We take a look into the other scary alternate histories in cinema
Snowpiercer (2014) Earlier this year, Snowpiercer wowed the UAE with its high-octane thrills and brainy plot. But while it stars Chris Evans, none other than the do-gooder Captain America himself, its bleak vision of the future couldn’t be further from the bright colours of his Avenger alterego. Set in 2031, the events of Snowpiercer take place on a train that endlessly rattles through the apocalyptic wasteland - caused by Earth’s government tinkering with the atmosphere, trying desperately to reverse the effects of global warming. The train, powered by a handy perpetual-motion machine and travelling on a track that circles the globe, is also home to a class system; the wealthy occupy the front, and the poor sit at the back. Curtis (Evans) decides to lead a rebellion, to fight his way to the front in order to rid the Snowpiercer of its diseased regime; it’s a highly unlikely premise for an alternative future, but its politics are, sadly, rather relatable.
Planet of the Apes (1968) While Dawn of the Planet of the Apes may be getting all the attention, let’s not forget the original. First released in 1968, many may have been put off by the silliness of its visuals; the apes were clearly actors in fake-looking rubber costumes that would be great for Halloween, but not so much for a box office science fiction movie. Thankfully, the film’s intelligence shone through its props, illustrating a world that was unforgiving to George Taylor (Charlton Heston), who crash-lands his spaceship on the Ape planet. In one of the greatest twists in movie history Taylor, thinking he has escaped his hairy overlords, stumbles upon a half-buried Statue of Liberty, realising he has been on Earth the whole time. It’s a terrifying, haunting moment – and as we found out in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it was us who caused it all. Oops.
Red Dawn (2012) The original Red Dawn, first released 30 years ago, told its alternate-history story not from inside war rooms and government corridors, but from the eyes of a group of teenagers. The same goes for the 2012 remake, starring Chris Hemsworth; one day, a group of American kids have their suburban paradise flung upside down when North Korea invades their town, and their country. The sight of a paratrooper landing outside a family’s house is an image that’s hard to forget, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the movie. Nevertheless, Red Dawn is especially scary because its war-torn vision is not of the future, but the present. Interestingly, throughout shooting the movie, the invaders were originally Chinese – before the studio realised China are a big box office draw, and changed it last-minute (at many points in the film, you can spot flags that have been swapped by digital effects).
The Invention of Lying (2009) Imagine a world where lying didn’t exist. Or not; Ricky Gervais has already done it for you, and made a movie about it. The Invention of Lying is set in an alternative world where people don’t lie, they only tell the truth. Gervais, playing a writer by the name of Mark Bellison, finds honesty a tough cookie to cope with; but one day, Mark has a masterstroke… if he said something that wasn’t true, he’d probably get what he wanted in life. And it works, at least for a while. Mark’s invention brings him fortune and fame, and plenty of laughs along the way too. While the film doesn’t fully deliver on its crazy premise, it was still a hit with audiences who wanted to find out what one simple change could make in the world.
Watchmen (2009) Before he breathed life into Superman with last year’s Man of Steel, director Zack Snyder dabbled with a very different set of superheroes. 2009 saw his two-hour and forty-minute Watchmen perplex audiences and confound critics, delivering a version of the United States in 1985 where Richard Nixon is still President, and crime rates have never been higher. The Watchmen, comprised of Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Rorschach and others, are vigilantes who dress up and prowl the streets, doing battle with evil while fighting their own demons. Not only did Watchmen deliver a bleak 80s landscape, but it also provided an alternative to our own present; Snyder’s lineup of miffed-looking antiheroes are a refreshing antidote to the bright colours of Marvel’s films. But as alternative histories go, we’re quite glad we’re not living in this one.