Friday, July 10, 2015

Your Earth Asplodes!

So, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Okay, I'm ashamed.

Once again, Wonder Wife and I were seduced by the SE1: EP1 designation on the Netflix offering Ring of Fire. In our defense, I have talked before about our penchant for cancelled one-season sci-fi series, and this apparent volcano story did star Terry O'Quinn (whom I like) from Lost and Michael Vartan from Alias (which Wonder Wife loved). But about 40 minutes in and with no resolution imminent, I checked Netflix on my phone and saw that it was another mini-series shown in two parts, each 88 minutes. What is up with this stuff, anyway?

 At least this one was (a) not quite as bad as Exploding Sun  - but close! - and (b) a bit shorter.

Ring of Fire hits all the right beats for a disaster movie. First, the characters are typically "complex": the plucky eco-activist heroine is the bad-guy oil executive's estranged daughter; the savvy geologist hero has a lurking brain aneurism; the morally-torn drilling engineer lost a child in a mine accident that was the result of his brother's negligence; the drill-site guard and the loud protester went to high school together; and so on. And, in a typical disaster movie plot, all of these characters and threads cross as we advance towards volcanic doom.

That doom is one of the biggest flaws of the film. It's not enough anymore to riff on the Mt. St. Helen's eruption and threaten an entire city or region with annihilation: this movie says that disturbing the pool of magma that the oil company sneakily and mistakenly drills into (hoping to put Saudi Arabia out of business) somehow ignites eruptions in previously dormant volcanoes all across the Pacific Rim, enough to bring about the End of the World (or as the geologist likes to say, an ELE - Extinction Level Event). Do the filmmakers think we wouldn't care enough if it was just a town that was threatened?

Of course, the science is still laughable. If we buy the ELE threat, we also have to buy that it is prevented by releasing a bit of the pressure in the first magma pool through exploding a "sonic bomb" delivered by a re-purposed manned Venus probe vehicle piloted by a geologist instead of, say, a test pilot or astronaut. Okay.

Still and all, it's not that bad. Unlike Exploding Sun, some of the players turn in creditable performances that come close to redeeming the material, although Vartan seems to be phoning it in. I have to single out Agam Darshi for her performance as Audrey, the hero's sidekick: she imbues what could have been a cardboard character with real humanity at every turn. But really, if volcanic hijinks are your thing, check out Dante's Peak, starring James Bond and Sarah Conner.

Spoiler alert: the Earth doesn't explode.

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