It’s the end of the world as we know it

Do we all have end of the world jitters? Or is the apocalypse just a passing fad in books, TV and movies?

I just saw “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” with my old pal Steve Warstler (hey Steve!) and we were impressed with how good the movie was. The story is straightforward and compelling and while the human characters are nothing special, the apes — particularly Caesar, the sympathetic chimpanzee who in the original films led an ape rebellion — were astounding.

Computer-generated effects can be cool and leave us cold at the same time. There’s the “uncanny valley” effect, of course, in which digital images that look kinda human but not quite creep us out. But no matter how good the effects are, the characters created by CGI are only as good as they are written and acted.

The smart script makes Caesar so sympathetic — orphaned in infancy, raised in a loving home, torn from his surrogate father (James Franco) and bullied until he rebels — we can’t help but root for him to throw off the shackles of human oppression. And Andy Serkis — who also performed Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” movies — gives Caesar a foundation that goes beyond just a performance to layer special effects over.

But one thing I noticed before and after the movie was the number of apocalyptic, end of the world stories that are coming out. Attached to the “Apes” movie were trailers for a couple of them, the most memorable of which was “Contagion,” in which Matt Damon plays a man trying to survive an outbreak of a deadly virus.

The trailer for “Contagion” notes that most people touch their face several times each minute (and thus expose themselves to every germ their hands come into contact with). I don’t know if that’s true, but just the suggestion was enough to make me wish I had a bottle of hand sanitizer in my cupholder.

There’s quite a slate of end of the world movies on tap, chief among them, at least in my mind, “World War Z,” based on the terrific Max Brooks book about a zombie apocalypse. I’ve heard that a movie version of “The Passage” is going to happen, and it’s only a matter of time until the camera-ready trilogy of books — two out so far — in “The Strain” trilogy gets filmed. While “The Passage” left me cold, I’m loving “The Strain” books.

Of course, the original “Planet of the Apes” movies came out when the US was slogging through a seemingly endless war in Vietnam and turmoil on the home front. And the likes of “Earthquake” and “The Towering Inferno” and other big-screen disaster movies premiered during this same stressful period.

Maybe the books, TV shows and comics like “The Walking Dead” and movies like “Contagion” and “World War Z” reflect our collective feeling of unease. Maybe they’re just capitalizing on audience interest.

Either way, pass the hand sanitizer.


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