Trust Cape Town to get the Hollywood blockbuster disaster. Asteroids and a tsunami. So predictably mainstream. So tiresomely dramatic.
At least South Africa’s other doomed cities are exploring more sophisticated cinematic traditions when it comes to catastrophe. Johannesburg, slowly sinking into polluted sludge, is clearly being influenced by the Japanese Godzilla myth and is starting to do really interesting things with radioactive mud and poisoned water.
Durban has looked to the classic spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and set up a fascinating story arc by running out of water. I’m confident that even Pretoria has resisted the pull of Hollywood cliché and is planning a much more authentic death for itself, perhaps a classic Hartiewood romantic comedy in which the handsome owner of a wine estate and the beautiful owner of a hairdryer fall in love, get separated by a series of unlikely events, and then get afflicted by urban blight and rampant youth unemployment.
But not Cape Town. Ever the slave to hand-me-down, mid-Atlantic trends, it has brought Michael Bay to Table Bay and gone straight for the asteroid-tsunami combo.
The news broke last week. According to a map produced by Ben Affleck on an aircraft carrier in a typhoon (or was it academics at the University of Southampton?), Cape Town lies on a corridor of the planet known for more frequent asteroid strikes.
A direct hit on the city would, of course, be very upsetting, mainly because the local ANC would accuse the DA of using astrophysics to oppress the poor, while the DA would blame substandard geological infrastructure left in place by the ANC. But the real drama would happen if an asteroid landed in the sea. According to Affleck’s calculations, an object larger than 40m in diameter would trigger a tsunami. Forty metres isn’t very big. It’s basically the bidet in the en suite bathroom in the second guest rondavel at Nkandla.
As I read the worrying facts and figures and imagined how Cape Town would deal with an asteroid disaster (including Pam Golding brochures describing the impact crater as a “a spacious hidey-hole for the modern family living off the grid”), I remembered the two great asteroid flicks of the 1990s, The Intelligent One That Made Quite A Lot Of Money, starring Morgan Freeman, and The Immensely Stupid One That Made A Squillion Dollars, starring an electric guitar and an explosion. And I wondered if the reason Hollywood has stopped making asteroid movies is because we’ve slowly realised that it’s not asteroids that are going to get us in the end. It’s poisoned water, or no water, or a nagging cough that turns out to be a global pandemic, or the bees that just go on strike one day. And to be fair to the Jerry Bruckheimers of the world, it’s really hard making a blockbuster about bees:
Fade to black. The urgent, husky voice and duh-duh-duh-duh music from every movie trailer you’ve ever seen. “In a world gone mad…” (Sexy science lady in unsnappable high heels runs into a boardroom: “Gentlemen, it’s the bees. They just…stopped.”)
“One man” (Chris Pratt looks up from doing repairs on his bee-hunting helicopter and reaches for his bee-hunting shotgun) “will have to face his worst fears to save us all.” (Sexy science lady, now wearing a bikini: “Who hurt you?” Pratt, gazing at a crumpled photograph from long ago: “A bee. It stung me on my foot when I was nine.”)
“Now, using science…” (Sexy science lady screams as a bee brutally attacks the honey on her scone; Pratt kicks down the door and puffs smoke at it out of a small watering can with bellows) “it’s time to sting or be stung!” (Pratt, covered in charred honey from climactic air strike on the rebel hive, staggers along volcano rim towards sexy science lady, who is now wearing a ball-gown and tiara from her forced marriage to the wasp king. They embrace. Sexy science lady: “Oh honey!” Pratt grins: “Yeah, I get a buzz outa you too.”) “This summer…Kill or Bee Killed! Not suitable for viewers under the age of 16 or anyone who knows anything about bees or science or anything whatsoever.”
Even this is probably too dramatic, though, because what eventually bumps us off might not even be visible, which is tricky when it comes to film.
“This summer…Tom Cruise is infinitesimally sweatier than he was last summer…In a world almost completely identical to how it was very recently, except for many confusing and worrying changes in climate data, everyone is going to carry on pretty much as normal, until a new normal gradually creeps up on us, and we start doing that version, until the antibiotics stop working and nobody makes it through childbirth any more…”
Nah. Probably wait til it’s out on DVD.