Absolute Zero (2005)
Continuing my Disaster Theme this month (here and here), today I'll be reviewing 2005's Absolute Zero, a weak-effort cable television movie about the poles flipping and the equators freezing and people running around saying implausible scientific things. This movie is a blatant cheapass ripoff of 2004's The Day After Tomorrow, which is in its own way, of course, a total ripoff of 2002's Ice Age, with Dennis Quaid playing the Scrat role. Absolute Zero, however, is made on a budget so small that it wouldn't even cover what Quaid spent on catered steaks and wine during the shoot.
On to the show...
We open in Miami, Florida at the headquarters of InterSci, a massive research and development company with their sticky fingers in all sorts dubious scientific endeavors and government defense contracts. This entire movie was filmed in Vancouver in the summertime, which is really nothing like South Beach at any time of the year, but it's vastly cheaper to film in Canada these days. It really is a shame, if I may tangent for a second, that so many movies are made in other countries when they could be made right here, providing jobs and income to Americans. I'm not a big rah-rah guy for globalization, and I think it's a crime that our outdated tax system doesn't allow for communities to give subsidies to movie companies like they do in Canada. Ok, I'll stop now.
Miami, why don't I live here?
Every movie needs a scientist guy, and ours is Doctor David Koch, played by 53-year old Jeff Fahey, acclaimed (and reviled) Lord of Late Night Cable TV. ScientistGuy is our film's noble man of letters, a climatologist/meteorologist who knows all and sees everything and is never, ever wrong about anything. He's also stoned, with heroin-addled bloodshot eyes and saggy stubble-covered cheeks, greasy disheveled hair and skin color like that of a spoiled glass of milk. Fahey had hit some hard times by 2005 (not that the previous thirty years were anything special) and I do hope he's cleaned himself up.
ScientistGuy, probably looking about as healthy as at any point in the movie.
As we open, ScientistGuy (who works for InterSci) gives a demo for his absolute zero theory to a room full of interested and well-dressed people. His theory is that the poles flipping caused the Ice Ages millennia ago and will surely happen again sometime soon. When the poles flip, it drops the temperature down to absolute zero (on the Kelvin scale), so cold that "even light can't escape". This, of course, is preposterous. I could go on for fifty pages about Charles Hapgood's theory of crustal displacement, "wandering poles", the disorderly-flip theory, Eugene Parker's magnetic dynamo theory, or even the entire body of work of Immanuel Velikovsky, how a similar pole shift 8,800 years ago caused the South Pole to swing into the Indian Ocean and caused Noah's Biblical Flood, but I won't because you have google and I don't have the time.
ScientistGuy's experiment is quite popular.
After the show, ScientistGuy gets into it with his boss, who is all about money (though, to be fair, he's got shareholders and a board of directors to answer to and his job depends on advancing the company's product line and driving that NASDAQ number higher each fiscal quarter) and doesn't seem too concerned that ScientistGuy's research is being used in a way he didn't intend (though, as an employee of InterSci, his work does, in fact, belong to the company and as such the Boss can do with it as he sees fit).
The Boss. Hey, it's Doctor Burks from The X-Files!
As a punishment of sorts, ScientistGuy is sent to Antarctica, where an InterSci team is there collecting weather data. From the first scene in the snowy south, we are reminded of the pitifully small budget this movie was made with. The quality of sets, backdrops, and camerawork is all lacking, and "Antarctica" here looks very much like a rented elementary school auditorium/cafeteria, with the summer janitor standing off-camera fuming about how much of a mess they are making. Oddly, everyone wears identical red and black Marmot down parkas.
Fakeness! You can even see shadows against the painted backdrops sometimes, which is just awesome.
There's this snow cave that opened recently a ways off that the Boss is very interested to explore further and a team is formed to go and check it out. ScientistGuy and three others board a SnowCat and rumble out there. They send in a robot with a camera (a toystore remote-controlled car with a camera bolted to the roof), which drives along the most-helpfully flat and level floor of this snow cave (snicker, it's really apparent in this scene the low quality of commercial fake snow that they bought to spray around the soundstage). The robot quickly happens upon a skeleton (!!!) half-buried in the snow, with a slightly alien-looking skull.
The skeleton in the cave, note the unusual ribcage.
There's an archaeologist here, ScientistGuy's old professor, who was wondering why he was here in Antarctica. This OldMan had assumed it was because he, like ScientistGuy, pissed off the Boss and got a plane ticket to an iceberg, but now he realizes that he's here on purpose (though it's never clear if the Boss knew about what was in the cave beforehand, but, maybe the cave was opened a while ago and they saw the skeleton, and then shipped the OldMan down here to check it out when they explored it further, the dialogue is murky).
OldMan and ScientistGuy talk about the weather, literally.
OldMan goes into the cave alone, and while he's gone their compasses and radios start to go screwy (never a good sign). A massive (and freaky) magnetic/snow storm hits now, coming up out of no where to lash the continent with high winds and lightning. Two of the away team jump in the SnowCat to escape, but the storm smashes them dead. The base camp also is swamped under by killer winds of the type unheard of in Antarctica. It's hard to tell for sure, but it seems like at least a couple of men are killed and the rest forced to hole up in a safe trailer (or maybe they all get killed, who knows?).
The storm obliterates the base camp.
The storm outside also shakes the mountain that cave is in. Some falling ice-stalagmites knock the OldMan down, mortally wounding him. ScientistGuy crawls into the cave to avoid the storm and comes across the OldMan just before he expires (a splotch of red paint artfully streaking his forehead). With his last moments, they share the marvel of some cave paintings (!!!).
Looks like two ravers dancing under a disco ball.
ScientistGuy somehow all survives and in the very next scene is now back in Miami, though how he gets out of that snow cave following the storm, let alone makes it back to the (presumably shattered) base camp on foot, and then arranges to get out of Antarctica is unknown. ScientistGuy gets into it with the Boss again, over the (true) fact that the Boss didn't tell him that he was on a suicide mission (though the Boss can't be blamed for the storm popping up and killing everyone).
ScientistGuy fighting with the Boss, he's not going to win this one.
Meanwhile, in Florida funky things are happening. Birds fly north earlier than they should, crabs are pulled up off the coast flash frozen, and (most amazingly) an iceberg wanders into Miami harbor in the middle of summer. All these are signs that Mother Nature is sickly, and ScientistGuy has an idea that his dreaded pole shift is fast approaching. He alone seems to recognize these precursors, though no one will listen to him.
Iceberg in Miami harbor (badly photoshopped).
By the way, the news anchor chick who gives these reports here and throughout the movie is Dawn Chubai, who is my new favorite person, evah! She's got this bubbly, perky, carefree attitude to reporting the news, no matter how bad it is, and I could sit and watch her read pork belly futures or waste water commission meeting notes over and over and over and never get tired of it. And she's hot.
ScientistGuy goes to see an old buddy he hasn't seen in 10 years named Jeff, who is a meteorology professor at "some crappy college" in Miami. Jeff looks like Michael Gross from Family Ties, and that's not a compliment, but he's an upstanding and smart man. His main role in this film is to agree totally with whatever ScientistGuy says, a nodding lapdog to show us that ScientistGuy is not a lone wolf with crazyass ideas because this guy (albeit a broke community college teacher with poor taste in clothes) is on his side.
Jeff's hot wife Bryn used to date ScientistGuy (!) ten years ago, but he went running away like a little baby when things got serious (men...). You can tell there is a slight simmering between these two, though, to my surprise, they never hook up again. HotWife is played by 36-year old Erika Eleniak, former Playboy model and Baywatch beach-babe (she played Shauni, a vacuous blonde who was 120 pounds of silicone, hairspray and cocaine, held together by a red polyester swimsuit and a generous coat of sunscreen).
Jeff and HotWife have a cute girl about eight named Sophie (who is Jeff's, though for a while I thought they were going to drop the bomb on us that she was ScientistGuy's love child). The little girl's main jobs in this movie are to look adorable (aww...) and to fall into harm's way later on so that she can be saved by our heroes.
There are two college kids in Jeff's meteorology class who take an instant shine to ScientistGuy because he works at InterSci (which is like working at Microsoft in this universe), probably because they hope he can get them interviews for internships or something. They are a guy and a girl. The guy is actually Hank from Corner Gas (one of my favorite Canadian TV shows, along with Davinci's Inquest and old school reruns of DeGrassi). He's also the only person in our cast who is aware of how crappy this movie is and doesn't take himself seriously, clearly enjoying the chance to make some summer cash and chase the craft service girls around at night. The actor playing Hank is 34, but he's playing a sophomore in college, so he sports the typical frat boy look of flannel shirt and backwards baseball cap (that makes him look more like Luke from Gilmore Girls than Joe College).
The girl is a fairly pretty little thing, if in the mode of the Waifish Geeky Girl Who is Hot but Doesn't Know it, and she's by far the most stylishly dressed of our cast. She's trying way too hard here, however, like this is her first movie role (it isn't) and she's afraid that if she doesn't go all Katherine Hepburn on us then they will ship her back to Frozen Monkey, Alberta where her old job at the county feed lot is still waiting for her. Let's call her the Co-Ed.
ScientistGuy gives the college kids some scrapings of paint from that cave in Antarctica (he had the presence of mind and the time to do so while stranded on the continent alone...). They run some tests, using Jeff's lab equipment, and determine that the paint's polarity is all screwy. When the paintings were made, the Earth was in the middle of the last catastrophic pole shift, thousands of years ago What this proves (or empirically suggests) is that something similar is happening right now. In a cute subplot, as they work on the samples, Hank tries to get some from the Co-Ed, who he is clearly crushing on. She's all business, sadly, and he goes home alone to his porn and his drunken Portuguese roommate Miguel.
The kids doing lab work.
After doing some more research and some group brain-storming, they realize that the poles are going to flip for certain. And not in a hundred years, but in like, three hours, which is absofuckinglutely insane, but I'm not here to argue with Movie Magic. They crunch their numbers, correlate their figures, remodulate the krazon interface thingalaxativelogs to their highest settings, and determine that quite soon everything in a belt around the planet 33 degrees north and south of the equator is going to be frozen rock solid and cold as absolute zero. And, conversely, the north and south polar regions will instantly be converted into equatorial zones, which is really going to piss off the penguins.
ScientistGuy gives a worried look (cool shirt).
They run to the InterSci building and burst in on a sales pitch meeting between the Boss and a room full of generals, a senator, and lobbyists (after somehow gaining entry to the building despite the fact that ScientistGuy is supposedly fired and his entry keycard should be void, or at least he'd have to have the Boss's permission to enter and then the rest of them would have to register as visitors and even then surely all of them wouldn't be allowed to wander around kicking in conference room doors like this). ScientistGuy presents them with the news that they are going to need thicker jackets in about two hours, but they aren't buying it. The Boss thinks it's going to take hundreds of years for the flip to occur, the senator is too busy trying to stay consistent with his fake Mississippi accent, and the generals have apparently been ordered to stay completely silent so they can't get any SAG credits for speaking roles.
The meeting with the senator and his staff.
Frustrated, ScientistGuy and his crew leave in a huff. They then realize that they just better save themselves at this point, to heck with the rest of them. Any attempt at warning the population of the planet is deemed futile (and it really is if you think about it, though you'd think that they'd at least try) so they need to start thinking about how they are going to survive the flip.
We get a lot of these nice computer screen visuals throughout this movie.
Violent magnetic storms are brewing across the equatorial regions now as the Hour of Doom approaches. Temperatures across Florida are dropping faster than the Jets' backfield and the sky is filled with rolling black clouds. We see some bikini girls running for their lives as their pool party is ruined by Arctic-winds and falling darkness. They bounce, they squeal, they scamper, they glance nervously off-camera as hurricane winds are foleyed in and lame CGI shots of frozen beachfront property are inserted every few seconds.
Girls Gone Wild, End of the World edition!
Jeff runs to get his daughter from school while there's still time (the streets are strangely deserted, despite the coming disaster). Meanwhile, ScientistGuy, HotWife, and the two dorky college kids chase after him to help. ScientistGuy drives a bigass Hummer H2, which gets enough screen time to make me think that General Motors "paid a promotional concern" to the filmmakers (or maybe just the local Hummer dealer in Vancouver was a friend of the director).
Hummer, odd that a climatologist who seems so damned concerned about the planet drives around in this ozone-killing strip-mining beast.
As the storms begin to rage, the poles slipping and the temperature dropping, Jeff has picked up his little girl from school and is trying to drive back (home, presumably, though that's not going to do him any good). The winds are killer and debris is flying around everywhere, causing him to have to swerve all over the road to avoid them. A palm tree (!) smacks into their car, bringing it to a halt and badly injuring Jeff. He tells the girl to get out and run, save herself before it's too late. She does, running to the shelter of a nearby playground, and then looks back just in time to see her father killed in his Volvo by a gust of super-cold tornado wind.
A tornado of sorts about to smash up Jeff's car.
Just then ScientistGuy shows up (apparently Hummers are impervious to high winds and sub-arctic temperature shifts) and they save the girl, who is hiding from the freezing winds in a big open concrete tube (which doesn't seem to have high insulative properties). The girl seems fine for just seeing her dad killed right before her eyes, and never mentions his name the rest of the movie. HotWife also seems to get over her husband's loss very quickly, almost as if there was some tension at home and she's now secretly glad to be rid of his lunk ass.
No one seems happy here, though I can see why.
Outside, the poles have flipped and the equator is fast freezing and growing dark (absolute zero cold sucks light, remember). The CGI effects for the storms in this movie are horrid, looking like cut-scenes from 1980's video games or worse, and the matte paintings of frozen landscapes are paint-by-numbers laughable. But still, they get the job done, letting us know that Florida is no longer the vacation hotspot it once was (though, to be honest, I could never stand the humidity in the summer and the mosquitoes, I prefer Arizona).
Bad day to go to the beach.
Since they can't get across the 33 degree Line of Death in time, they need somewhere to hole up. Now, clearly, there aren't a lot of places in Miami, Florida that can stand up to absolute zero, so you'd think they are pretty much goners. But, ah ha, ScientistGuy remembers that one room back at InterSci, where in the beginning of the movie we saw him give that demonstration of absolute zero, remember? That's the place they ought to be, so they loaded up the truck and moved to Miamee.
Meanwhile, as it has become ice-like clear that the World As They Know It is ending, everyone in the InterSci building has evacuated. Only the Boss is left, still camped out in his office trying to get some paperwork done, arrogantly refusing to admit that he was wrong about darned near everything. He's pissed that even his secretary left, as she still hasn't brought him the Jenkins file and he can't find the charger to his Blackberry, and his latte needs more whipped cream. Finally, the Boss concedes that the center cannot hold and orders a corporate helicopter to wait on the roof for him.
The Boss on the phone.
Our heroes get to InterSci and reach the special room, but the power is out and they can't open the protected door! ScientistGuy and the two college kids go down to the computer room to fix it, while HotWife and the little girl stay by the door. This is the same hallway as we've seen a dozen times, shot from different angles, with the lights on or off, with that potted plant moved here and there. I'd have to go back and look (no), but I also think that the same conference room/office is reused several times for different situations. I suspect that the building they filmed this in would only let them use a few areas during daytime business hours.
While the rest of them are gone, HotWife and her daughter have time to save the Boss, who was trapped in the elevator when the power died. This scene lasts a long time, longer than you'd think, as HotWife has to go a floor up and pry open the elevator doors and then jump down to the roof of the stranded car and do all sorts of other dirty, grimy stunts. In the end, they get him out, but he's a flaming dick to them and they kinda wish they had left him in there to die.
HotWife and Sophie talk to the rude man trapped in the elevator.
All our remaining cast members now meet up again in the hallway. The Boss seems less than thrilled to see ScientistGuy (as he was clearly right about the pole shift thing) and the feeling is mutual (not that the Boss could have done squat to change or mitigate anything). They are headed to the roof to board that helicopter when the storm outside cranks to eleven and the helo crashes onto the roof in a flaming ball of twisted metal.
The helicopter explodes.
So now they are all stranded here and they decide to go back to Plan A, hiding out in the absolute zero room until something comes up. Since it's getting too cold to move around in their street clothes, they go to a lab room and get these extreme cold weather suits (that look way too thin to be of much protection against what is about to come, but there you go) and put them on. The suits have glass-front helmets that are lit up from inside, illuminating the actors' faces, and seemingly blinding their vision.
The suits, which I swear I've seen in another movie before.
They can't reach the room from the inside (damage from the helicopter crash, I think), so they have to find an alternate route. The only way is to go outside and shimmy along this narrow exposed catwalk down to a door that will lead them to the room (where Sophie is waiting for them impatiently). It's a hard travel, with the winds howling and none of them really that physically fit to begin with. At some point in all this forced drama, dorky kid Hank dies, though it's maddeningly unclear what happened to him (did he die when a glass door shattered, did he fall off the railing, did he just disappear into the ether?).
On the catwalk.
The Boss gets separated and wanders off to his office to gaze wistfully at now-worthless procurement contracts and fiduciary agreements, he's clearly given up on life at this point. Against his better judgment (though in a show of ingratiating humanity common to Heroes in movies of this ilk) ScientistGuy runs against the clock to locate and haul his (certainly) hairy ass back to the protected room before it's too late. But, alas, greed and corruption have to be punished by the gods of Movie Morality Lessons and the Boss has a lot of sins to account for. The temperature has now reached absolute zero outside and the inside of the building is rapidly freezing over. ScientistGuy has longer legs, so he makes it to safety, but the Boss, with his leg muscles atrophied by decades riding a desk, doesn't have the speed to outrun the cold and is frozen solid (a mix of CGI and crayons-on-the-negative).
Was he touched by an angry Tracy Sanders?
ScientistGuy, HotWife, Co-Ed, and the little girl are all that remain now, holed up in a small room with just each other and some staticy radio equipment to keep them company. Let's not examine the dynamic of this too closely, a survivor combination that Doctor Strangelove would be proud of (though they are going to have to give the little girl a quarter to go hide behind the filing cabinet while mommy and uncle Dave "wrestle").
Sadly (or fortunately, depending on your particular tastes and if you are German or not), they are rescued before there can be any "saving of the species". A badly-rendered CGI helicopter (a Coast Guard Blackhawk) comes fwapping in to search for survivors and somehow manages to see our heroes waving through a tiny window from three hundred yards away (hey, I thought it was supposed to be pitch black due to the light-sucking properties of the extreme cold?). You wonder also how the aircraft is surviving in this (supposed) absolute zero environment, but we need to get our people out of here someway before they have to eat HotWife to survive (she's got the most meat on her).
HotWife actually says, when seeing the helicopter, "It's beautiful!"
A bookend newscast from My Favorite Anchorwoman (now in "tropical" New York City) tells the story of how the massive destruction of the polar flip has left the world changed forever. And it would change everything, without a doubt, making old empires crumble and leaving the world open to new empires (Sid Meyer on line two!). I'd really miss Indonesia, though, they make nice shoes.
One final view of the new globe, note the belt of snow and ice.
Written in November 2008 by Nathan Decker.
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