Sunday, March 9, 2008

Aftermath: Population Zero (2008)

This was a National Geographic Channel special I learned about about 5 minutes ago, it's starting right now. So forgive the rushed nature of this post. Witness: a live review!

To start with, the concept of the show is: what would happen if all the people in the world vanished instantly. They don't say how everyone vanishes, although I suspect that would make some difference. They just disappear. Kind of like Rapture, without them actually saying it...and without the Blondie song. And oh yeah, the date we all go poof? Friday June 13. Could you turn down the hack chiche just a bit?

The show takes a "this is what happens x minutes after humans" approach. It's very fast paced so far...less than 8 minutes in, and we're already 6 hours after humans. Things of note so far. All the cars crash (that was a fun scene), all the planes crash (copped out on anything interesting there), and all the power is out around the world. Ok, there goes one plane...good enough. Now they're talking about all the toxic materials we've been using to supply power, and how that is now polluting the atmosphere...heck, even dead us humans can't catch a break for ruining the planet. Great, now chlorine gas is killing the cows...and then everything starts exploding because there are no checks to keep pressure from building up in the plants.

After the first break: we are now 3 days A.H. (After Humans)...and Big Ben rings for the last time. Now, the cats and dogs are getting restless...mass hysteria! This section largely talks about animals without humans, everything from housecats to animals in zoos. I question how likely zoo animals are going to be able to break free of their cages, but makes for good tiger vs. babboon battling around a playground scenes. Largely they talk about how dogs are able to revert back to a more ferocious mind state easily, but zoo lions will probably shy away from even the most tame house pet. And how animals that naturally live free (like camels and free range cattle) will probably adapt easily. To summarize: camels will be ok, poodles are screwed. As the second commercial looms...the worldwide nuclear meltdown is again teased.

And we're back, 10 days A.H. And we're also back to the nuclear meltdown...and boy howdy was it worth the wait. Fire, peeling steel, nice explosion...even shaky cam! So as we have the worldwide nuclear disaster... we find that basically most animals end up... ok? Seriously, they mention how half the mice will die that live in the wild, but the big animals will generally be ok because they'll move out of the radioactive area. Ummm...I get the feeling they are severely underestimating what this kind of global meltdown would actually release into the atmosphere, and its effects. The biggest thing they mention is how animals will move into the city and eat our leftover food. And then 3 months later...the radiation dissipates and the sky clears up. I'm no scientist (well, actually I do know my way around a periodic table), but I really doubt that most places in the world will be relatively ok in 3 months.

Ok, now they're talking about the first winter post human...and they are actually trying to make us care about the plight of the cockroach! And how they'll die off because there's no heat up north. Boo fraking hoo. Oh woe is the cockroach. Give me a break. Ah, here we 11 months A.H. we really get into the "look how bad we've polluted the atmosphere" section. We've screwed up the planet for 10,000 years...and now Mother Earth is taking it back! At this point, the time line really speeds up (going from 11 months A.H. to 15 years A.H. in seconds), talking about all the new plants and how they are undoing the greenhouse effect. This special is basically shaping up to be an Inconvenient Truth with more explosions. But lest ye be fooled, humans screw up of the earth ain't done yet. Next up: death from above.

Now, about 30 years after we get removed from Earth, all the satellites come crashing down to Earth. Not much really goes on in this section, other than talking about how houses start crumbling, and trees grow in their place. And how hurricanes wipe out the rotting homes, because global warming doesn't slow down...even 30 years later! So hurricanes are still insanely more powerful than they should be. The script gets noticeably more aggressive. Really talking about how it took 10,000 years for us to "impose our will on the planet" and how the planet is now taking itself back.

As hour two starts we're still 30 years A.H., they are showing how the cities are slowly getting engulfed by plants, and trees, and nature. Here comes the next obvious money shot of the special...the metal clips, and caulking used in large buildings is degrading...causing the world's skyscrapers to begin to weaken. There's a lovely CSI moment where they talk about carbon dioxide and moisture helps weaken rebar, making buildings get even weakerin a scant 100 years after THE EVENT the eventual collapse of all the major buildings really begins in earnest. After the breakneck speed they went through the beginning of this show. The buildup to the first major building collapse CGI event was painfully tedious and descriptive...only for the actual collapse to be underwhelming. The best is yet to come, they tease a whole lot of major monumental collapses before the next break. And for a disaster movie fan, it's all about the number of landmarks that go down on screen.

But we digress (I guess), and go back to how wolves, and the few dogs that weren't spayed and neutered) breed to make the world's next great predator, just 150 or so years after we're gone (honestly, I'm not watching the timeline too closely at this point because it's just changing so fast), they rule the wild. Side note: They sure do love to jump around...they go from attack wolves, to London turning into a swamp, to the desert getting hotter (thereby making the crops planted there now die away) all in about 85 seconds. I gotta say though, the scene of Las Vegas as a desolate desert town was pretty eerie, I would have liked more of that. The focus then careens to the Colorado River, and how it has been held back by the evil human scum...but now it's time for it to break free once again. But first, a commercial (which probably means we aren't going to see the river again for a while).

Wow, I'm wrong, they go right back to the Colorado River, and a lovely scene with good info about about the Hoover Dam. They intimate an issue with the Hoover Dam, but it's another dam...which has another problem from the nearby mountains blah blah blah. Finally, this second dam breaks! Sending 600 billion cubic feet of water right at the Hoover Dam, and...we get a bit of a CGI tidal wave...followed by some stock footage of random raging water, and how lush marshland reclaims our dirty dirty world. This is such a letdown...they spend 20 minutes hyping the destruction of the Hoover Dam, and we get stock footage of salmon spawning. But we're bored with that: Paris is a marshland, California is a desert, Manhattan is a jungle and BAM! Look at the ocean and how lush it is. The Transformers movie was less schizophrenic, and made more sense. Of course, not even the ocean several hundred years later is safe from our wrath...because we made whales go deaf! So now humpback whales are going insane, and their breeding like rabbits! I'm not even kidding folks.

20 minutes left...this looks like the last teaser: Which of our remaining monuments is going to collapse first? Here's the big money shot section...I hope.

230 years A.H. our footprint is almost gone...except for the most recognizable monuments...of course. Amazing how none of these monuments falls until virtually the exact same day.

First up? The Eiffel Tower. To be fair, they do give a nice little history lesson about the construction of the tower. Just like with the office tower scene earlier, they go into microscopic detail as to why the tower weakens. Finally, the top half of the tower slowly and violently crashes to the ground. A little bit about how the animals adapt to the changing land. Now, onto the State of Liberty. The Statue has lost an arm in the 230 years since we left, but the rest of her looks pretty good. But the iron inside is weakening, and lo, there goes the head. Just like in every disaster movie set in New York we've ever seen. Sigh. It looks like we're wrapping things up, talking about how some small vestiges of humans will still be around, but most of what we've build will be buried under fresh soil.

Whoops, that was not the last break. One more section: How will the world look 1000 years after humanity ceases to be?

The base of that Eiffel Tower is one tough mother...SHUT YOUR MOUTH I'm just talking about the Eiffel Tower! Amazingly it's still kicking! 25000 years after us, we are plunged into an Ice Age as...somehow... Earth gets knocked into a more distant orbit (don't explain anything! Just say it, and they'll buy it!). And almost all remnants of the human race are erased. EXCEPT for the stuff we left on the moon! So...note to future visitors from other galaxies. If you're on the Earth, looking for proof of life: You're doing it wrong! Go to the Moon! I don't even understand the point at this's all just random "facts" being thrown at the screen.

So, it's over...and I'm fairly disappointed. I was kind of expecting a little more chaos and craziness. But instead we get "the world will bounce back...we just need to leave." I think the nuclear fallout impact was far underestimated, the effect of global warming somewhat overrated, and I generally found the whole exercise rather pointless. Like I said earlier, this was teased as a disaster movie Armageddon-style film; instead we get An Inconvenient Truth with more CGI. A mostly forgettable special. A firm D.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Boardgame: The Downfall of Pompeii (2004)

Taking a short break from the disaster movies (truth be told, a huge glut of non-disaster movies I enjoy have come out on DVD recently, and I've been spending some time with them). I wanted to share a quick review of a disaster boardgame. The Downfall of Pompeii is a game, originally released in Germany in 2004, that allows players the chance to populate the city of Pompeii...and then try to escape the city when Mt. Vesuvius blows it's top.

Opening the box, you get a smallish, but well illustrated board. The volcano is a really nice plastic cone that rolls up, and fits into a space in the corner of the board. The cards are nothing special, but functional. The tiles of lava are very sturdy, and thick and will last quite a long time. My only quibble with the components are the villagers. They are abstractly represented by little barrels. I realize some folks may have issues with actually sacrificing mini-people (known in the boardgaming world as meeples) to a volcano, but I honestly feel like small people would enhance this game quite a bit.

The game is broken into two main sections. The first part of the game, the players have cards, and they are trying to get as many of their people into the city as they can. At first, it's a slow process, but after a couple rounds, it is possible to bring several people into play at a time. The volcano warns those in the city that trouble is coming, but they ignore the warning signs. Even when, on occasion, one of their loved ones is taken away because of an "Omen" card. So, the first part of the game is pretty easy, play cards and populate the city. In the deck are two volcano cards, once the second card hits...then the fun truly begins.

Once the second volcano card comes up, the volcano erupts. The rest of the game is a race for survival. On your turn, you first place a tile of lava onto the board...hopefully right on top of one (or more) of your opponents hapless souls. Then you get to move two of your own villagers, and try to escape from the city. The rules for this section are slightly more involved than the card section of the game, but for most people they should not be too hard to grasp. If, more properly...when, your villagers "encounter" lava, they are tossed into the volcano. There is something very satisfying about tossing an opponent's villager into the volcano...just don't be surprised the next time around when you see one of yours go in. Once either all the villagers are out of the city, or all the exits are blocked by lava; the game ends and whoever gets the most people out is declared the winner.

There is a little more in depth than that, but not a whole lot. I find this a great game to introduce non-boardgamers to one of my other hobbies. On average, the game takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to play, and the rules are easily grasped I feel by anyone 10 and up, so it is actually a good family game...if your family is the kind that finds glee in throwing people into a volcano. The biggest flaw I can find with the game is that it only plays up to 4 people. Maybe it is a sweet spot for the game, but I think a larger board, and up to 6 people could absolutely be a riot.

The Downfall of Pompeii is probably one of my top 5 favorite boardgames I have played in the past couple years. It has fast gameplay, a lot of "take that" (which is rather rare in most of the European-style games I enjoy), and is just a lot of fun to play. This game gets a very solid A from me this time. If you'd like more information, please check this link to BoardGameGeek.

Next time, I don't have a plan yet. I think I'm going to bring a list of disaster movies I own to my co-workers, and let popular vote decide what movie I'm going to review. I am crazy like that.