Beliefnet
You can almost imagine the Hollywood moguls sketching out the themes for the invetiable end-of-the-millenium end-of-the-world movies.

It'll sort of be like Greatest Story Ever Told meets Die Hard 2. A cross between the Book of Revelation and the Terminator.

Well, I suppose we can't blame them for grotesquely exploting people's fears. Or, maybe we can. "They're marketing to millennial fear," says Brenda Brasher, an associate with the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University. "Fear sells more products than hope. Fear also makes more impressive and dynamic images."

She's got a point there. Say what you will about apocolypse, it does provide great opportunities for drama and emotion -- and certainly themes sufficiently profound to be fodder for a good filmaker. The tryptic of millenial films -- "The Omega Code," "Last Night," and "End of Days" -- succeed to varying degrees.

First came "The Omega Code," an evangelical Christianapocalypse-thriller financed by the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Matt Crouch, son of televangelist Paul Crouch, said "Omega Code" stemmed from his desire to make a gripping thriller to entertain conservative Christians.

His dream film opened Oct. 5, and grossed $2.4 million at thebox office on opening weekend, beating out "Fight Club." The Hollywood Reporter said "The Omega Code" earned about $7,869 a theater, a figure it called "eye-popping"--the highest amount for any of that weekend's films.

A month later came "Last Night," by Canadian director Don McKenna. Some called it "a wacky apocalypse," but "apocalypse lite" would be equally apt. It explores the last six hours before the end of the world, when a natural disaster will sweep all life from the face of the earth. In its opening wee, it got positive reviews but meager ticket sales.

Next came "End of Days," the Hollywood blockbuster that featuresArnold Schwarzenegger battling Satan. Its opening weekend gross was $31million. By mid-December, "End of Days" had made more than $53million; "Omega Code" nearly $12 million; and "Last Night" had made almost $12,500. Together, that's more than $65 million made on apocalypse movies in just two months.

Of course box office take doesn't necessarily correspond to acting quality. The acting in "Omega Code" is often wooden, for example, and the conversative Christian dialogue can be off-putting, as when the main character--a non-believer--is converted as he falls to his knees at the moment of crisis and prays: "Jesus save me!" (Actually, it's not much different from Schwarzenegger--also a non-believer--falling to his knees, and begging: "Please God, help me! Give me strength!")

"End of Days," despite receiving bad reviews for everything fromincoherent mysticism to sheer absurdity, does have some stunning religious imagery. The movie features Satan (Gabriel Byrne) as a lusty womanizer who plans world domination by impregnating a particular young woman. Their seed will inherit the earth, if he can outsmart Schwarzenegger--her fierce protector--and take her by force.

Visually riveting are scenes like the Satanic Mass, shot in tones ofblack and gold, with a massive choral of Latin chant amid millions ofcandles that light the nubile victim on the altar, awaiting theblack-cloaked Satan.

"The Omega Code" has its own brand of religious imagery: a strangemix of Revelation and the New World Order of conspiracy theorists. Blackhelicopters are intercut with the Four Horses of the Apocalypse, including a white stallion with blood-red eyes. The anti-Christ (Michael York) is the chairman of the European Union, who conspires to create a single global government and economy by using secret Biblical codes.

But the best of this apocalypse triptych is "Last Night," adoomsday movie with heart. "End of Days" and "Omega Code" are basicallywar movies with religious themes: the battle between the forces of goodand evil. The viewer does little more than sit back and wait to see whowins, and there's not a whole of doubt that the good guys will triumph.

"Last Night" isn't so simple. The world does end, and everyonedoes die, which ultimately draws the viewer into an extended meditation on the meaning of life--always a useful experience at the end of a millennium.

Perhaps the difference is in the motivation.

A French production company wanted 10 directors from 10 countriesto make movies about the millennium, and asked Canadian Don McKenna toparticipate. Avoiding the usual action-packed scenarios, he chose to focus on more subtle but important issues.

"It sounds very corny, but the film is about living, and allowingyourself to be open around others despite the restrictions," he told The New York Times.

"Last Night" is a bleak landscape of burning trees, gunfire,screeching cars and rampant despair. But minutes to melt-down, a man and a woman in a suicide pact suddenly take the guns from their heads, and fall into a passionate kiss.

"The world does end, but they love in the midst of evil," saysBrasher. "That's the challenge that eschatology always presents. At some point there's an end, and how are we going to live our life with that knowledge?"

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