Friday, May 30, 2008

10.5 (2004)

After 9/11, it seemed a certainty that the disaster movie genre would go away. After all, who would want to see buildings being destroyed and all the death and destruction to go along with it? Well, it turns out plenty of people, because the disaster genre made a pretty convincing comeback in the mid 2000's. 10.5 was a made for TV movie, detailing a tremendous earthquake that starts in Washington, and threatens to rip California off the West Cost. Of course, it is up to the government, and a group of crack seismologists (pun not intended, but after further though, completely enjoyed) to stop it.

Right off the bat, we get the first big money shot. The quake starts in Seattle as a 7.9 magnitude quake, and after a few minutes of extreme bike riding (wha??) the Space Needle takes a topple, seemingly onto out bike riding friend. If you like action, this movie brings it early and fast.

We do get the most disturbing scene in the history of motion pictures. A sweaty Beau Bridges (as our President) playing basketball. I had no idea this was a horror movie in disguise.

Anyway, we get the obligatory character development phase of the movie, and it is strictly by the numbers stuff. We meet the government official with the troubled marriage, her staff with family problems, the all-caring President...willing to put off foreign matters to take care of his people (I can't tell if it's supposed to be a take off of Bush or not), the scientists more hung up on their job than their love life...all pretty common and frequently seen cliches in the disaster movie genre. The movie is nearly 3 hours long, so this as usual gets dragged out way too long and gets way too complicated for its own good, fortunately, the filmakers in this case care a little they give us more action.

In northern California, an AFERSHOCK of 8.4 hits a fault line, which just happens to run on a train track, which just happens to have a train on it right at this very moment. Aren't coincidences a pain?

Something in the cnematography of this movie really bugs me. Any time a character needs to say something important or reacts to something important, the camera zooms in a few inches. In small doses, this is effective. However, there is a scene between the President, and the head of FEMA, Roy Nolan, played by Fred Ward...where there are at least 6 of these zooms in a 30 second span. It's borderline dizzying, not to mention very annoying.

I think I forgot to mention John Schnider is in this movie. Yeah, Bo Duke. They threw in a completely superfluous scene of his driving his SUV off-road so he could hive that old Duke Woo-Hoo, and the line "I missed doing that" some nice fan service, though not really necessary.

Another wonderful disaster movie cliche rears its ugly head. Just like in Absolute Zero, we get the wild theory put forth by the scientist to the group of public officials. And they don't listen to her, at all...even though we all know by now, she's probably right.

Things get slow for a long time. Lots of science mumbo jumbo, a bunch of government double talk yadda yadda yadda. And then, we get to the scene where I give out the Dumbest People Alive Ever award. John Schnider's character, Clark, and his daughter are going camping when they get caught in some of the effects of the second quake. As Clark tries to drive his SUV through a damaged part of the road...the SUV starts to sink. It seems like a tense scene, until you see that they have a perfectly good sunroof in the car that would have been simple to open and escape out of. Instead they roll down a side window, allowing the girl out, and then Clark is buried alive...only to escape by breaking the front windshield with his flashlight, and climbing out a minute later. Truly a classic dumb scene.

An hour into the movie, we finally get to the ultimate plot of the movie. There's a big fault, getting ready to layeth the smackdown on San Francisco. Of course, as usual, the government doesn't buy the scientist's theory, but we all know SCIENCE IS NEVER WRONG! Oh wat, wrong movie. And sure enough just a few seconds later... here comes the quake. A 9.2 centered right under San Francisco! Highlighting this section is a scene of the Golden Gate bridge bucking like Galloping Gertie, before ultimately tumbling into the water. A helicopter pilot on the scene does his best recreation of the call of the Hindenburg disaster, sadly, he has the emotional range of tinfoil, so it comes off incredibly poor. They don't show any other parts of the city, but this scene was done very well. I'm rather impressed with the CGI in this movie, it is a TV movie...but it seems to have a decent enough budget to have spent money on good effects.

Now we have a problem, how do they solve it? That's right...disaster movie cliche time! They need to fuse this fault line shut so it doesn't react with the San Andreas Fault and the ultimate destruction of the entire west coast. How do you fuse a fault line? Of course. You use nuclear weapons! And you decide to evacuate the entire population of Los Angeles.

Yeah, that's right. They are going to drill holes into the Earth, and drop in nuclear warheads to fuse this "superfault" shut, and save the West Coast. As we move towards the great nuclear detonations, all our other storylines are wrapping themselves up into nice little bows. Mostly good, a couple not so good, but all fairly predictable. We are due for at least one big surprise...and boy howdy do they have a big one.

No, no, not the "we can't get this last hole drilled" thing...we knew that was going to happen. Something bigger. No, not the "Hey, isn't Barstow still a little too close to the coast for an evacuation center just in case this thing does go off?" Even bigger than that. The big surprise of the warheads gets stuck, broken away from it's remote control device, and has to be manually detonated. Boy howdy, that's going to hurt. And it's Roy Nolan, the head of FEMA himself, who decides to detonate the bomb himself. Of course, not even detonating a nuclear bomb by hand isn't a smooth process. Another quake hits, and Nolan falls down...and the bomb lands on top of him. Cue the "So you had a bad day" music. This leads to the most surreal father / son heart to heart. I don't think any other movie has had a father spill his guts to his estranged son with a nuclear warhead sitting on his chest.

So the plan goes off, and it works, the faults stabilize, and the West Coast is now saved! And there are parties and celebrations all around! Seems like a perfect time to end the movie right? Nah, there are still 20 minutes left. It ain''t that simple in TV movieland. A series of aftershocks near the last warhead suggest that LA is still not safe, so our seismologists head out to investigate. Remember the manual detonation of that last warhead? Yeah, it wasn't deep enough, and it actually opened up a fault line. So, remember when we questioned if Barstow was far enough away? Yeah, it wasn't, now it's right in the path of this potential geography changing quake.

The San Andreas fault opens up wide, and we get to see the utter obliteration of Los Angeles! The Hollywood sign goes down, all the buildings crumble as the Pacific Ocean begins to rip the city right in half. And Barstow? The evacuation camp is ripped in half by this 10.5 magnitude quake. Bunches of people are swallowed up, of course...they are but bit parts...our main characters all seem to manage to be ok. Charlton Heston wishes the Red Sea would have parted as easily as California does here. By the time the quake ends, a vast portion of California is gone, and what didn't get eaten up is now a brand new island floating in the Pacific. The movie ends with a pretty cringe worthy speech, and a satellite view of our new geography.

I really enjoy this movie. I have watched it several times, and I find the action good, the acting passable (obviously there's some cheesy dialogue, but nowhere near as bad as many other TV movies), the special effects are very good for a TV movie. I give this movie an A-. So you'd think that's all there is as far as 10.5 goes. Not so fast my friends. The very next year, there was a sequel. That's right. 10.5 Apocalypse, taking quakes to a whole new level. Next time.

"Up 'em full of morphine, and give 'em to God"

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Solar Crisis (1990)

In the near future... the sun is preparing to expel a solar flare so powerful it will cremate the Earth. Sounds like a good time to me! The DVD case for this movie really intrigued me. The movie has Charlton Heston, Peter Boyle, AND Jack Palance. Digging just a bit deeper onto the back of the DVD case gives me one, big, big concern.

Directed by: Alan Smithee


Basically, if a director has a movie taken away from him, and the studio recuts the movie in a way the director dislikes... that director can request that his or her name be removed from the film, and the pseudonym Alan Smithee be attached. Generally, when you see Alan Smithee (or any variation of that name) you are in for a bad BAD movie.

So, I am, as you can imagine...concerned.

At the start of the film, my fears are not lessened by one of the most bizarre opening sequences I've ever seen. We get the slow text crawl explaining the situation. No issues there, then we cut to...another slow text crawl. We see a quick scene about the anti-matter bomb "Freddy" whining about his suspension coils being too tight (yes, a whiny 5-ton anti-matter bomb). Soon followed by... another slow text crawl.

I am still concerned.

The main plot is simple. The sun has been getting hotter for several years now, threatening life as we know it. Scientists have discovered that a large area of sunspots is forming, and the expected solar flare could be so severe that it could reach the Earth...completely destroying life as we know it. Of course, there are complications. One, some members of a large corporation still on the almost desert-like Earth, IXL, seem bent on seeing that this solar flare actually DOES hit the Earth. Two, the navigation system on the 5 ton anti-matter bomb wasn't perfected, so someone has to pilot the bomb into the sun. This leads to my favorite edit in the movie. This fact, that one of the most important members of the ship will have to fly into the sun is completely glossed over by a quickly edited in "ok, it's time to go, let's move" line, and we jump to some sub-plots.

Sub-plot #1: Admiral Kelso (Heston) discovers his grandson, Mike, on Earth has gone AWOL from a military academy. Mike's dad, and captain of the ship Steve Kelso, seems to be way more concerned with trying to get inside the pants of the bioengineered "Magician" (meaning she can pretty much do anything) on the ship. Admiral Kelso decides to leave the ship, and return to Earth to try and find his grandson. Meanwhile Mike meets up with a crazy-eyed "Travis" (Jack there any other kind of Jack Palance?) to try and get to a space shuttle to get up into space to reunite with his family. Palance is just a nut in this movie. The best way I can describe Travis is an insane Mad Max. He runs around grunting and screaming, not making a whole lot of sense most of the time.

Sub-plot #2: Returning to the IXL group, one of their "hitmen" sneaks himself aboard the spaceship, somehow, and implants (?) some...thing? into Alex's eye or something. Talk about not explaining anything, whatever it was though...the bioengineered Alex is now under IXL's control. The plan to disrupt the mission is well on track.

Even though Alex is now unwittingly on the other side, it seems as though things are looking up for the Captain's chances on getting what he really wants out her. Soon after a shipmate dies trying to fix a radiation problem on the ship (possibly caused by Alex hmmmm???) you see the two getting very very close to each other.

Looking again at the back on the DVD, as there's a whole lot of nothing happening at this point during the movie, other than Travis' "Mad Max" posse learning about the plot to destroy the Earth, and doing very little about it... I notice one of the big selling points of the movie is that the visual effects were done by people who worked on Star Wars and 2010. And I'll admit, the special effects haven't been too bad, nothing too special, but better than I probably expected given everything I had thought coming into the movie.

You know what? Marvin, the Android from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy whined less than Freddy, the Anti-Matter bomb. Just sayin' he's really annoying.

A bit of a sidetrack here. A while back I reviewed "Sunshine"; a movie, again about the sun causing global disaster (albeit, in Sunshine the sun was dying, not getting super-powerful as is the case here). And in that movie, a character came back seemingly from the dead (and 7 years after his supposed death) in almost monster form as a figure that says we should not meddle in the ways of nature. We now have the exact same character in Solar Crisis, in the form of IXL's leader Arnold Teague (Peter Boyle). He's purposely sabotaging the mission to the sun because 1. he doersn't believe the solar flare is coming, and 2. if it be it. That's the way it's supposed to be. Another interesting comparison: both movies have a major oxygen incident which basically turns the mission into a suicide mission for all on board the ships. I just found these to be very interesting similarities between two rather different movies.

As we careen towards the movie's end. The Kelso family saga kind of fizzles out when Mikey escapes from the IXL baddies, and then just runs into his grandfather and is saved. Kind of a letdown, I think Heston was in this movie for all of 10 minutes...and his most memorable line was "You tell me you love me before you leave this room."

So we go back to the ship, and all heck is breaking out. Things are falling apart, stuff is exploding, FREDDY GETS PUT ON MANUAL DETONATION MODE and FINALLY someone suspects sabotage. You think? After bringing the crew 2 seconds away from certain death, Alex miraculously saves the day, and then is all things Freddy the be the traitor. Captain Kelso yells at her, but she, using her womanly charms, manages to knock the good captain unconscious and steal the anti-matter bomb and she flies it into the sun herself. That's right, even after finding out this crazy woman's brain has been possessed, and nearly killed the entirety of the human race...Captain Horndog here still lets Alex get a little too intimate, and again gets burned. What a doofus.

Here's where the entire movie throws up it's hands and goes "I dunno anymore." They show Alex flying into the sun, being surrounded by splashes of yellows and oranges, then...Captain Kelso says "Let's go home" and ROLL CREDITS! Talk about leaving absolutely everything open. Allow me to list what we don't know still:

1. Did Alex actually fly the bomb to the correct place?
2. Did the bomb deflect the flare as they hoped?
3. Does the crew make it back to their docking station (they did only have 31% oxygen which should have only gotten them 1/3 of the way)?
4. What happened to IXL?
5. What happens to EARTH?
6. Does the Kelso family reunite?
7. Why am I thinking this hard about this movie?

Surprisingly, despite more red flags going in than your average NASCAR race, I rather enjoyed this movie. The acting wasn't great, the effects were mostly decent (getting a little rushed at the end), and the story was passable until the very end. I was surprisingly entertained by this movie. The final conflict scene on the ship in particular was surprisingly tense. If I were to grade it, I'd probably give it a B-, definitely above average, but not a masterpiece.

Next time (much sooner than this one I promise), I'm going to review 10.5. A TV miniseries from the mid-90s.