The Quiet Earth [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (11th November 2018).
The Film

"The Quiet Earth" (1985)

Zac Hobson (played by Bruno Lawrence) awakens alone in a motel room bed, but he is more alone than he could imagine. It appears that every living being in the world has mysteriously vanished without a trace. The motel staff are gone, cars are left empty, streets are vacant, with no sign of life whatsoever. Zac is a scientist that was working on a project linking worldwide satellites together and going back to his workplace reveals that something may have happened that caused the issue, which he starts calling "The Effect" in his tape recorded notes. Desperate struggles in searches for life eventually turns to madness over time, but some sort of hope comes when he finally encounters living people - Joanne (played by Alison Routledge) and later Api (played by Pete Smith). But with the three of them bonding together, will they find what caused The Effect and how to turn things back or are they destined to live in a frozen in time world?

"The Quiet Earth" shares a lot in common with many end of the world stories and features, such as "The Last Man on Earth" (1963), "The Omega Man" (1971), and some "The Twilight Zone" episodes such as "Time Enough at Last" and "Where Is Everybody?", though it holds a distinction first being a New Zealand production and also that the threat is not something tangible. It is not about zombie hordes or nuclear annihilation threatening the existence of survival, but the absence of anything. The things taken for granted are suddenly lost, and not just necessities like power and water, but companionship and interaction gone forever. Based on the novel of the same name written by Craig Harrison and adapted to screen by writer Bill Baer, writer/producer Sam Pillsbury, and writer/actor Bruno Lawrence, the first half of the feature focuses on Zac and his mind. He goes from panic to using rational thinking to wacky madness over the course of the scenes, as probably one would expect to happen if someone were placed in the same situation. He sets up radio addresses to find survivors and he uses a police car and its speakers to try and lure people out if there are any. But then later he starts talking to himself as multiple characters, he starts dressing in whatever he wants including nighties, he addresses cardboard cutouts of famous people as if he were a dictator or a god, and he destroys a Jesus statue in a church.

Things start looking brighter when he first encounters Joanna, first because she is a human to talk to, and second because she is a female. Their relationship turns romantic fairly quickly as well as a working relationship in scouting areas for survival. When Api appears the dynamic of the couple suddenly changes both for better or worse. When the three start to discuss the issue of how The Effect could have happened and why they were left on Earth some darker paths begin to unfold and trust for each other falls apart. Zac feels guilt in knowing that his work at the satellite station was the probable cause of The Effect and is reluctant to reveal the fact. Interestingly in the original book the encounters were reversed, with Zac meeting the man first and well towards the end the female appears, only to cause a negative rift and leading to her death. The film version shifts it so it gives the love story angle and a sense of hope for an Adam and Eve tale rather than the bleaker outcome of the novel. Cinematically it works very well in playing with the characters' emotions and their paranoia, and giving the angle of the traditional male/female relationship, though one thing that was kept intact was making Api a native Maori male. Like any other country where Whites have infiltrated in the past and settled as their new homeland, New Zealand's history between Whites and Maori have been challenging as any other place with race relations. It's expected if anyone who is left completely alone for a lengthy period suddenly encounters another human being, the ability to trust the person comes with caution. But when the white Zac and the Maori Api meet, things are not exactly as smooth as Zac and Joanna's encounter, both because of the racial history and that they are both male. While in the dialogue the race angle is not the biggest issue, it is an underlying piece throughout.

Made on a fairly small budget of $1 million, "The Quiet Earth" feels large because of the set which was Auckland cleared out. According to the production notes, clearing out many of the city streets was not a difficult task to do. Aucklund is not exactly a bustling city and getting permission to film having locals out of the way was fairly simple with the permits. But even if people could be kept out of shots, it was harder for animals. First assistant director Lee Tamahori's main task was looking very carefully at the scenery to make sure no birds or other wildlife was moving within shots. There are one or two shots in the film where some animals and other cars can be seen (whoops!), for the most part the job of keeping the frame authentic was well done. The biggest set in the production was used for multiple purposes, which was not a film studio but an old fertilizer factory about to be torn down. Agreements were made to the company that the film production would use the building for various sets - such as the mansion Zac settles in and the satellite facility. In addition, for the destruction scenes such as the plane crash, the set was destroyed and doubled as that. Writer Sam Pillsbury was the original choice for director, but he decided to leave the post and reassign it to Geoff Murphy. The direction is competent but the strength remains in the performances and the setting of the story. There are still many unexplained issues with the story and the ending is one that divides audiences in a similar way that "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Lost" does. There is no right or wrong answer. Were they really left on Earth and everyone else vanished? Were they transported to a different dimension? Were they somewhere between life and death or were they dead the entire time?

"The Quiet Earth" became the first science fiction film produced in New Zealand and was a major critical and commercial success in its home country. It won all eight New Zealand Film and TV Awards it was nominated for - Best Film, Best Performance Male in a Leading Role, Best Performance Male in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Screenplay - Adaptation, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Production Design. The film was released overseas as well, but it was not a big hit being given smaller distribution. It did hold up in the home video market, and even in the last few years was released on Blu-ray in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. "The Quiet Earth" finally gets a Blu-ray release in New Zealand's friendly neighbor of Australia by Umbrella Entertainment, as part of their new "Beyond Genres" line.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray.

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p, in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The HD transfer looks very close to the one used by Arrow Video for their UK Blu-ray (which screenshots can be seen in our review here), and that is very positive. Damage is minimal with almost no traces of debris or other specs, colors are fairly even though some shimmering can be seem in some scenes. Skin tones look natural and framing looks to be correct. Some of the weaker portions come with some of the effects shots such as the end which looks amazing but only constricted by the original film technique making it look a bit wobbly. Overall it is a very pleasing transfer for the film.

The film's runtime is 90:48.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
The film's soundtrack was originally mixed for stereo, and has been bumped to a 5.1 remix on the Blu-ray. The dialogue track is center based while the surrounds are left for the effects and music which is subtle with the empty world setting, but still effective. It is not a track that will give speakers a workout but instead is a well balanced track.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature. They are well timed, easy to read, and with no errors to speak of.

Extras

Audio commentary by writer/producer Sam Pillsbury
In this audio commentary recorded for the DVD edition, Pillsbury guides viewers through the making of the film, with anecdotes on the pre-production, the production, and the release. He tells about some of the difficulties experienced in the making of the low budget film, the actors and the characters, funny happening, the making of the special effects sequences, and some of the explanations that fans may be looking for, such as the ending. Overall it's a very talky and very interesting commentary track that needed no help from any moderators.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with no subtitles

Theatrical Trailer (2:58)
A spoiler heavy trailer is presented with a weak video sourced transfer.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Restoration Trailer (2:54)
The content and editing is identical to the above trailer, but with a remastered picture in the theatrical aspect ratio. The trailer has also been embedded below.
in 10800p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles




Unfortunately there are no "new" extras unless one counts the restoration trailer. The US Blu-ray received a newly recorded commentary by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and film critic Odie Henderson, the UK Blu-ray received a new commentary by critic Travis Crawford plus two new featurettes. It would have been interesting to hear the thoughts from the two surviving actors Alison Routledge and Pete Smith, or from the director himself.

Packaging

The disc is packaged in a keep case housed with a slip case. The sixth in the "Beyond Genres" line, the case is labeled "Volume 6". The Australian rating logo on the cover is actually a sticker on the plastic and can be removed.

Overall

"The Quiet Earth" has become a favorite cult classic of the "Last Person on Earth" genre of films over the years and still feels relevant and mysterious after more than thirty years. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray features a great transfer for video and audio plus an excellent vintage commentary track, but ones looking for new extras will be a bit disappointed.

The Film: B+ Video: A- Audio: A- Extras: B- Overall: B

 


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