Hollywood loves a good apocalypse. The cinema has been rife with visions of Man’s inevitable (according to filmmakers) plunge into the doomsday abyss, whether through atomic obliteration (“On the Beach”, “The World, the Flesh and the Devil”, “Five”, “Panic in the Year Zero”), biological nightmares (“No Blade of Grass”, “Children of Men”, “The Omega Man”), natural catastrophe (“Meteor”, “The Day After Tomorrow”) or a combination of the above (“The Day the Earth Caught Fire”, “Quintet”), with a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for finding new and bigger ways to not only destroy civilization, but to obliterate the homo sapien from the surface of the Earth. Presumably the hunger for The Final Curtain is merely a cynically infantile fantasy of crash-bang-boom that will last as long as there’s a special effects lab willing to flatten any urban center indiscriminately, and not an industry-wide wish fulfillment fantasy, as if the human race were extinct, who would pay to see the next summer’s cinematic doom fest?
Occasionally, someone in Hollywood actually reads a book and decides to capitalize on the idea of presenting ideas from a textual source in order to appear more literate and to ensure that the films presented aren’t simply founded in a crass enterprise to delight the idiots (industry vocabulary for “the audience”) with glossy baubles and separate that same group (industry vocabulary for “you”) from your wallet stuffing. Unfortunately, in the case of “Damnation Alley”, the effort to scan and purchase the source book was hardly worth the effort as it is a shallow work, perhaps the least interesting of Roger Zelazny’s career (A not uncommon affliction toward even far more distinguished authors, as illustrated by the exhaustively impressive literary output of Anthony Burgess who is widely recognized primarily for his A Clockwork Orange solely on the basis of inspiring the fatally flawed movie version by Stanley Kubrick, but popularly credited as being his most worthy novel entirely on the ignorant misconception that if Hollywood took an interest it must have merit.), an impression the team of director Jack Smight and screen adapters Alan Sharp and Lukas Heller have done nothing to dispel in following the artistically degrading Hollywood tradition in which even promising SF materials are usually disgracefully dumbed down in order to use the “high concept” characteristics of the work (those elements which will easily enable the production design teams and special effects crews to overcompensate for the adaptive skimming of themes, ideas and philosophies that are generally considered, by the studios, dull and confusing and only inhibitive of more distracting and therefore commercial explosive action), a strategy with which the novel’s skeletal narrative appeal is separated from any intrinsic thematic density which might interfere with the succession of noisome action sequences. However, Zelazny’s source novel is already of a thinness of content (“pre-dumbed down”, if you will), that logic dictates will only become more untenably brittle with compounded reworkings to fit into comfortably prescribed (i.e. marketable) film formulas. Disaster has a funny habit of sneaking up on productions by way of arrogant and incautious adaptation. That this campaign of evident conceptual folly isn’t addressed in a more usefully timely fashion leads one to wonder just what function is truly served by those dozens of producers, associate producers and executive producers always prominently listed in the credits?
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