There's an old saying about death - 'When your number's up..' and in this vision of the `end of days' Nicholas Cage as Jon, gets to wrestle with that concept in the most direct way imaginable.
Unlike the hapless inhabitants of the Earth in `Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy', Jon a widowed MIT astrophysicist caring for a young son, becomes the one and only man (cue Arthur Dent) who gets to read the `Your Planet is Scheduled for Demolition' notice. The result explores personal fears, astonishment, and agonising concern for the life of his son and family, alongside the stunned `shock and awe' realisation of his discovery.
As cinematic luck would have it, Jon and his son attend a school time capsule opening where 50 years on from the opening of the movie. Jon's son, Caleb, gets an envelope containing a seemingly random series of numbers, frenetically generated 50 years earlier by the (then) class weirdo child, Lucinda (Adams family refugee). Classmates disdain his poor luck, `All the other kids got a picture' but Caleb treats the list as a kind of cool novelty. Scientist curiosity brings Jon to examine this curious numerical legacy, and a flashback internet roller coaster ride reveals that in every case the numbers can be organised into sequences which match the exact dates and death tolls of major disasters over the past 50 years. Frighteningly, 3 dates remain that are yet to come. Jon's dilemmas unfold.. can this be true,.. what is the meaning of it all.. how did the spooky child get the numbers ..what the hell do I do about the remaining numbers... will anyone believe me.. ... and why does the last event date simply say `EE' ??
One man's (literally) Earth-shaking discovery remains to be explained as Jon fights against disbelief, apathy and confusion, and embarks on perilous adventures in a bid firstly to save others, and latterly his son, family and himself in the midst of potential apocalyptic doom.
Not Nicholas Cage's best movie, but at moments it's a powerful story of fatherly anguish and love. Spot the evocations from other classic Sci Fi movies harking back to the `Day the Earth Caught Fire', and the usual portrayal of noble and ignoble human behaviour in the face of mass panic driven adversity. Jon's need to convince others is too quickly overtaken by events as it becomes patently obvious the world is soon to be toast. There's some pointed stabs at the now topical theme `Your Govt will do nothing'. A palpable X Files mood is engendered by mysterious men in black cars offering black shiny `stones' to children rather than sweets.. at least one scene is shot to evoke classic suburban `predator danger' fears (What have I told you about talking to strangers?..) Unlike Bruce Willis' adventures this one isn't a `Save the World' mission, as Jon's dilemma leads him to a cruelly contrived painful and personal choice to ensure the survival of his son, leading to a true bittersweet `ending'.
It's all an interesting portrayal until the contrived weak end game. I laughed as others did, and thought ` Oh no... after all that.. THIS is the best you could come up with?' The writer's quite novel concept was let down by such a hackneyed old cliché, the `not again' feeling, the modern day equivalent of `The Butler did it'. Then, visually Spielberg and a zillion other producers have already done that exact finale moment so many times before. In compensation however the visually beautiful closing vista of dreaming Fields of Flowers and Skies could be lifted right off the cover of a `50s Heinlein novel or these days more a virtual run through Entropia Universe - unearthly beautiful landscapes. This `innocence and nature' vision of another Eden served as a final sugar coated topping to the unreal premise of the ending.
As an aside, I saw this film in Thailand some months ago just before coming home, and even I wished I'd waited until I had flown back to the UK before viewing it, as the plane crash scene with its agonisingly burning victims, is one of the most horrible cinematic moments I have seen realised. Don't watch this movie as an in-flight selection !