The Quiet Earth (film)

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The Quiet Earth
Directed byGeoff Murphy
Screenplay by
Based onThe Quiet Earth
by Craig Harrison
Produced by
  • Sam Pillsbury
  • Don Reynolds
CinematographyJames Bartle
Edited byMichael J. Horton
Music byJohn Charles
Release date
  • 18 October 1985 (1985-10-18) (US)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryNew Zealand
Box officeNZ$600,000 (New Zealand)[1]

The Quiet Earth is a 1985 New Zealand post-apocalyptic science fiction film directed by Geoff Murphy and starring Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge and Peter Smith as three survivors of a cataclysmic disaster. It is loosely based on the 1981 science fiction novel of the same name by Craig Harrison.[2][3] Other sources of inspiration have been suggested: the 1954 novel I Am Legend, Dawn of the Dead, and especially the 1959 film The World, the Flesh and the Devil, of which it has been called an unofficial remake.[4][5][6][7][8]


July 5 begins as a normal winter morning near Hamilton, New Zealand. At 6:12 a.m., the sun darkens for a moment, and a red light surrounded by darkness is briefly seen.

Zac Hobson, a scientist employed by Delenco, part of a United States-led international consortium working on "Project Flashlight" – an experiment to create a wireless global energy grid, awakens abruptly; when he turns on his radio, Zac is unable to receive any transmissions. Zac drives into the city, which he finds completely deserted. Investigating a fire, he discovers the burning wreckage of a passenger jet, but there are no bodies, only empty seats.

Zac enters his laboratory outside Auckland, but fails to contact any of the other labs around the world. In an underground lab, he discovers the dead body of Perrin, his superior, at the primary Flashlight Grid control panel; a monitor displays the message "Operation Flashlight Complete". The mass disappearance seems to coincide with the moment Flashlight was activated. The lab is suddenly and automatically sealed because of radiation, so he improvises a gas bomb to escape. He listens to his own voice on a tape recorder describing the project as having "phenomenal destructive potential", then notes: "Zac Hobson, July 5th. One: there has been a malfunction in Project Flashlight with devastating results. Two: it seems I am the only person left on Earth." He refers to the phenomenon as "The Effect".

After a week of trying to contact another human being with no response, Zac moves into a mansion. His mental state begins to deteriorate. He puts on a woman's nightgown and alternates between exhilaration and despair. He assembles cardboard cutouts of famous people (including Adolf Hitler, Elizabeth II, and Pope John Paul II), plays a loud fanfare and cheers from large speakers, and addresses the cutouts from a balcony. He declares himself "President of this Quiet Earth", then goes on a destructive rampage after the power blacks out. He bursts into a church, shoots a statue of Jesus off a crucifix, and announces that he is God. After accidentally crushing an empty pram with an enormous earthmover, he puts the barrel of a shotgun into his mouth, but desists. This event serves to break his insanity.

Zac settles into a more normal routine. One morning, a young woman named Joanne appears. Zac is attracted to her, and after a few days they have sex. They find a third survivor, a Māori man named Api. The three determine why they survived: at the instant of The Effect, they were all at the moment of death: Api was being drowned during a fight, Joanne was electrocuted by a faulty hairdryer, and Zac had overdosed on pills in a suicide attempt. He had realised the experiment posed serious dangers and was guilt-ridden for not speaking out. The discovery of his body, with his lab ID and tape recorder nearby, would have the consequence of exposing Project Flashlight and ending the experiment before it was too late.

A love triangle develops, but Zac is more concerned about his scientific observations: universal physical constants are changing, causing the Sun's output to fluctuate and become highly unstable. Zac fears The Effect will occur again (and that the Sun will soon collapse in any case and obliterate the Earth) and decides to destroy the Delenco facility. Api has provided the possible answer – if the still-active Flashlight Grid is balanced, and is continually destabilising the Sun, then knocking out the facility would make the Grid fail. The three put aside their personal conflicts and drive a truckload of explosives to the installation, only to be stopped at the perimeter when Zac detects dangerous levels of ionising radiation emanating from the plant. He says that he will go to town to retrieve a remote control device to send the truck into the facility.

While Zac is gone, Joanne and Api have sex. Afterward, Api tells Joanne that he will sacrifice himself by driving the truck; he doubts that Zac's device will be capable of controlling the vehicle. They then hear the truck. Zac has not returned to town after all and drives the truck onto the gas-bomb-weakened roof of the laboratory, which caves in. Just as the Second Effect occurs, he triggers the explosives.

Once again, a bright red light is seen surrounded by a dark tunnel. Zac awakens on his own on a beach at twilight, holding his tape recorder. There are strange cloud formations, resembling waterspouts, rising out of the ocean. He walks to the water's edge, then sees an enormous ringed planet slowly rise over the horizon. Zac stares in confusion and awe at his unearthly surroundings.



The precise meaning of the final scene is left to the audience. In his commentary on the Umbrella Entertainment DVD release, writer/producer Sam Pillsbury states, "...we all thought it was quite simple; I mean, our intention was just that, what happened was, he died at the moment of the effect for a second time and he's now found himself in another world, what the hell's he gonna do...", he then says, more or less jokingly, that director Geoff Murphy being "a Catholic or lapsed Catholic, [it] may well have been something to do with purgatory, and y'know, you being trapped in cyclical and going back into having to relive your thing until you work out your karma, [something; possibly 'if I'm not'] mixing my metaphors; anyway, enigmatic is good, I think, to a certain extent..."


Walter Goodman of The New York Times wrote, "'s easy to watch most of the time and never positively painful."[9] Variety wrote, "One of New Zealand's top directors, Geoff Murphy has taken a man-alone theme and turned it imaginatively to strong and refreshing effect in The Quiet Earth."[10] Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times called Lawrence's screen presence "electrifying".[11]

It has since become a cult film.[12] In 2014, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson named it one of his favourite science fiction films.[13] The film placed tenth in a 2014 public poll by of the best New Zealand films of all time.[14]


  1. ^ Nicolaidi, Mike (March 1987). "The dog has his day". Cinema Papers. p. 8. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  2. ^ "Film: 'The Quiet Earth'". The New York Times. 28 March 1986. Archived from the original on 13 October 2018. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  3. ^ DVD Talk
  4. ^ Stafford, Jeff, The World, the Flesh and the Devil
  5. ^ Jerome Franklin Shapiro (2002), Atomic bomb cinema: the apocalyptic imagination on film, Routledge, p. 79, ISBN 9780415936606, …it was remade, sans bomb, by a New Zealand filmmaker as The Quiet Earth (Geoff Murphy, 1985).
  6. ^ Kane, Joe (2000), The Phantom of the Movies' videoscope, Three Rivers Press, p. 292, ISBN 9780812931495, Murphy's New Zealand–set reworking of The World, the Flesh and the Devil, replete with racial angle…
  7. ^ "The Quiet Earth", Cineforum, 29: 19, 1989, Infatti, The Quiet Earth è quasi il remake del classico The World, the Flesh and the Devil…
  8. ^ Baehr, Theodore; Grimes, Bruce; Rice, Lisa Ann (1987), The movie & video guide for Christian families, p. 168, The Quiet Earth is a New Zealand remake of The Night of the Comet and The World, the Flesh and the Devil
  9. ^ New York Times
  10. ^ "Review: 'The Quiet Earth'". Variety. 1985. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
  11. ^ Benson, Sheila (18 October 1985). "Movie Review : 'Earth,' Star Are Out of This World". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
  12. ^ "The 10 Best "Last Man on Earth" Movies". Indiewire. 18 April 2013. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  13. ^ Tyson, Neil deGrasse (6 June 2014). "'2001' and beyond: Neil deGrasse Tyson names his top 10 sci-fi films". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
  14. ^ "Kiwis pick their favourite movie". 25 January 2014. Retrieved 17 June 2015.

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