Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for Nuclear Nightmares

Nuclear Nightmares. Ever since the close of WWII the dread of a potential nuclear war seized the collective imaginations of people everywhere. Literally everywhere--this was a global nightmare that had been unleashed. One that could strike anywhere, at any time and even if it didn't directly blast you to cinders, it would rain down toxic, radioactive dust across all the world. Scary stuff.

Nevil Shute's On the Beach is one of the grimmest and most depressing stories ever converted into a movie. Even Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner couldn't breathe life into the slow-motion despair that just keeps accumulating like fall-out until everyone is pretty much dead.  Don't take that the wrong way; it's a good movie. But the subject matter isn't fun, nor should it necessarily ever really be fun. Radiation doesn't give you super-powers or extra-limbs. It gives you cancer and kills you. And everything else affected by it. But that's depressing and not much of a basis for a role-playing game. Unless you're into post-modern nihilism as some sort of theme. Blech.

Here is the last ten minutes of the 1959 movie:

Depressing isn't it? But well acted and memorable. Unlike the remake...


Stanley Kubrick probably nailed the definitive Nuclear Nightmare with Doctor Strangelove. Everyone has seen the classic scene...

Riding the Bomb

A (sort of) Survival Plan

Precious Bodily Fluids

Oh shoot, you can watch the movie for free over at Veoh.

But one of the best Nuclear Nightmares, and one that tends to get overlooked or forgotten is Colossus: The Forbin Project from 1970. The movie is based on the 1966 novel Colossus, not by a man named lear, but by Dennis Feltham Jones. Colossus is the first of a trilogy. Unfortunately it seems that the three books are currently out of print, but you can get a good idea of what they are like/all about by checking the Wikipedia entries for each of them:
Fall of Colossus
Colossus and the Crab

You can also watch most of the movie via Google Video:

...unfortunately this version of the movie is incomplete.

It's enough to give you some ideas. It certainly influenced a few of the Nuclear Nightmares that followed. There's not that much action, but the opening sequence with Forbin sealing-up the Colossus installation is very memorable and a great intro-piece for Mutant Future games. Just imagine what it might be like to try to break into that place in a few decades or centuries after a nuclear war or alien invasion?

There is talk of a re-make, but unless they blend all three books into one big story, it probably won't do all that well. Doing a story set after a war that finally cripples Colossus/Guardian and leaves humanity teetering on the brink of extinction--that could be interesting. The second book is far more intriguing than the first one, especially because it takes things farther and explores the repercussions of a mega-computer taking over the Earth and instituting a very Orwellian-esque World Government. We'll see if it ever does get re-made. Maybe SyFy will do a knock-off version.

What's your favorite Nuclear Nightmare?


  1. When I read you're post title I thought On The Beach--and there it was. :)

    I would say thought its actually not as grim as would be realistic. It's sad, and fatalistic (the end of the human species ought to be). But there's not really any destruction or carnage, and people go to their ends in such a dignified, life-affirming (oddly) sort of way, that its about as uplifting as the end of the world can be--compare with the cannibal "every hand against you" horror of The Road.

  2. @Trey: That's pretty much why we selected On The Beach--it is a very civilized and decent end to the human species. People seek out dignified ways to meet their end. Not like what we'd expect if it were to be re-made today.

    McCarthy's The Road gets a lot darker, grimier, and sordid. It's definitely a nightmarish future. Much more gruesome than the relatively simplistic Mad Max series. Especially Thunderdome--that was less of a nightmare than a post-apocalyptic D&D game writ large. With Tina Turner. One turns your stomach, the other is fun. But which is more nightmarish--the one you are revolted by, or the one that makes kids think that life after a nuclear war might be cool?

  3. Someone in these parts mentioned this a while back. It's certainly harrowing.


    This is also well-known.


    Here's a clip.


  4. Oh my word. I haven't seen a single one of these films.

    I'm going to have to make a plan!

  5. @Porky: Great links (no pun intended). Threads is certainly in the spirit of On the Beach.

    @Heruka: Yeah. Fukushima would definitely count as a Nuclear Nightmare. Really a mess. Hope it gets turned around without becoming more of a tragedy than it already has...

    @Misha: Welcome. Doctor Strangelove is a wonderfully satiric take on the whole Cold War mentality. It's far easier to sit through, and enjoyable--it has some of Peter Sellars' best acting in it--while the others ones are either grim and depressing, or in the case of Colossus: The Forbin Prject, incomplete--though it might be rent-able. Colossus never goes very far in terms of action, but it delivers a lot to think about. and the opening scene is still priceless old fashioned Seventies scifi at its best.


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