Ever since aging through the sad end of the 18-35 demographic, I find my television tastes have drifted. When clicking around these days, I tend to linger on the pop scholarship offered by basic cable stations like History, Discovery, National Geographic and Animal Planet.
My conclusion is that I like reality TV, I just don't like reality TV about people. As such, the three-disc collection After People — new to DVD from the History channel — is right up my misanthropic alley.
After People trades in that brand of speculation and imagery sometimes called apocalypse porn. The collection gathers four different specials aimed at the pessimist market — Life After People, After Armageddon, Mega Drought and Mega Freeze.
End-of-the-world scenarios are endlessly fascinating to those of us prone to worrying about such things. Life After People — which ran as a series from 2008-2010 — uses the usual blend of talking head interviews and passable CGI to depict the gradual decay of our man-made world when humans are removed from the picture.
The program begins where most apocalypse stories end. It's not concerned with how or why humanity dies off. It simply wonders aloud what would happen to the planet afterward. It's structured sensibly enough: We begin with what would happen one day after people, and proceed from there to one week after, one month, one year, etc.
Some tidbits: According to the civil engineers interviewed, we would lose almost all electric power within 24 hours. Fossil fuel plants would grind to a stop when workers stopped shoveling coal into the ovens, or whatever the modern equivalent is these days. Nuclear plants would drop into safe mode without supervision. (Tidal, wind and hydroelectric generators would keep spinning along happily for a while.) As pumps fail, city subways and tunnels would flood within 36 hours.
After a mere six months, a new layer of topsoil would begin forming over streets and surfaces. Predators that make their living on the outskirts of human society — wolves, coyotes, bobcats — would start moving into the cities. After five years, roads and highways would be buried. Wildfires, held in check for decades, would reclaim huge swaths of land.
At the twenty year point, things get interesting. It turns out we already have an example of a modern city left unattended for two decades — the Ukranian city of Prypiat, abandoned after the 1986 Chernobyl incident. Big props to the intrepid production team here, who brave the ruins with Geiger counters on their belts to deliver some startling images.
Fifty years after people, many coastal cities would be flooded out as dams and levees fail. Concrete buildings would start to crumble after about 100 years, and within 500 years they'd all be gone. (Ironically, our modern concrete isn't as durable as the stuff the Romans used.)
After 1,000 years, only a handful of manmade monuments would remain above ground. The Great Wall of China. The Pyramids. Mount Rushmore would fare pretty well, apparently.
Everything here is delivered with that patented History channel formula. Cheerful geochemists and botanists geek out on camera as the grim voiceover guy delivers delicious lines like, "Man's mastery over Nature has always been an illusion!"
It's good, clean, apocalyptic fun. I could watch this stuff all day. Actually, I did.
Also New This Week:
Tina Fey and Paul Rudd headline the understated and underrated comedy Admission.
Gonzo director Harmony Korine returns with the provocative Spring Breakers. (That's provocative as in designed to provoke.) James Franco headlines as a gangster rapper named Alien, while Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens look to shed their teen queen images.
Former Israeli intelligence officers spill some remarkable beans concerning our global surveillance society in the documentary The Gatekeepers.
Colin Garrell and Noomi Rapace headline the neonoir thriller Dead Man Down, from the director of the original Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
My Best Enemy, a minor hit in Europe, tells a story of purloined artworks in Germany during World War Two, with a kind of serio-comic heist film vibe.
Plus: TV-on-DVD collections from Bonanza, Dynasty, How The West Was Won, Unforgettable and Warehouse 13.