SXSW 2015: ‘Disaster Playground’ takes a gonzo look at the end of the world

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Written and directed by Nelly Ben Hayoun
UK, 2014

Thermonuclear warfare, famine via overpopulation, zombie apocalypse. Doomsday scenarios exist dearly in human consciousness as evidenced by the plethora of films, television seriesand literature that chronicle it. While it prevails in art, few go about their lives thinking about the realities of a world ending calamity such as a mile wide asteroid.

How does the world react? What is the chain of command? Who will really save mankind? As the creators behind Disaster Playground prefer to put it, the heroes of armageddon aren’t found in Bruce Willis or Jeff Goldblum, but rather Dr. David Morrison and other scientists of his ilk.

Disaster Playground is succinct, bombastic, and a great, fun look at a grave, literally larger-than-life matter. As director Nelly Ben Hayoun takes the audience from SETI offices to disaster training facilities, the world of studying real-life armageddon is fleshed out in all its mundane yet whimsical glory. There is something so preposterous yet terrifying about the prospect of utter annihilation by asteroid, and because of this, no other cinematic approach would be as satisfying or appropriate. Separated by flippantly philosophizing narration, the documentary plays as if Michel Gondry invaded top scientific offices and decided to make a safety instruction video complete with ridiculously charming props.

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Aided by The Prodigy’s excellent soundtrack, Disaster Playground buzzes along from scientists to officials, and creates along the way a dramatic reenactment or two of doomsday scenarios. The surreality of these clumsy reenactments perfectly encapsulates the mind-boggling scope of tackling an issue such as this. Doomsday fodder or not, Disaster Playground is a quick, stylized treat.

— David Tran

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