Bad deeds do not go unpunished, however, and part of the function of film is to scourge us for our worst inclinations even while indulging them. Hence the perennial success of disaster movies, especially as the millenium draws near. Who didn't share in the cathartic rush of potential extinction granted by the cosmic cataclysms depicted in the hits Deep Impact and Armageddon? Not to mention the historical slaughter recreated in Saving Private Ryan, or the genocide so cheerily invoked in Roberto Benigni's inexplicably successful Holocaust comedy Life Is Beautiful.
In a year so geared toward human extinction it's perhaps not a surprise that the human element might be missing in movies, often literally. Beginning with Disney's Mulan, films starring beasts or computer-generated figments have edged out the human competition. The success of Antz, A Bug's Life, and The Rugrats Movie suggests that the future of motion pictures lies in animation. Fittingly, the last big film of 1998 was The Prince of Egypt, a cartoon from DreamWorks, the same people who gave us Private Ryan. The story of a young Moses, it closed off a year of human impropriety with the image of a non-human prophet scourging us for our human failures and laying down the law.