The first thing we notice in "The Late Great Planet Earth" is a shot of the old globe kinda rolling into view. See it while you can folks, this movie tells us, it won't be around for very long.
Why not, you might ask? Did I do something wrong? Was it something I said? Will I have time to send the wife and kids somewhere else? And exactly where would somewhere else be?
It's much too late to worry, says Hal Lindsday, who wrote the best sellers on which the film is based and who appears in it as a being sort given to wearing denim leisure suits. It's all been foretold by the Old Testament prophets. "Everywhere we look," he says, flashing a serious glance, "we see events falling into a prophetic pattern," and that ain't good.
When Lindsey says everywhere - he means everywhere. Consider whatever modern phenomenon you will, from killer bees to hare krishnas to computers to the European Common Market, of all things, Lindsey sees them as a bogglingly exact fulfillments of something someone back in B.C. said would be a precondition for the end of the world.
Of the big three conditions for Armageddon, Lindsey says two of them have already comes to pass: the creation of the state of Israel and the return of Jerusalem to Israeli hands. The third condition is the rebuilding of the Temple of Solomon on Mt. Moriah, which doesn't seem terribly likely because Islam's sacred Dome of the Rock is there just now. Well, the movie says hopefully, "the Arabs might decided to move it elsewhere."
While this no doubt made for a fascinating book, it does not make for much of a movie. Actually it doesn't because "The Late Great Planet Earth," now playing at 28 local theaters though it is, is largely a compilation of every kind of stock footage imaginable, from earthquake eruptions to tidal waves to shots of every political campaigner from Adolf Hitler to Jerry Brown.
In fact the film is so thrown together that it doesn't even star anybody, it is simply "with" Orson Welles, looking stouter than Goliath as he wanders around some rocky vastness in a black suit and a black shirt saying things like, "could all this be coincidence, or is our planet truly in mortal peril?"
When "Planet" isn't showing us grainly footage of A-bomb explosions, it is interviewing prestigious scientists telling us that things are pretty bad in the world. No one but Lindsey, however, gets around to linking that with those Old Testament seers.
The film's major moment of comic relief comes in a scene showing us what a typical day in the life of St. John, author of the Book of Revelation, was like. All the poor guy wanted to do was catch a few fish, but everywhere he looked naked men were writing in the sand, wicked harlots were drinking the blood of saints, A-bombs were polluting the air. No wonder his hair turned white.
Trying to cover all bases, "Planet" also gives us a series of person-in-the-street interviews, revealing how blithely unaware of our future doom we poor mortals are. Said one large woman, "I think the earth has been here too long to just get up and disappear."