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 bit...so 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 is...one 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"