10.5 Apocalypse (2006)
Yes, it's been a while since I posted anything, sorry 'bout that. My obsession with rusty old jets has been consuming me lately, but I decided this week to at least try and write a new review for all you loyal readers (both of you, thanks mom and dad!).
10.5 Apocalypse is the sequel to the 2004 television movie 10.5. I'll admit here and now that I have not seen the first 10.5, so my review is of a stand-alone movie versus a true sequel. I realize that it makes no sense at all to review a sequel without having seen the first movie, but that's what makes me so darn cute (again, thanks mom and dad!). Our movie comes in two parts, with obvious commercial breaks sprinkled throughout, and runs a free-time crippling three hours. Originally broadcast over two nights during sweeps week, it was released on DVD as a single movie event (it may even be public domain already, you can get it free online).
Let me recap the last movie quickly, ok? In 2004's 10.5 the fabled "Big One" finally hits the West Coast, cleaving off everything from California to Seattle. 10.5 Apocalypse takes place just hours after the events in the first movie ended (despite being filmed two years later). As such, the massive 10.5 earthquake that just tore half our nation's gross domestic product off the map has just happened.
Los Angeles is a goner in this flashback scene over the opening credits (I don't know who Peter Outerbridge is but he needs to get the hell off my TV).
We open as a massive tidal wave (caused by the quake) swarms west across the Pacific towards Hawaii. We see a cruise ship (the Princess Isabella) in its path, the drunken businessmen and cheating housewives mingling blithely, ignorant of the crushing wave of death rushing at them. The captain notices it first, and even though logic would decree he at least make a go of turning into the wave, he just stands there in shocked awe as the wave hits them broadside. The liner capsizes and sinks, leaving just pitiful little wreckage and an oil spill to mark her location as the wave continues on west.
Ship in trouble, she's not rolling back from this one.
The wave aims for Honolulu, Hawaii, the state's largest city, situated on Oahu. In one of the (depressingly few) scientifically accurate visuals, the wave first sucks the surf back from the beach before looming high on the horizon. The wave crashes across the city, flooding out the buildings and inundating the streets with dozens of feet of seawater (though I think the geography is wrong, as Honolulu is on the southern half of an island and the wave is coming from North America to the northeast, so the wave should come across the mountains of eastern Oahu and not directly from the sea onto Waikiki Beach).
Honolulu takes it hard and wet.
But hey, it's ok, because (like in all those Godzilla movies) the entire city of Honolulu was evacuated in two hours! Yes, a city of 900,000 people were all taken...where, again? Across to the other side of the island? To other Hawaiian islands? It wouldn't seem to matter, as this massive tsunami looks powerful and large enough to swamp over all the islands, not just Oahu. Maybe all those millions of people were lifted up 500 feet into the air in giant nets held tight by Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah and Superman.
Where they go?
Alright, let's meet our Washington DC crew, as the entire federal government is, of course, mobilized to deal with this disaster (beginning in the last movie). There are, however, only two people we need worry about, the President and the Head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). President Paul Hollister is played by 65-year old Beau Bridges, coming back from the same role in 2004's 10.5. The President is a strong willed man, though clearly in over his head as his nation is being demolished by Mother Nature. I guess Bridges does a fairly good job as the Commander in Chief, but I'd prefer Morgan Freeman from Deep Impact to lead my country in a crisis.
The Head of FEMA is a frazzled career disaster management expert who spends about 95% of the movie talking to the President on her headset. Most of the relevant plot dialogue in the first half of our movie is spoken between her and the President, though I question the character's actual value in an already bloated cast, her lines could have come to us from another, more established character. And, as The X-Files showed us, FEMA is a hotbed of alien sedition, so we shouldn't trust her anyway.
The Head of FEMA (I just know she's from the planet Zetuslus).
Now, before we go too far, let me tell you that 10.5 Apocalypse is a very serious movie. How serious is it? Very serious, serious dialogue, serious music, serious zooming close-ups, serious eyeshadow on the girls. Everyone tries so damn hard to make it REAL, to make you FEEL their pain. However, this is not Nahon's I Stand Alone, nor is it Shimura's Ikiru, hell, it's not even The Towering Inferno or A Night to Remember. It's a crappy b-movie television miniseries and I resent it trying to force me to feel bad for cardboard cut-out characters and sappy dialogue. Ok, back to the movie, off now to Denver, Colorado, to the headquarters of the US Geological Survey, the federal government agency responsible for watching for earthquakes and the like (and in this movie a collection of hard-boiled Jack Bauers, fully funded with the latest in high-tech computer surveillance gear and scientific instruments, with helicopters idling on the roof to whisk them off to exotic locations at a moment's notice).
USGS HQ in Denver (there are title cards at the beginning of almost every scene change, which is helpful.
All those Bigass Earthquakes that were messing everything up in the last movie are just the beginning. The entire western half of America is undergoing some dramatic and catastrophic geologic changes in rapid succession. First up we hear that Mount Saint Helens is erupting again, repeating the whopper of 1980, but with extra spiciness. We don't see any of this, however, maybe due to budget constraints.
A computer visual of Saint Helens is the best we get.
Let's meet our film's heroine, a super-smart disaster-expert geology-whiz named Doctor Samantha "Sam" Hill. Sam is played by 48-year old Kim Delaney, one of those semi-famous names that I swear I can't place with any movie or TV roles, even though I know I should be able to. Kim Delaney is a fine looking woman to be sure, but her acting abilities seem limited (judging solely from this movie) and at times she really seems to be mailing it in.
Her second banana sidekick is a certain Doctor Jordan, a scruffy, unshaven lunk who has no real purpose in this movie but to stand behind/beside Sam and repeat things verbatim and emote to exciting stuff going on offscreen. I'm positive he must have had a bigger role in the first movie, since he gets that typical Movie Hero swooning music intro when we first see him, but in this installment he's as worthless as Ando.
Sam is called in by the President to save the day, and a plane is on the way to take them to Denver to the USGS HQ. It's not exactly clear, but it looks like she is at the moment exactly where she was when the first movie ended (somewhere out in the field). She's grubby, dirty, sweaty and stressed out, and she seems to be pissed off at Jordan for some reason (maybe I should watch the first movie some day...). For the rest of our film, we are hammered over the head with the fact that this lone woman is the key to the survival of America, the one firm bulwark standing strong against the decidedly unpatriotic machinations of Mother Nature (who must be a godless communist to harm our fair nation like this).
Sam is like freakin' Wonder Woman, but without the bracelets and the invisible jet.
Back in Washington now, to meet another character returning from 2004's 10.5. Natalie (played by hottie Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon, who was 40 but looks barely 20) is some FEMA field commander/organizer type of woman, who also happens to be the Head of FEMA's daughter (whoa, does the term "nepotism" mean anything to this agency?). In the last movie Natalie was involved in something that went horribly wrong and resulted in several FEMA agents being killed (the cryptically named "Clearfield Accident"). The movie makes a big deal about how Natatlie has not been the same since then, but forgets the timeline which places that event not more than 48 hours before the start of this movie (such are the pitfalls of making a direct sequel two years after the first). Natalie is ready for a second chance, however, and talks her mother into giving her another field command.
In the face of nationwide disasters, the Head of FEMA has a plan to mobilize "citizen teams" of EMS and rescue personnel, sort of an informal State Militia of firemen and doctors that can be sent into the field with minimal training to help dedicated FEMA and government personnel. It seems this program was started in the wake of the 10.5 West Coast Quake o'Death of the first movie. As it turns out, two of our movie's main characters will be with this new program, a pair of firefighting brothers from Medford, Oregon named Will and Brad. Will is a younger, hunky sort of dude, who clearly has a soft heart and a deep sense of his own weaknesses (and he likes dogs and French poetry). Brad is the older brother, all bravado and bluster, the kind of guy who slaps you on the back in the hardware store and asks you if you saw the Raiders game Sunday. Brad is played by a nearly -unrecognizable Dean Cain, once upon a time the star of my ex-wife's favorite show Lois & Clark
There is a weird dynamic between these brothers, one of dominance and control, as well as misplaced hero-worship and feelings of familial inadequacy. Sibling rivalry between boys is not uncommon, I have an older brother as well as two sons myself, but these two guys need some serious counseling.
To add to the mix, Will has a hot wife named Laura who is just about fed up with his older brother's near-constant interference and all the macho bullshit. She is also so pissed that her husband is being called up to duty (which she blames on Brad signing them up without telling her) that she storms off and drives to her family's house in Nevada. She will turn up later, don't worry.
Laura also provides our movie's sole porn moment as we see her in her pink Haines Her Way bra for about five seconds.
Off now to the beautiful ski and spa playground of the rich that is Sun Valley, Idaho. There is a snow-covered peak here, a long-dormant but now-exploding volcano named Bald Mountain that is now criss-crossed with ski trails and pretentious Alpine guides who make you feel small and pathetic just because you can't seem to stand up on your skis for longer than thirty seconds before flopping face-first into the powder to the mocking stares of your girlfriend. We get the first of many Disaster Up Close and Personal moments as a cute young couple in a ski lift get a bird's eye view of the exploding volcano and the onrushing ash cloud. Oh, and the chick is hot.
They have about thirty seconds to live.
Later news reports of damage show that the entire valley is under ash and rubble, with thousands dead and many more missing. All throughout this movie, by the way, we get a large number of shots of television news anchors discussing the latest disaster of the minute. This plot device provides us handy maps of the happenings (which are helpful in keeping us up to date on the locations of the scenes, for those of us who tend to fall asleep during movies) as well as giving us some idea of the enormous loss of life and property we are seeing.
Natalie comes to Idaho to take charge now, jumping into the fray with her hair down and a determined look on her face. There is a FEMA agent named Alec who is already on the ground and in charge. Officially, Natalie is here to take over for him, but Alec isn't willing to give up command. To be fair, however, Alec has the skills, charisma and experience to run this site far better, and Natalie's sudden arrival, swooping down from Washington DC in a helicopter in her pressed blouse and Guicci boots, does stink of politics (and nepotism).
Natalie and Alec even disagree on where a truck should park (seriously).
There is a tense running fight between the two of them, much to the detriment of the mission, which you'd think would run much smoother if the people in charge would stop sniping at each other and deal with the disaster at hand. Natalie rightly asserts her authority, and Alec's displeasure is thinly veiled. It's not until Natalie calls her mom that we learn that the reason Alec is such a little bitch to her is that he lost a cousin in the oft-mentioned Clearfield Accident. To her credit, Natalie uses this nugget of information to try and forge a bond between the two of them, to varying success.
Natalie on the phone.
Oh, god, this has got to stop. Everyone in this movie is so damn serious! They grimace, they furrow their brows, they set their jaws, and they emote every line like they actually believe they are really dealing with some otherworldly disaster and not actors in some crappy movie. I guess I have to give them credit for adhering to the ideals of Method Acting, but this is not Shindler's List or Lost Highway, it's a miniseries that took the timeslot of reruns of Rosanne for a few nights, seriously.
Alright, I guess this is kinda serious stuff. Leave me alone.
Also coming to Idaho is a young Red Cross volunteer named Amy (played by 22-year old Tamara Hope, a pretty blonde actress who I've never seen before). She's a bit scared and nervous as she gets to the Sun Valley disaster zone, this is her first time in the field, having joined up while still in college to get some "life experience".
Amy quickly meets a certain Doctor Miguel, a McDreamy-esque guy with a sexy scruff and swarty Latin looks. Amy helps Doctor McMiguel save a bleeding woman, proving to herself that she can handle a crisis situation and proving to Doctor McMiguel that she's more than just a set of perky boobs. We see the first sappy, dopey signs of love between these two, and I start to involuntarily cringe at the thought of some dorky romance subplot messing up my disaster movie.
Amy has a secret, however, that being her last name is Hollister, as in my dad is the President of the United States! While she keeps this a secret from the Doctor (she really does just want to help and be treated equally), she has to call her father and have him tell the Secret Service agents to back off some. Not sure McMiguel ever knows who her dad is, I fast forwarded through a lot of this.
McMiguel and Amy saving a life, a much better way to meet than at Starbucks.
Back at the USGS HQ in Denver comes word of another trouble-spot, this one in Utah. It seems a ancient volcanic mountain called King's Peak is showing signs of overheating from below. Doctors Sam and Jordan fly there from Denver in a helicopter to get a first-hand look at the potential threat. The two actors stare unconvincingly out of the parked helicopter as insert shots of some random forested mountain are cut in, and we are supposed to just feel the tension in the air. Back in Denver they relay them some amazing real-time video images, downloaded from instantly-tasked satellites in orbit, showing how the ground is getting hotter from internal pressures of lava boiling (basically, sure, don't argue with me).
This entire movie is filled with pretty decent computer graphics like this, no real complaints from me.
Leaving that for a second, it's now on to the Four Corners region of the Southwest, in the Monument Valley area so famous as a backdrop for half the crappy westerns made since 1935. We see a Navaho dude feeding his horses, his beaded necklace tight against his sunburned neck. Suddenly his horses start freaking out and bolt, with him chasing helplessly after the galloping beasts. What the horses (who, along with other animals) could sense that he could not was that underneath them the ground was tremoring. As we soon see, the aquifer (big layer of water underground) has surfaced, flooding out this once-arid desert.
Flooded land, nice matte painting.
The entire Southwest is now in danger as continued quake activity has upset the deep aquifers under the area. Lake Mead, held back by Hoover Dam for generations, is now boiling over as heat generated from belong drives the temperatures up to astronomical numbers. As we watch, the dam begins to strain under the water, the waves spilling over.
Lake Mead is coming over the dam! Run!
Doctor Jordan and some random flunky board a helicopter and rotor out to Lake Mead to check it out. Finally, this guy has something to do other than stand beside Sam and gesticulate weakly and repeat what someone on a television monitor says. Sadly, as the waters of the lake overflow the massive concrete barrier of Hoover Dam, Jordan's helicopter is caught in the flood and smashed (dumbasses, they flew ten feet from the lip of the dam, just asking for trouble).
Helicopter gets smashed by the waterfall (looks like a Eurocopter).
Upon learning of his death, Sam's reaction seems overly melodramatic (though to be fair, it's only we the audience who never got to know Jordan, surely he was well loved and respected by the characters themselves, despite what we see on screen). In fact, everyone's reaction seems to be out of place considering the fifteen lines of monotone dialogue the man had up to this point. Even the President of the United States personally calls Sam to offer his condolences, and the major news networks take time off from reporting on the extinction-level cataclysms happening across America to report on this one man's untimely demise. Sam is already at the mental breaking point, and the loss of Jordan (were they lovers in the first movie?) has caused her to question everything, including her own abilities.
Sam laments her friend's loss.
What they really should be more worried about is the flood. Television says that towns as far down the Colorado River from the burst dam as Kingman, Arizona are flooded (despite the fact that Kingman is 50 miles away from the river). That's some flood! Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the dam provide electrical power for Las Vegas? Are there back-up power stations, and can they handle the load if Hoover goes down? Vegas looks awfully bright in subsequent scenes, I say.
TV image of the flood.
To Las Vegas, Nevada now. The firefighter's wife Laura is here (remember her?), having made it just this far before everything started to go to hell. Her husband calls her from Idaho during a break in the action, and they come to terms and apologize to each other. She is proud of her man and his line of work, but just worried that his older brother is a bad influence on him. Some seriously sappy music in this scene, to go along with the soap opera-level relationship dialogue, and the sickly feeling of revulsion in the pit of my stomach. Can I have an earthquake now?
Laura on the phone.
Back in Idaho, the firefighter brothers are working late into the night in the smashed remains of the town. Brad, older and more daring, though more prone to taking testosterone-fueled risks, goes into a shaky, collapsing building to save a victim. Will suggests they wait for back-up, but Brad won't have any of that, determined to prove to the world that his dick is huge. This is firefighting drama at its soundtrack-pounding, pulse-racing, backlit-smoke-generating, men-yelling- stuff best, hampered only by dime-store dialogue and the fact that Dean Cain is way too much the pretty boy for this role. Hey, anybody know any good dramatic-but- accurate firefighter movies? I liked Backdraft and Ladder 49, if I may say so myself, but there must be others.
Saving the dude. Oh, how about Hellfighters with John Wayne? That was awesome.
The next morning the brothers are berated by Alec their co-boss for taking "undue risks" to save that one man. Alec quotes at length the "survivor ratio", the relative number of rescuers who die trying to save everyone instead of concentrating on those who really have a chance of survival. He further makes them understand that if they had died out there, they need to think of all the other trapped victims who would then die because they weren't there to save them (hard to argue with that logic, even if I'm not explaining it well). Still, Alec has grudging respect for men willing to risk their lives for random strangers.
The brothers get yelled at, to their credit they take it like men.
Once alone, the brothers fight it out, releasing decades of pent-up sibling rivalry in an orgy of name calling and chest thumping bravado. The older brother wishes he could shake the other off his back, the younger resents always having to measure up to the other, and all sorts of buried-deep family troubles come spewing up to the surface. This was a long time coming, apparently, and the stress of the job has broken down the bonds between them. But, they are family and a few scenes later they make up, engaging in the sort of manly arm punching and head rubbing that substitutes for emotional acceptance and apologies with us guys.
The brothers fight it out.
Ok, enough of that. Back in Denver, the increasingly frazzled Doctor Sam has a terrifying new theory of what is to come, one that the President has to hear immediately. The radical, literally world-shaking idea she presents is that the North American continent will be cut in two by a massive series of geological upheavals! I won't bother explain every detail, but the gist is that the continental plates are moving around like lily pads on a pond and that's not so good. Way back when (if you remember your earth science class from junior high, which you don't because you were trying unsuccessfully to get Becky Morganson to notice you by picking your nose and flipping it across the room) the entire Midwest was a shallow sea before the plates shifted millions of years ago and it's coming again. Sam tells a shocked and disbelieving President and his staff that such a thing is more than likely going to happen again, a "Doomsday Scenario" that is going to seriously impact Oklahoma's chances of winning the Big 12 title this year.
Visual of potential split, called the "Accelerated Plate Movement" theory.
Sam needs more information, though, and she really needs to have her father back. It seems that her dad, a maverick near-celebrity geologist, came up with the Doomsday Scenario in the first place, but didn't leave a lot of detailed notes. Her dad had a falling out with his bosses in the US Geological Survey and left the civil service and never finished his work on the scenario. In order to prove or disprove this theory, his daughter needs to pick his brain.
Sam looking up info on her dad online, helping the audience out with some backstory.
Let's meet her father now. "Dad", as I'll call him, is played by 68-year old character actor Frank Langella, who really should know better than to be in this film. He's typical of the type of actor that appears in made-for-TV disaster movies: middlingly famous-ish, with average talent and average looks, with a spotty resume and a booking agent that clearly hates his guts. He ends up being something of an action hero, which really surprised me.
Dad is currently in Las Vegas, participating in some professional poker tournament (oh god, remember when this "sport" was all the rage, when it was on ESPN fifteen times a week?) where he is something of a big shot. He's here just wasting time, seemingly independently wealthy enough not to have to work anymore, but to earn a living at cards and craps.
I hate poker on TV, can anything be more boring?
Dad gets a frantic phone call from his daughter, but it doesn't go well. Dad isn't interested in talking about disasters and fault lines, and positively goes cold as ice when she mentions that she's working for the USGS. He calls them "evil" and warns her to quit while she still has a soul. What the hell? When did the US Geological Survey become the Unholy Agency of Satan?
This guy works at USGS, does he seem evil? Asian, yes, but not necessarily evil.
Even though he wouldn't talk shop with his daughter, dad is smart enough to suspect that something is wrong when he feels a slight tremor shake the casino. He sneaks into hotel's basement and sees water leaking in where it shouldn't be. Doing a taste-test, he finds it to be acidic, a sign that something freaky is happening with the aquifer beneath the Las Vegas basin. He further times the increasing tremors and knows the Big One is coming. His cellphone call back to his daughter is quick and desperate, he knows Vegas doesn't have much time left before it is swallowed up by a gargantuan sinkhole as the aquifer collapses (or something like that, I just don't care anymore).
Dad down in the basement, he's got the eye for spooky things a-happenin'.
And now we have another city destroyed! Vegas (Vegas, baby!) is swallowed up by a massive sinkhole, which miraculously appears nowhere else but downtown. The Strip sinks into the ground, only the tops of the hotels and casinos still poking out of the infilling dirt and rubble. Later news reports say 500 to 600 thousand people are trapped or buried in the sinkhole (which just seems way too many for the visuals we see, it's just the entertainment district that seems to be sunken.
Las Vegas under the ground, perhaps a bit less impressive a CGI shot that the similar one in Resident Evil: Extinction.
Once the tremors stop the survivors stand up on wobbly legs and shake off the dust and debris. Dad is stranded in his hotel, nearly completely sunken in the massive sinkhole. Trapped down on the lower floors with a dozen other survivors, dad quickly takes charge and begins calming people down and making plans to escape. You know, I might as well mention this here. The director of this movie overuses two tricks that drive me crazy. One is the constant zooming into faces whenever some thing dramatic happens (or just at random) that gets distracting. The other is having people constantly walking in front of the camera to simulate a busy environment, a nice touch the first thousand times, but it gets old by the second thousand.
Dad takes charge.
Anyway, this is one of those standard movie conventions where people of widely disparate backgrounds and opinions get thrown together in a crisis situation. You have the calm and collected leader, the upstart kid, the batshit crazy woman, the whiney office drone, the rugged individualist, the meek and helpless girl, all the standard character cliches plus more. And there is additional drama as we learn (for no apparent reason) that Laura (the firefighter's wife, oh, who is coincidently trapped down here with dad and the others) is two weeks pregnant. They make this big deal about her being with child, but I don't think being a few weeks into her term is going to stop her from keeping up with the rest of them (most women can ignore a little morning sickness when the building they are in is buried under a million tons of shifting sand and rock).
Back in Denver, Doctor Sam tells the President she needs her dad to fill in the blanks of her End-of-the-World theory (though I wonder just what one man is going to do to stop an inexorable and supremely pissed off Mother Nature). The President orders her dad saved at all costs and they dispatch a team from the west specifically to rescue him. In one of those amazing movie coincidences, the team called in is from the Idaho event scene, which brings all our cast members together (the brothers, McMiguel, Amy, etc...).
"Save the father, save the world."
Thus, back in Idaho, a group of doctors and staff are loading up to head south to the Las Vegas area. Doctor McMiguel is going, but his simmering-flame Amy might be left behind because she's a greenhorn. Then, at the last moment, Amy saves a young girl trapped in the ruins of a house, and carries her limp body to McMiguel as the soundtrack screeches with violins. The dreamy doctor is so impressed with Amy's ability to both save and carry a 60-pound Latino girl, that he offers her the last seat on the truck headed south. Will these two end up lovers or what?
Amy saves a girl and gains a husband, maybe.
The firefighting brothers arrive in Vegas and begin to enter the hotel ruins (dad managed to send a brief 911 call from inside the hotel before it tumbled, so they know he's in there somewhere). Keep in mind that this vital, direct-from-the-Oval Office mission is being undertaken not by highly trained professional soldiers or Emergency Rescue Team guys, but by two dudes who not eighteen hours before were just unpaid volunteer firemen from some jerk-water town in rural Oregon.
Just like Naoko's brother in Godzilla 1985!
Meanwhile, down in the ruined hotel, dad is leading his ragtag band upwards through the crumbling halls and shattered lobbies. Several of the survivors are Vegas showgirls in sparkly gold bikinis, who were getting ready for a show when the sinkhole opened. The girls are portrayed as weak, sniveling deadweight, incapable of lifting a five pound piece of wood or climbing a ladder. Let me tell you about Vegas showgirls. Three shows a night, six nights a week, wearing a thirty pound headdress and high-kicking in heels and tights to uptempo music for 90 minutes at a stretch, not easy work. Ever get up close to a showgirl? Solid rock muscle, calves like oak trees (I defy any of you limp basement-dwelling internet geeks to be a Vegas showgirl for one night). If anyone's coming out of this alive, my money is on the showgirls.
Showgirl there on the left, looking all wimpy.
Anyway, the brothers Brad and Will work their way through the hotel ruins, somewhere above dad and his group. The halls are filled with wreckage and dead bodies, the air thick with dust and soot. They are being watched from a command post on an awesome computer display, mating a 3-D rotatable and pannable floor plan of the hotel with flashing GPS-type tracking beacons to give us a fairly effective (if technologically laughable) way to follow their progress. I wonder if such a tracking technology actually exists outside of b-movies and Halo 3, because it would be cool it if did.
That computer display thingie.
I'm going to condense some here, as there's going to be two main story thrusts occurring concurrently. One concerns Doctor Sam and the Bigass Fissure and the other centers on rescue operations in this hotel in Vegas. Much to my surprise (and extreme irritation) a good two-thirds of the second part of this two part miniseries is about these two brothers trying to save the good geologist and the others from the slowly collapsing and sinking hotel. First the Vegas line. Tremors come nonstop as the sinkhole shifts, and we have endless (endless!) shaky camera shots of the brothers in the dimly-lit, rubble-filled, quivering hallways as they work their way downwards, using elevators shafts and decidedly un-OSHA approved crumbling staircases in their quest to be our film's heroes.
Men at work, bringing down the house.
Meanwhile, dad and his group (numbers reduced by attrition) are still struggling upwards to the surface twenty floors high. Tensions flare constantly as they encounter one obstacle after another, and it's only dad's firm but unfailingly civil hand that keeps them going. At one point they put aside their differences (and they are legion) to group-raise a makeshift ladder made from a collapsed sign to reach a landing. The building starts to shake violently as the last of them attempts the climb, and a whiney showgirl and a greasy lounge lizard dude die as the ladder collapses.
Crawling up the ladder.
While that is going on, the brothers are still working out some interpersonal relationships between the two of them at a most inappropriate time and place. They get into a wicked fistfight now! Brad wanted to do something dangerous and Will tried to stop him, and it led to punches and kicks, in a pitch black hallway filled with jagged rubble with the walls shaking from tremors. The fight ends when Will pulls Brad (while punching him, no less) out of the way of a falling wall, thus saving his life. This shocks them both back to reality and they (once again) make up.
Fight, I need a new screen capture program, I can't catch movement well with WinDVD.
The two groups meet finally and dad is whisked up to safety (and on to Denver to meet his daughter and save the world). Left down below are Laura and a random showgirl, both injured and terrified, jerking against a jammed door as the roof crumbles and shakes above them. Will, once he learns of Laura's presence from dad, risks all to save them. More (more!) drama as he fights his way singlehandedly through the sinking building, seeming following the scent of astroglide and aquanet to guide him through the horrible darkness to his lover. He finds her, he pulls her out, and with the showgirl in tow, he hauls her to safety.
Will runs down a hallway dodging falling chunks of masonry to save his woman, that's money.
To close out this interminable mess, Brad sacrifices his own life to allow his brother and the two chicks to escape (sorta, he really wanted out too, it just didn't work for him as the building collapsed on him). The movie wants us to really feel this loss, but by now, after freakin' hours of watching this dickhead walk all over everyone, I was glad to see him go.
That plume of dust signals the death of Brad (bye).
In the field hospital, McMiguel and Amy (who has suddenly gone from water-bottle carrying Red Cross volunteer to surgical assistant holding clamps on hemorrhaging arteries) operate on Laura and save her life. Everything is tied up nicely here. Former badass boss Alec (oddly moved by this one loss of life in a sea of Dresden- level death and destruction) personally comes to console Will on the "heroic death" of his brother. Laura and Will share a moment and a kiss and a hope for a better future.
Will and Laura share a kiss.
Ok, we are done with Vegas now. Let's pick up the other storyline, with Sam and the Bigass Rip in the World. The long-feared and inevitable continent-rending fissure finally opens now, starting way north in Canada on the shores of the Arctic Ocean and angling south through Canada to the US border. We first see it as it enters South Dakota. Why South Dakota, you ask, because then they can show some lame CGI shots of Mount Rushmore cracking and crumbling (national landmarks rarely fare well in disaster movies) as some television anchor in a helicopter gasps and squeals.
Rushmore is overrated anyway, can't get close enough to see anything and the t-shirt shops will rip you off. The movie Rushmore, however, kicked ass.
With the fault racing at 60 miles an hour south, the President now orders the entire Midwest evacuated (!). He does so via a nationally televised press conference, surely preempting that rerun of Green Acres to let everyone from the Dakotas down to the Gulf Coast that they have to get out of Dodge before they die a horrible flaming death. There is no mention of pre-routed civil defense plans or designated relocation areas, essentially just "Run like hell! We here in Washington in our mile-deep hardened bunkers will be safe, don't worry about us!".
The President on TV, the "WNB" is the nonsensical "World News Broadcast", which apparently has a total monopoly on television reporting in this universe.
Now we get some evacuation scenes as people go nuts and flee for their lives. In a typical white-bread suburban neighborhood, we see frantic soccer moms and commuter dads loading up their SUVs and minivans and tearing across their neighbors' lawns in a mad dash to the freeway (where they will all get stuck in a Armageddon-level traffic jam when some dork on his cellphone rear-ends a semi and everyone piles up behind him). We even have the eye-rollingly cliched shot of a little boy dropping his teddy bear and barely able to retrieve it before some investment banker in his Land Cruiser runs him over.
Run, white people, run!
Fearing for their safety as the fissure heads towards Texas, Doctor McMiguel calls his parents in Houston, but they are not moving. In Spanish with English subtitles, he squabbles over the fact that they certainly won't survive. His parents, however, are too old to flee, they've lived here all their lives and they are going to die here if need be. Seeing the insanity going on outside their door, I can't say as I blame them.
A case of subtitles telling the story better than I can type it.
Doctor Sam and her staff talk about the plate fissure that has appeared in South Dakota and is quickly spreading south towards the Gulf of Mexico. At the current speed, the fissure will reach the Gulf in just 18 hours! Oddly, it's not traveling in a straight line (though why would it?) but appears to be following a zig-zag course southeast. For some reason, the Chalk Pyramids of eastern Kansas are right in the path of the swerving fissure.
The fault moving through the Great Plains, not a bad CGI effect here.
Sam and her staff helicopter out to the Chalk Pyramid area to check it out (there are not any scientific probes or stations in the area so they decide to go in person, though it does smack of the Enterprise bridge crew all transporting down to the hostile planet). How far is it from Denver to eastern Kansas? How fast could they get there by chopper, several hours at least when you factor in prep time and such. You'd think that if the fissure was traveling as fast as they said before, it would be through Kansas by the time they even arrived on-site. And why go themselves, why not send some flunky graduate students, they do all the dirty work anyway.
This movie is one helicopter scene after the other, my buddy Tony at rotoryaction.com would have a cow at this one.
As they wander around setting up sensors and waving off blackfies, they notice that the ground is starting to boil and bubble! It seems the ground is beginning to vent ahead of the fissure, a sure sign that this area is soon to become a mile-wide trench. Doctor Sam and her hippie love-child pastel-favoring Pakistani assistant find some campers dead, charbroiled inside their tent by the acidic soil. By the way, I just learned that Dana Delaney is NOT related to Kim Delany (I know, they are spelled different, I just learned that also). Did you see Dana Delaney's TV Guide cover shoot for Desperate Housewives? Hot, hot, hot.
Dead campers, ick (though I wonder why that dude's shirt is burnt on the top if the acid is coming up from below).
Anyway, more bad news as we learn that the fissure is headed directly towards Red Plains, Texas, home of the "nation's biggest nuclear reactors"! Fictional, of course, but the ultimate boogyman, sure to pollute the entire Southeast with a Chernyobl-esque pall of hard radiation if the fissure swamps them. Also, to add fuel to the fire so to speak, we learn that (due to those fiendishly fucktarded Republicans in the White House no doubt) many tons of nuclear waste are being stored at Red Plains because there is no where else to go with it (fund Yucca Mountain!). If this gets swallowed by the fissure, along with the reactor cores, the results will be even more catastrophic.
Red Plains nuclear reactors, in a CGI shot reminiscent of some Splinter Cell mission I could never figure out.
The number "75 million dead" is thrown out there, the projected casualties across the American Southeast if the reactors are blown up. Where does this come from? Is this the total population of that region? Are they assuming that everyone will die? Is this how released hard radioactive material works? Wouldn't a fare share of it be burned up in the lava at the bottom of the fissure? How much would actually be released into the air, and at what elevations, low enough not to be diffused that much? What's the weather over Red Plains today, is there even any wind to blow the particulates around or is this just going to be a local event? Pam, where are you? Luckily, the massive cloud of death- dealing radiation will stop at the US border and not enter the jet stream and girdle the planet with a belt of mutant-spawning radiation that will kill millions more and lay waste to vast areas of the globe (who the hell cares about Tanzania or Liberia or France, anyway?). Myself, I'm a bit worried as well about the ICBM silos in western Nebraska, directly in the path of that rampaging lava-filled rift.
The President is quite worried as well.
Having been saved from certain death in Vegas, dad finally arrives in Denver, to the general rejoicing of everyone there. Dad is well-known and liked by them all and it's a big ol'happy family reunion. Father and daughter share a tear-stained hug and there's generous quantities of back-slapping and "Great to be back."s as he works the room. Hey! Time's a tickin' here, people! Can we do this later, let's save the world now.
The prodigal dad returns for a hug.
As the clock winds down to doomsday, dad uses his superior intellect (as he's clearly smarter than any of the 1,500 Phds that are currently working feverishly on this problem all over the country) and comes up with a plan to deflect the fissure. He (and he alone apparently) notices that there is a huge natural gas field just north of Red Plains, containing a number of active and capped wellheads. His plan (to oversimplify it) is to blow up this underground gas field, create a big hole in the ground directly in the path of the fissure, and hope to hell that the fissure, once in this hole, will take another path on its inexorable travels to the Gulf, bypassing the reactors.
Dad outlines his plan, complete with spiffy visual aids.
Once the President okays the plan (and he really has nothing to loose at this point), dad and daughter get the ball rolling. Even though they only have like five hours left, everyone manages to pull it together and get a bunch of soldiers in Blackhawk helicopters to fly out to the wellheads north of the reactors and plant explosives. As they race to get ahead of it in the air, we get some good looks at the fissure itself here, as it races along south. Maybe half a mile wide (maybe less, maybe more) and maybe only a few miles deep (if that). Lava bubbles down in bottom, all orangey and thick. How thick is the plate, shouldn't it be deeper?
Chopper swarm follows the fissure (though it was said before to be moving about 60 miles per hour, here it looks like it's going 150 easy).
Setting down in the gas field, virtually in the shadow of the threatened reactors, the soldiers begin implementing dad's plan. There is some drama as, for some totally inexplicable reason, dad and daughter (who are geologists, not explosives experts or soldiers, after all) are down on the ground laying plastic explosives on wellheads and jumping around from site to site in helicopters. Hey, just noticed that in the visuals of the reactors they are still venting from their towers. Is this a sign that the reactors are still going? Shouldn't they have scrammed them already, isn't that something that can be done on short notice? Pam, where are you?!
Seconds before the fissure reaches the reactors, Sam pushes the button (why did she get to push the button, just because she's a girl?). Ka-Boom! What do ya know, it works! The fissure sideslips to the east, following the newly-created path of least resistance caused by the blasted gas field. It even stops (violating everything they've already said about plate tectonics and unstoppable geological momentum), conveintantly nearby within walking distance of them.
The fissure is diverted.
There is much celebration on the ground in Texas and across the nation (we see the reaction in Washington DC and in Denver specifically, as everyone hugs and claps, thankful that they don't live in Texas, as we all are). Despite insane odds, the pesky human race has faced down our planet's pms-moment and won. Dad and Sam cautiously walk up to the jagged edge of the fissure and wax poetically about how history shows again and again how nature points up the folly of men-n-n-n-n.
Sam at edge of fissure, her hair still looks pretty good for having not had a shower in 72 hours.
But, all is not going to end well (kudos, movie!) as the fissure begins to crack again. While its path around the reactors was successfully altered (ok, sure), the basic geological fact of a shifting continental plate still remains, and no amount of tenured earth science professors and concerned incumbent politicians can stand up against the car-scratching, CD-breaking, facebook page-slandering bitch that is Mother Nature.
The fissure moving again, dogged by US Army Aviation at its gas-guzzling finest.
The fissure races south, passing directly through the heart of Houston, Texas. We see it up close as Doctor McMiguel's parents' house is swallowed up. They make a huge deal about how many hundreds of thousands of unprepared citizens are killed in Houston (even though Honolulu was evacuated in like fifteen minutes at the beginning of the movie), many of them innocent Mexican immigrants whose kids grew up to be doctors. The nation has also lost a lot in this destruction of Houston, including Churrascos on Westheimer Road (try their black bean-stuffed empanadas and blackened beef marinated in chimichurri sauce, well worth the price, but call ahead for reservations).
Houston cut in half (why all the damaged skyscrapers far off the fissure's path? It passed a hundred feet from the reactors at Red Plains and there wasn't any collateral damage there).
The fissure makes it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. In perhaps the single most technically accurate visual of the movie, when the cold waters of the sea hit the lava in the bottom of the fissure, a massive plume of super-heated steam gushes up. The fissure, not being that deep, is filled up with the sea, creating the much- feared continent-cutting waterway from Texas to the frozen Yukon. Should note also that Red Plains is now underwater, so that channel is now the single most polluted body of water on the planet after the Delaware.
Map of the new world (maybe the coolest shot of the movie, saving the g-money for the last scene).
Written in November 2008 by Nathan Decker.
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