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20 Things We Learned from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s The Quiet Earth Commentary

“It’s always been a little creepy to me, I mean delightfully creepy, that the Polynesian native has a creepy resemblance to me.”
The Quiet Earth
By  · Published on December 28th, 2016

The Quiet Earth (1985)

Commentators: Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist), Odie Henderson (film critic)

1. Tyson’s first observation is in regard to the sunrise captured during the opening credits. “I notice the sun is rising up and to the left,” he says. “That can only happen in the southern hemisphere.” He goes on to say that sometimes northern hemisphere people will fake a sunrise by filming a sunset “thinking they’re trick you into seeing a sunrise, but they’re not tricking me.”

2. He also points out the two birds seen during the credits saying it’s probably a mistake as the world is supposed to be devoid of living things. “In spite of these two birds the movie succeeded in creating the desolation of anything alive.”

3. Both men go silent when Zac Hobson’s (Bruno Lawrence) exposed member appears onscreen. Don’t read into that though as the two go quiet repeatedly throughout the commentary.

4. Lawrence is one of three credited writers on the film, and Henderson says it’s due to his additions to the dialogue and his character’s backstory.

5. “Whatever the effect is it gets rid of animals but not plants,” says Tyson, “and I think we’re coming to learn in sort of the modern biology of the tree of life that it’s rather arbitrary to distinguish animals from plants.” He then proceeds to point out that people have more in common with mushrooms than mushrooms have with green plants.

6. Commenting on the empty city streets, Henderson says I Am Legend “gets a lot of imagery and a lot of plot-type elements from this film.” Who wants to tell him?

7. Tyson is thrilled to see black smoke at the plane crash as it signifies a petroleum product like jet fuel. “I gotta give it to the folks who made the film.”

8. They both comment on the apparent fact that “computer” voices in films that warn of impending explosions, meltdowns, disasters, etc seem to be exclusively female.

9. “Back in the day” Tyson was using headphones similar to the ones Zac dons at the radio station.

10. Tyson comments on Zac wearing the woman’s slip, but Henderson sees it less as cross-dressing as more as “a means of projection. He’s the last man on earth and this is probably something that was last on a big, sexy mama. It allows him to have a woman’s body close to him.”

11. Henderson suggests that the shot of Zac popping out of the water is “almost like a visual metaphor of rebirth.” Almost Odie, almost.

12. One of Tyson’s favorite things about the film is how “the main character is completely scientifically and technologically literate, and he’s portrayed as such without any special fanfare. He just is.”

13. Tyson pulls a Tyson when Zac comforts Joanne (Alison Routledge) by saying everything will be all right ‐ “No, it’s not going to be all right,” Tyson says with a laugh. “They all know it’s not going to be all right.”

14. “This is a brilliant revelation,” says Tyson as Zac hypothesizes about what’s happening. “Not only is the charge on the electron changing, it is oscillating, and the oscillations are getting bigger. So when you combine these effects it is a devastating scientific conclusion that not only are things changing in the universe but they’re changing in an unstable way. This is not just a new world that we can pitch tent in, this world is going away as we know it.”

15. Henderson sees the overhead shot of the three survivors in a triangle formation as a “visual representation of the love triangle that may develop.”

16. The survivors here are people who were in the process of dying when the effect hit. About six thousand people die each hour worldwide which equals a hundred per minute, and since the film’s effect last roughly five seconds it means about eight people would have survived worldwide. “Clearly,” says Tyson, “none of those eight people would be in Hamilton, New Zealand.”

17. Tyson has a soft-spot for the scientist realizing that the woman he loves is more interested in the “physically-fit” guy in leather instead. Aww.

18. “Best ending movie scene ever,” says Tyson, and he goes on to clarify that the main reason for that is his absolute undying love for the planet Saturn. Henderson just wants to know what the ending means. And I’m once again just in awe of the fact that the film’s final shot/revelation was used in all of the marketing.

19. Tyson points out that while this is one of his favorite movies it’s not ‐ as the press has misquoted him as saying ‐ one of the best movies ever.

20. Other media mentioned as references, inspiration, or having themselves been inspired by this film include Night of the Comet, I Am Legend, The Langoliers, The Arrival, Blade Runner, Sanford & Son, Real Genius, The World the Flesh and the Devil, Royal Wedding, Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling”, and Looney Toons.

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“That’s a really good line delivery by him.”

“That’s a pretty good explosion for a cheap movie.”

“That’s a good personal ad right there.”

“If you’re gonna be in the rain at night, and you’re gonna be playing a musical instrument, there is only one instrument that should be, and it’s a saxophone. Those are the basic ingredients for the blues.”

“I thought this scene was odd, not that he took interest in putting on a woman’s slip, but that the woman’s slip actually fit him.”

“I didn’t quite understand his anger with Jesus here.”

“This may be the only film in the history of the world that shows someone reaching for and retrieving physics books off the shelf.”

“A good ass-shot will make you spill your coffee.”

The Quiet Earth [Blu-ray]

Final Thoughts

This is not, as the French say, a great commentary track. Maybe my expectations were too high thinking Tyson would bring either epic amounts of scientific clarification and/or unintentional laughs, but there’s a lot of empty space instead. It’s a shame as both men offer some interesting thoughts, but they just do it so damn sporadically as to leave several minutes at a time of dead air.

Oddly, while the two are sharing a recording they rarely interact with each other ‐ they mention each other by name, and the critic responds to Tyson’s comments, but it never happens the other way around. My guess is Henderson is listening and reacting to Tyson’s track, but the result is hearing the critic make multiple jokes directly to Tyson and getting only icy silence in return. It’s awkward.

Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.