Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No Blade of Grass: Neither a Whimper, nor a Bang

It is often said that everything happens for a reason and nothing completely happens as a result of pure chance.

I’m not sure I really believe this saying but some of my experiences from last weekend seemed to reinforce it. Apart from the fact that I decided to pick up the trade paperback version of Dead Run, I also found myself with a rare moment of free time last Saturday night allowing me to tune in on the SF movies being aired on Turner Classic Movies.

As it turned out, the movies aired that night had that post-apoc feel to them, and were great inspirations for Mutant Future. I caught the middle of Soylent Green. and sat through it. The unforgettable images of an overpopulated and sweltering alternate New York City really had an effect on me, notwithstanding the fact that I must have seen Soylent Green repeatedly since I was a kid.

Nikos, one of my Mutant Future players pointed out to me that Soylent Green wasn’t strictly a post-apoc story but rather one of a dystopian society. In a sense, he’s right. I’ll concede to that, with the qualification that the world in Soylent Green is bound to implode in a very nasty apocalypse sooner than later eventually turning the story into one which is post-apocalyptic in nature.

The second movie was something I saw for the first time. It was No Blade of Grass – a 1970 screen adaptation of John Christopher’s novel from the 1950s. I haven’t read the book yet, but after seeing the movie, I must say I that I have a hankering to go after it soonest.

No Blade of Grass deals with a simple but deadly problem which suddenly confronted the human race: a mutant virus appears to have spread (ostensibly from Asia) and caused the mass death of food crops everywhere. The movie is set in the UK and deals with the story of a family fortunate enough to escape London before the chaos becomes widespread and whatever remains of law and order as we know it swiftly erodes away. The protagonists then make their way across the English countryside in the hopes of reaching the safety of a secluded farm owned by a relative. They inevitably get caught up in the anarchy that takes hold everywhere.

This particular apocalypse can’t be said to be a bang like the ones resulting from say, a meteor strike or a thermonuclear war. I can’t exactly say that society as we know it was ending with a whimper in No Blade of Grass (as one might imagine in movies like 28 Days Later or the Omega Man). I’d say as end of the world stories, go, No Blade of Grass stands somewhere in between a bang and a whimper.

Nonetheless, the epic trek of the protagonists in No Blade of Grass to find safety is something right out of a good role playing game. Getting guns to get even more guns and dodging everything from rogue military units to biker thugs is just some of the really interesting things one gets to see in the movie. Eventually, the movie’s protagonists (who are all civilians) end up toting bolt action mausers, shotguns and hunting rifles – something that seems rare in post-apoc movies today where a lot of gratuitous military firepower seems to be the rule. One of them managed to get his hands on a Sterling submachinegun early on in the story but had to ditch it.

I wouldn’t mind getting myself a copy of this movie. Seeing how I liked it, my wife remarked that my age was showing through as evidenced by my apparent preference for 1960s to 1970s movies. I wouldn’t be surprised if my new players (some of whom are about half my age) will eventually say the same thing.


  1. Is it an unwritten law that all apocalyptic movies have to have a biker gang in them?

    I used to write stories for my own enjoyment set in a post-breakdown UK and yes, they did have biker gangs in them. I guess that this was the legacy of having watched a lot of 1970s movies such as the one you cite (although I've not seen that one)

  2. The book is excellent, though I do not recall any biker gangs in it! The main question the book explores, as I recall, is how far would you go and what would you do to survive. Generally, surviving trumped things like family, honor, acting humanely, etc.

    Good stuff!

  3. I think there is a rule about biker gangs. We even managed to have one in the Gamma World campaign we ran as a kid. Part of it may be that out of all the motor vehicles you can get your hands on in a sparsely populated world, a motorcycle makes a good bit of sense - single person vehicle, fuel economy, etc.

    The choice of weapons in the movie would be in keeping with what you would be able to scrounge around England I imagine. In the US, it might be a different, slightly more gun-heavy situation.

    I had not heard of this movie so thanks for the post!

  4. Nice post. I find myself more and more drawn to sci fi movies, books and shows from the 60's and 70's. Course in my mind the 90's were just a "couple" of years ago and the 80's were about 10-15 years ago. *sigh*

  5. @Daddy Grognard - Yes, now that you mention it, most of the post-apoc movies that stand out in my memory do have bikes or biker gangs in them!

  6. @Welleran -Thanks for your input on this. I'm definitely going to secure a copy of the book. I must admit that watching the movie got me thinking about the questions you say the book raised: how far you would go to survive and what happens to things like family, honor, etc. If even the movie got me thinking about this, then I must say it went far to faithfully capture the essence of the book - something not many movies succesfully get to do as regards the books they were derived from.

  7. @Eli- You're welcome. :-) I agree with your observations about the biker gangs in such a setting. When it comes to the bottom line, a bike will definitely require less maintenance as compared to say, a halftrack or an AFV. My gaming group has always been influenced by the Twilight 2000 school of thought as regards vehicle ownership in the post-apoc world but seeing how much less maintenance and resources a bike is going to demand is beginning to make sense to me. One effect of this is allowing a warband to field and keep running a lot more bikes than a lot more APCs.

    Yes, I also agree with you on your take on the choice of weapons available to the movie's protagonists- I guess it would be different if the movie were set in the US or here where I live. A lot more automatic pistols and M16-type guns I guess.

  8. @Bill - Hmmm, it seems I also have the same problem as you have. For some reason (even at work), my first reaction when doing a 'time check' is that the 90's were just a 'couple of years back'. I don't know if this is a sign of our advancing maturity (read: 'old age') :)