The World’s End is about a pub named “The World’s End” and also about the actual end of the world. But most of all, it’s about the end of the Edgar Wright cinematic world of small budgets, ensemble players, and a chew-them-up-and-spew-them-out-every-which-way approach to genre tropes. Wright the indie genius is turning into Wright the big-time Hollywood mover and shaker—and The World’s End is where those two Wrights meet and bash each other’s brains out in kinetic stumbling choreographed fight scenes and stupendous sprays of beer and blue ichor.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) may be Edgar Wright’s most perfect film, though hardcore fans of his earlier efforts may miss the imperfections. The movie marks Wright’s transition to Hollywood-size big budgets ($80.7 million over Hot Fuzz’s $16 million), and he uses the additional money to turn out an indie pop song movie filled with slickly catchy quirk.
Edgar Wright’s 2007 Hot Fuzz is a kind of inverted mirror image of his previous film, Shaun of the Dead. In Shaun, the zombie genre is split open to reveal a relationship comedy nestling amidst the soft, bloody innards. Hot Fuzz, in contrast, starts as a relationship comedy before buckling on the violent accoutrements of an aggressively, and gloriously, empty genre exercise. For those who love cop films, and for those who hate them, the hollow explosion of policing is a kind of hot fuzz heaven.
Edgar Wright’s 2004 big budget film debut Shaun of the Dead is widely praised as a masterful and loving tribute to the zombie movie. It’s also, though, a critique, or at least a gentle questioning, of the genre’s misanthropy and pessimism. If you’re looking for a film to make you feel good about failures of personal hygiene while sitting at home during a global pandemic and catastrophe, you won’t find one more committed to letting you be you, in all your slovenliness, than Shaun of the Dead.
As we all sit at home waiting for disease and/or economic collapse to find us, many people have been watching Contagion, or zombie films, or any number of other shows or movies about pandemics. For me, though, one of the pieces of media that has felt most relevant is Ann Halam’s too little-known 2002 YA adventure novel Dr. Franklin’s Island. Halam, aka Gwyneth Jones, is best known for work like the White Queen series—ambitiously opaque feminist cyberpunk novels which push the boundaries of epistemology and gender. Dr. Franklin’s Island, though, is beautifully, and often painfully, limpid. It’s a quiet story about how isolation can lead to horror, trauma, and sometimes to something better.
The novel’s narrator is Semirah or Semi, a shy nerdy Jamaican-British girl traveling to Ecuador on a summer program for young conservationists. En route, though, their plane crashes, and Semi is washed up on an island with cool girl Miranda and irritating whiner Arnie. The three of them manage to survive on coconuts and fish for weeks, before Arnie disappears. Not long thereafter, Semi and Miranda are kidnapped by Dr. Franklin, who wants to use them in transgenic experiments. He turns Semi into a fish creature and Miranda into a bird creature. With limited communication, and completely alienated from their former lives, they struggle to retain their humanity and try to find some means of escape.
As most readers will have figured out from the brief plot description, Dr. Franklin’s Island is what Halam calls “an argument” with H.G. Wells’ 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. Halam in an afterword says she liked Wells’ story very much, but “I didn’t like [his] ideas about animal nature vs. human nature.”
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