On the Beach is a 2000 apocalyptic made-for-television film directed by Russell Mulcahy and starring Armand Assante, Bryan Brown, and Rachel Ward.
The film is a remake of a 1959 film, which was also based on the 1957 novel by Nevil Shute, but updates the setting of the story to the film’s then-future of 2006, starting with placing the crew on a fictional Los Angeles-class submarine, USS Charleston (SSN-704).
USS Charleston (SSN-704) is equipped with a caterpillar drive and is on station following a nuclear exchange, under the command of Dwight Towers.
A devastating nuclear war that contaminated the northern hemisphere was preceded by a standoff between the United States and China after the latter blockaded and later invaded Taiwan. Both countries are destroyed, as is most of the world. The submarine crew finds refuge in Melbourne, Australia which the radioactive fallout has not yet reached (though radio communications with several radio operators farther north than Australia indicate that radiation has reached their countries and will be in Australia in a few months). Towers places his vessel under the command of the Royal Australian Navy and is summoned to attend a briefing, partly regarding an automated digital broadcast coming from Alaska in the Northern Hemisphere. The submarine is sent to investigate, with Towers (Armand Assante), Australian scientist Julian Osborne (Bryan Brown), and Australian liaison officer Peter Holmes (Grant Bowler) on board. En route, the submarine surfaces in San Francisco, where the Golden Gate Bridge has collapsed and the city shoreline is in ruins. A crew member who is from San Francisco abandons ship, planning on dying in his home city, and is left by his shipmates after it is argued that the length of time he has spent outside has already made him irreversibly sick with radiation poisoning.
Upon reaching Alaska, Towers and his executive officer go ashore to find no survivors. Entering a house and seeing a dead family huddled on a bed, Towers thinks of his own family and what they must have endured. The source of the automated digital broadcast is traced to a television station whose broadcast, Towers and his executive officer discover, comes from a solar-powered laptop trying to broadcast a documentary via satellite.
While in Alaska, Towers’ executive officer accidentally rips his suit and hides the fact that he is becoming sicker and sicker. Upon the Charleston’s return to Melbourne, he collapses and is diagnosed with terminal radiation sickness. Towers attends his old friend in his dying days and ultimately, at his request, euthanizes the man as his deteriorating condition causes him to experience extreme suffering.
Towers returns to Melbourne, where a woman in whom he has become interested, Moira Davidson (Rachel Ward), Holmes’s sister-in-law and Osborne’s ex-wife, is waiting for him. As the people of Melbourne realize that the inevitable nuclear cloud will soon reach their location, their impending doom begins to unravel the social fabric; anarchy and chaos erupt. Some choose to live their final weeks recklessly in a deadly car race while others seek a more peaceful means to face the end of their lives. Holmes and his wife Mary (Jacqueline McKenzie) find solace in their love for each other as Towers and Moira become closer.
When radiation sickness appears in Melbourne, people begin lining up for government-issued suicide pills. After Mary and their small daughter Jenny fall ill, Peter and his family share a final moment before taking their doses together, Peter sorrowfully injecting his child. Osborne races around the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit and finally crashes his car at Turn 10, resulting in a fiery death. With most of the Charleston’s crew members developing advanced radiation sickness, they ask to take the submarine on one final voyage to San Francisco. Though they know they are unlikely to survive the trip, they wish to die together on the Charleston, the only real home they have left. Towers agrees, apparently abandoning Moira to be with his men. As Moira, about to take her own suicide pill, watches the Charleston sail away, she is joined by Towers after all.
- Armand Assante as Captain Dwight Towers.
- Rachel Ward as Moira Davidson.
- Bryan Brown as Dr. Julian Osborne.
- Jacqueline McKenzie as Mary Holmes.
- Grant Bowler as Lieutenant Peter Holmes.
- Allison Webber as Jenny Holmes.
- Tieghan Webber as Jenny Holmes.
- Steve Bastoni as First Officer Neil Hirsch.
- David Ross Paterson as Chief Wawrzeniak (credited as David Paterson).
- Kevin Copeland as Sonarman Bobby Swain.
- Todd MacDonald as Radioman Giles.
- Joe Petruzzi as Lieutenant Tony Garcia.
- Craig Beamer as Crewman Reid.
- Jonathan Oldham as Crewman Parsons.
- Trent Huen as Crewman Samuel Huynh.
- Donni Frizzell as Crewman Rossi.
- Jonathan Stuart as Crewman Burns.
- Sam Loy as Seaman Sulman.
- Charlie Clausen as Seaman Byers.
- Robert Rabiah as Cook Gratino.
- Marc Carra as Cook Walmsey.
- Rod Mullinar as Admiral Jack Cunningham.
- Felicity Boyd as Lieutenant Ashton.
- Bill Hunter as Prime Minister Seaton.
- Charles “Bud” Tingwell as Professor Alan Nordstrum (credited as Charles Tingwell).
In the film, the Morse code signal picked up by the submarine crew in the original novel and film was updated to an automated digital broadcast powered by a solar-powered laptop computer. The film’s picture of human behaviour is darker and more pessimistic than in the original 1959 adaptation, in which social order and manners do not collapse.
Alterations from the book and original film adaptation are made, including an ending differing from both the novel and film in that the submarine commander chooses to die with his newfound love instead of scuttling the submarine beyond Australian territorial waters (as in the novel) or attempting to return with his crew to the United States (as in the earlier film). In this version, the Golden Gate Bridge has collapsed and the city shoreline is in ruins, indicating an adjacent nuclear detonation, as in the book but not the first film version. The film ends with the reunion of Towers and Moira while their implied suicides occurring offscreen, as did the original version of Moira in the first film. Unlike the first film, there is no final post-mortem scene of deserted Melbourne streets, with the absence of human life depicted.
The film contains various technical errors, such as in military uniforms and terminology.
The film ends with a quotation from Walt Whitman’s poem “On The Beach at Night”, describing how frightening an approaching cloud bank seemed at night to the poet’s child, blotting the stars out one by one, as the father and child stood on the beach on Massachusetts’ North Shore. As much as it resembles the plot of the movie and of Shute’s novel, however, the book gives only an incidental reference to the Whitman poem, and the phrase “on the beach” is a Royal Navy term that means “retired from the Service”. However, there seems to be little doubt about the provenance of the book’s title, since at least some editions of it bear on the flyleaf two stanzas from the T.S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men”.
The film received mixed reviews because with its three-hour account of impending doom, reviewers considered it “slow going”.
On the Beach received two Golden Globe award nominations and was nominated as Best Miniseries or Television Film. Rachel Ward was nominated in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television category for her role as Moira Davidson.
- Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown are husband and wife in real life.
- This film marked their fourth on-screen collaboration.
- The Los Angeles class submarine in this movie uses a “caterpillar” (silent) drive as was used by the Soviet submarine Red October in The Hunt for Red October (1990).
- Bill Hunter who stars as the PM of Australia, was in the original on the beach as an uncredited swimming double.
- Bill Hunter’s appears as an uncredited swimming double.
- And, Hunter claimed that he was inspired to take up acting after watching one of the leads (variously claimed to be either Gregory Peck or Fred Astaire) do 27 takes of a scene, and thinking he could do better.
Production & Filming Details
- Russell Mulcahy.
- Greg Coote … executive producer.
- John Edwards … producer.
- Jeffrey M. Hayes … executive producer.
- Carol Hughes … line producer.
- Peter E. Strauss … executive producer (as Peter Strauss).
- Errol Sullivan … executive producer / producer.
- Nevil Shute … (novel).
- John Paxton … (1959 screenplay).
- David Williamson … (teleplay).
- Bill Kerby … (teleplay).
- Christopher Gordon.
- Martin McGrath.
- Mark Perry.
- Coote Hayes Productions.
- Edwards/Sullivan Productions.
- Showtime Networks.
- Southern Star Entertainment.
- The Australian Film Commission.
- Showtime Networks (2000) (USA) (TV) (original airing).
- 7 Network (2001) (Australia) (TV).
- AXN (2007) (Japan) (TV).
- Bridge Entertainment Group (2001) (Netherlands) (DVD) (VHS).
- Elephant Films (2009) (France) (all media).
- Hallmark Home Entertainment (2000) (USA) (VHS).
- MIG Film (2011) (Germany) (DVD).
- Pand Co. Ltd. (2001) (Japan) (DVD).
- Pand Co. Ltd. (2001) (Japan) (video).
- Prime Wave (PW) (2001) (Japan) (DVD).
- Prime Wave (PW) (2001) (Japan) (video).
- Release Date: 28 May 2000 (US) and 28 January 2001 (Australia).
- Rating: 15.
- Running Time: 195 minutes.
- Country: Australia.
- Language: English.