TABLOID WEEK: The Late, Great Planet Earth (1979)

The Late, Great Planet Earth started as a best-selling 1970 book, released as the hippie occult generation’s dreams flamed out at Altamont and was annihilated on Cielo Drive. Written by Hal Lindsey with Carole C. Carlson, it was adapted by Rolf Forsberg and Robert Amram and became the film we’re about to get into.

That’s the thing about tabloids in the 1980’s. The world was constantly about to end. One of my first tabloid memories was in a SHOP ‘n SAVE near Ross Park Mall when I was probably 11 or so. A man was cutting the UPC codes off tabloids near the registers and I asked him what he was doing. He explained to me that he was removing the Number of the Beast and handed me a mimeographed explanation before security dragged him away.

The world was on the constant brink of collapse — pre-millennial tension — and from an unhinged Catholic church in New Castle that was eternally battling Communism to finding copies of Jack Chick tracts that promised the endtimes were coming soon (“HAW HAW HAW”), I was sure that Armageddon was happening before I’d get into middle school.

The Late, Great Planet Earth was the first Christian prophecy book to be published by a secular publisher (Bantam, if you’re interested). By 1990, it sold 28 million copies. This is the movie that resulted.

On Wikipedia, they refer to The Late, Great Planet Earth as “literalist, premillennial, dispensational eschatology.”

Literalist: A reading of the Bible that takes it literally and doesn’t attempt to determine the meaning or symbolism behind the Word.

Premillennial: Before 2000, the world kind of went crazy for a bit. It didn’t recover.

Dispensational: This religious interpretive system and metanarrative for the Bible divides time into eras.

Eschatology: A division of theology that is devoted to studying the endtimes.

By studying passages in the books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation, Lindsey suggests that there are signs that Armageddon started when Israel was formed in 1948. Throw in an increase in war, famine and natural disasters, then you can see why tabloids routinely featured doomsday predictions. Soon, the European Union would be ruled by the Antichrist and go to war with Russian over Isreal. It was just a matter of time.

The beauty of this movie is that it doesn’t just feature interviews with authors like Tal Brooke and Paul Ehrlich or experts such as Dr. Emile Benoit and Dr. Norman Borlaug. It has a witch in it named Babette who explains why people are starting to believe in the occult and even claims that most New Age gurus are part of the Bible’s prophecy of false prophets. And then it gets even better, because Orson Welles lends his amazing voice to the film, making even the flimsiest of thoughts into concrete truths.

Imagine a movie that infuses Biblical ravings with the mondo framework. Congratulations — you’ve just envisioned what this movie is all about. If none of these revelations ever came true, that’s fine. Lindsey would be back with a new book every few years, ready to explain to you that he wasn’t wrong and what would be happening next. As for Orson, the money for this probably went right into one of his unfinished projects.

If you’re enjoying what this movie is revealing, Lindsey and Carlson wrote several sequels, including Satan Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth and The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon. Today, he hosts a right-wing news report on the TBN network known as The Hal Lindsey Report.

Scorpion Releasing put out a blu ray of this and you can get it from Diabolik DVD.

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