The end is not just near, it is here in "This Is the End," an apocalypse comedy in which a group of well- known comedy stars, including Jonah Hill, James Franco, Seth Rogen and Danny McBride, play in-quotes versions of themselves. Recently released on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms, the film was the first directing effort for the writing team of Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who previously wrote films such as "Superbad" and "Pinneaple Express."
The film broke the $100-million barrier (thanks to a recent re-release push) and was surprisingly well-reviewed by critics. In Variety, Justin Chang said the film "offsets its slightly smug premise with a clever sense of self-parody and near-cataclysmic levels of vulgarity." In the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote that "it suggests that a comic subgenre based on the immaturity, sexual panic and self-mocking tendencies of men who should be old enough to know better has reached its expiration date."
The film finds Rogen, Hill, Franco, McBride, Jay Baruchel and Craig Robinson among the survivors of an apocalyptic episode that begins while they are partying at Franco's new house. Among those who don't survive are Michael Cera, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari and Rihanna. (Emma Watson survives but doesn't stick around the house with the guys.)
The film is based on the short film "Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse," which is also included on the Blu-ray. Their end-times feature found Rogen and Goldberg combining two ideas they had been toying with. One was to continue exploring the comedic possibilities of the apocalypse. The other was to cast celebrities and have them deal with problems as they would as themselves.
Though the actors all appear under their own names, they aren't exactly playing themselves but, rather, comic exaggerations -- Cera is a coked-up weirdo, Hill's success has gone to his head, but he masks it with forced sincerity, Franco is pompous and a bit daft, and McBride is particularly crass and selfish even amid a group of crass and selfish actors.
"In 'Superbad,' we just called the characters Seth and Evan and thought we'd come up with better names later. It was a total fluke," Goldberg said. "The same thing kind of happened with 'The Apocalypse,' where we were making a short directed by Jason Stone, and we were all discussing what to call it and what to call the characters played by Jay and Seth and decided just to call them Jay and Seth and keep it simple."
As for finding the actors willing to put themselves and their personas up for grabs in the film, Goldberg said they didn't have to look far.
"We worked backwards from who were the funniest six people we could get together, and in the end these guys were the funniest guys to have in the room," Goldberg said.
"Everyone was OK with their characters," he added. "The only thing they ever wanted was to make their characters darker. Jonah was like, what if I have this bit of shtick of just being unrelentingly kind. And Franco wanted to make his character darker. They all wanted to add more emotion. Franco wanted his character to be nonsexually in love with Seth. They all led their characters to darker places."
Goldberg and Rogen are busy these days preparing to shoot their next effort as writer-directors, "The Interview," starring Rogen and Franco alongside Lizzy Caplan. Rogen and Goldberg have also written and are producing an R-rated animated film, "Sausage Party." Goldberg said they recently saw about a half-hour of footage.
"I'm going to confidently say it's the most important film ever produced," Goldberg said. "It will change the world, like the movie 'Ghandi.'"
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