Friday, February 17, 2017

Where Have All the People Gone?

Where Have All the People Gone?
John Llewellyn Moxey

Steve (Peter Graves) and his family are out camping. Steve’s wife, Barbara (Jay W. Macintosh) heads home early. While goofing around in a cave, Steve, his son, and daughter experience a powerful earthquake. When they emerge, they find that stray dogs have become aggressive, cars won't start, and nearly everyone around has vanished leaving only clothes and piles of white dust behind. The family make their way home, eager to discover the fate of Barbara and to see if they can find any answers to what has happened to the world.

With Where Have All the People Gone? being a TV movie from the 1970s, it is not a visual powerhouse. The movie makes good use of the washed-out deserted locations, giving everything a feeling of being abandoned, and almost haunted, by the now vanished former inhabitants. The rest of the movie is shot in a flat, functional way that doesn’t excite, but also doesn’t inhibit the story in any way. The story itself is a slow burn, we learn about the mystery as the characters do, so it may be that the staid presentation is more of an asset than it appears to be.
"One joke about this being a 'Graves situation' and I'm going to make you eat that gun."
The story of Where Have All the People Gone? is remarkably straightforward, the characters move from point A to point B on their quest to find Barbara. They encounter the central mystery of why people having seemingly vanished, put together the clues and come to a resolution by the end. There’s a not a deviation from this story, and with only 77 minutes of run-time, I suppose there just wasn’t room to explore more. That’s too bad, since the idea of the last few humans exploring an abandoned Earth is rife with possibilities. Often TV movies were really pilot episode test for a series, but I can’t find any evidence that this was the case here.

One thing I really did appreciate about this film is that is doesn’t pull away from some bleak answers, and it doesn’t wrap everything up nicely. Even if the resolution of why (almost) everyone has vanished or turned into piles of dust makes no sense, the story gamely plays along to a logical conclusion and manages to end with a little tragedy and hope. I think a sickly sweet happy ending would have made this entire venture totally forgettable, instead it becomes a tiny curiosity in the massive list of post-apocalyptic movies.

Faster, Lassie, Kill, Kill!
The only likeable character is Peter Graves as Steve, and that is largely because Peter Graves is likeable. Steven, on the other hand, is incredibly dumb, makes bad decisions and is forced to rely on his annoying son, whose limited college education is capable of providing all the scientific answers they need. Everyone else is a sweaty maniac, useless catatonic mess, or angry dog (only dogs have gone insane after the apocalypse, apparently horses are just fine) and no one seems to have a clue on how to handle anything. In a way, this might be the most realistic representation of how people would behave after a sudden mass disappearance, but it can make for aggravating movie viewing.

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