Aftermath: Population Zero

Aftermath - Population ZeroSynopsis: Imagine if, one minute from now, every single person on Earth disappeared. All seven billion of us. What would happen to the world without humans? How long would it be before our nuclear power plants erupted, skyscrapers crumbled, and satellites dropped from the sky? What would become of the household pets and farm animals? And could an ecosystem plagued with years of pollution ever recover?

In this interactive, explore a world you will never see—a world without people. Advance time to see buildings fall and nature rise. You are in control. Experience the Aftermath.

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Aftermath: Population Zero 6.5

eyelights: its apocalyptic opening.
eyesores: its lack of scientific data and expert commentary. the bland narration.

Imagine a world without humans. Yawn… do you care?

After watching ‘Life After People‘, I wasn’t exactly sure if I was in the mood to immerse myself in yet another holocaust scenario; although the former was entertaining and somewhat informative, it’s not exactly the most cheery viewing material – no matter how reassuring it can be for we environment lovers.

But it would have been foolish to watch one and not get a different perspective on the same scenario. Especially since they appeared to be competing productions: ‘Aftermath: Population Zero’ is a National Geographic TV movie that was released hot on the heels of ‘Life After People’ – a mere month and a half later.

Although both of them postulate that nature would recover from humanity’s sudden disappearance (in a mysterious scenario not unlike the Rapture), their styles and approaches are largely different, with ‘Aftermath’ recounting the events in a linear fashion, whereas ‘Life’ adopted a dramatic teletabloid style.

Another significant difference is that ‘Aftermath’ doesn’t bother to support its suppositions with clear scientific data; whereas ‘Life’ at least showed us the science behind the worldwide degradation and had people on hand to discuss it, ‘Aftermath’ tells its audience what is happening but doesn’t often explain why.

At least, not in any significant way.

The advantage with this approach is that the show covers a lot more ground in some areas, adding details that the other film didn’t, such as the notion that there would be accidents everywhere after humanity’s sudden disappearance, or that there would be grave repercussions to the shutdown of our nuclear reactors.

Unfortunately, ‘Aftermath’ spreads itself too thin, whereas ‘Life’ was too focused on some elements, forgoing others. And yet, it’s interesting to note that ‘Aftermath’ is very Western-centric: it focuses heavily on North America and Europe, choosing the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and Hoover Dam as reference points.

What ‘Aftermath’ does well is to briefly show humanity’s impact on the planet before setting the stage, and also at its conclusion, giving us perspective. It also takes into account the impact that the technology we’d leave behind would have in the short and long-term – whereas ‘Life’ was more interested in the infrastructure.

This means that ‘Aftermath’ begins on an apocalyptic tone, telling us about the extensive damage we’d leave in our wake, before reassuring us that all of this will come to pass. And it provides a message of hope: all of the wildlife and fauna will see rapid growth spurts and will return to their former glories within decades.

That is, until 25000 A.H. (After Humans), when a new ice age devastates everything. (Snicker, snicker… they just couldn’t help themselves!)

On top of its limited scientific base, ‘Aftermath’ is marred by a poor narration by Reg E Cathey. While the one in ‘Life’ was overly dramatic, this one is too bland for my taste; I got bored with it within 10-15 minutes. There’s also the no-small matter of this production’s CGI, which is even worse than in ‘Life’.

Still, at least the CGI is used more moderately here, and we only get to see one set of poorly animated CGI animals; these producers knew their limitations. Instead, ‘Aftermath’ used live animals and tried to recreate scenarios that saw them fend for themselves in the wild, sometimes for the first time.

Honestly, for all its faults, I had a blast watching baboons, tigers, lions, wolves and other wild animals wander about urban areas – for real. It was exceptionally strange to watch an elephant in the desolate North American winter, and hilarious to see camels grazing in a cemetery. I guess I’m easily amused.

And yet, I became mildly disinterested with ‘Aftermath: Population Zero’ by the midway point. It has nothing to do with already having seen ‘Life After People’; it really is its lack of substance. It makes for a nice (if twisted) bedtime story, narrated by a monotonous disembodied voice, but it’s not intellectually stimulating.

In the end, ‘Aftermath’ is a decent complement to its History Channel cousin. Unfortunately, both suffer from too much ambition and not enough means to fully flesh out their premise: even combined, too many questions remain unanswered – even some of the ones explicitly posed during the course of this show.

One wonders if perhaps the producers were in too much of a haste to do their research. Perhaps this TV movie was merely intended to be a teaser for the eventual mini-series, which came out in 2010. Well, I don’t intend to find out: if they couldn’t be bothered with this one, I can’t be bothered with its follow-up.

‘Aftermath: Population Zero’  left me dissatisfied: it’s not enough to experience the end of our world, I want to understand it.

Date of viewing: January 22, 2015

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