Great topic. I'm a big fan of this genre. And my favorite film has to be "The Quiet Earth." It's an Australian movie from the mid-'80s. And I just realized that, when we started talking, I like it. I think because the apocalypse was not due to war in this movie.

HORWITZ: What was it due to? This is a new one on me. I'm so glad, John, that you brought it to our attention.

JOHN: Yeah. It's a great movie. It turns out - we learned through the film that scientists were tinkering with the electromagnetic field around the Earth, and, in an instant, caused all but a handful of people to disappear, to die - disappear actually. And the first half-hour of the movie, we follow the main character - there's no dialogue - as he wanders these empty city streets. And he does what most of us would probably do. He moves into the biggest house, biggest mansion he can find. And eventually, he assembles these cardboard cutouts of people and imagines that he does have people around him. And it's really fascinating.

HORWITZ: That's - which - "The Quiet Earth," we'll have to check it out. And one - and I think our first foreign film entry into the genre.

JOHN: Yeah. There you go.

CONAN: Thanks very much. And this is Paul, Paul writing by email: There are many good movies. One can argue films that depicts apocalypse are distinct from films that lead up to an apocalypse and are set after, sometimes long after, the apocalypse itself. I will pick Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men," with some of the best cinematography and character development I've ever seen in a movie of this genre. Great performances all around by the cast, a provocative story, a stunning set piece of film sequence in the internment camp under attack by the British military. I will have to endorse that choice. A very late entry in the category, but this is - "Children of Men" is dystopia in a way.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CHILDREN OF MEN")

PAMELA ANN FERRIS: (as Miriam) As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children's voices.

CONAN: Great little bit in that film from Michael Caine.

HORWITZ: It's true. Yeah, Michael Caine is in it. A great cast, as John said. It's a Clive Owen and Julianne Moore. Was it, John? In any case, it's the director of "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" is Alfonso Cuaron, a foreign director. It's not a foreign film. And he's a great, great filmmaker. It's a terrific choice.

CONAN: I have to ask, who gets the Murray?

HORWITZ: Well, the Murray got - Murray talked about how it was kind of realistic in the '50s and '60s to imagine a nuclear holocaust. There was a film that was supposed to be a BBC special. It was quite celebrated in the mid-'60s called "The War Game," 1965. And the BBC had commissioned this as a pseudo-documentary on what would happen in the case of a nuclear war. And it was deemed too violent and too shocking, and so they released it theatrically. It's a short film, but it is scary.

CONAN: And, well, another chance for a pseudo-newscaster.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE WAR GAME")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's been estimated that, by the time of incoming missile attack could be confirmed to the British National Siren System, there would remain before impact a warning time of approximately two and a half to three minutes.

CONAN: That's pretty scary stuff even now.

HORWITZ: I'm telling you. 1965, I was shivering. It was - it's - and even now, I think it - I saw it a few years ago. And it really still has the impact of what could happen, God forbid, if there were nuclear war.

CONAN: Murray, thanks as always.

HORWITZ: Thank you.

CONAN: And, of course, be prepared. Hope you've got your duct tape and your plastic sheeting. Next week, it will be freaky Tuesday, body-switching movies. We'll see you then. Murray Horwitz is TALK OF THE NATION's favorite film buff. And tomorrow Brooke Gladstone will join us to take a keen look at journalism. Join us for that. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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