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Sunday, October 17, 2010

EARTHSTORM -- movie review by porfle

I really like imminent-doom-from-space movies like ARMAGEDDON, DEEP IMPACT, WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, and their directionally-inverted counterpart, THE CORE.  The makers of EARTHSTORM (2006) obviously like them, too, because their movie is very similar to these in several ways except a very obvious one: budget.  It's an epic disaster flick scaled down to barely the size of a Sci-Fi Channel movie (which, in fact, it is), with most of the drama taking place in--as Paul's very clean grandad from A HARD DAY'S NIGHT might have put it--a cheap CGI shot and a room, a barebones space shuttle interior and a room, and a room and a room.

After a title sequence that resembles the opening of "Star Trek:The Next Generation", the movie kicks off with the moon being struck by a huge asteroid.  Not only does this send a shower of huge meteorites raining down upon the Earth, but it also causes a gradually-widening crack that threatens to break the moon itself into pieces.  Worldwide weather chaos ensues as well, and we get to see the usual idiot newsguys standing in the middle of it as they breathlessly give us the play-by-play.  The CGI in the "meteors hit city" scenes is okay--not great, but not actually laughable, either.  It's a small-scale disaster, to be sure, but if you scale down your expectations to match, then it's not so bad.

Scientist Lara Gale (Amy Price-Francis) is summoned to the ASI, or "American Space Institute" (which is the equivalent of NASA in the alternate dimension in which this story seems to take place), by her colleague Dr. Garth Pender (John Ralston), to help whip up some kind of solution to the problem.  Lara's late father predicted that this scenario might someday occur and came up with his own theoretical remedy, based on his belief that the interior of the moon was composed mainly of iron.  This, however, was ridiculed by his peers in the scientific community, including the President's current Chief Scientific Advisor, Victor Stevens (Dirk Benedict), one of those characters whose sole purpose is to arbitrarily laugh off all the rational solutions proposed by our heroes and insist on doing things the stupid way.  Benedict, who was Starbuck on the original "Battlestar Galactica" and Face on "The A-Team", is used to playing stupid characters and does a pretty good job here.

The plan, as it is, consists of sending astronauts to the moon to blow up some nukes and cause the crack to collapse in upon itself.  In ARMAGEDDON, the fate of mankind rested on the world's greatest oil driller.  Here, it requires the expertise of ace building-blower-upper John Redding (Stephen Baldwin), who just happens to be the world's greatest demolition expert.  He gets summoned to ASI headquarters, and we just know that before you can say "Press the button, Stamper!", he's gonna end up having to go into space himself to make sure the job gets done right.  Upon hearing the plan, he protests, "I don't know anything about the moon!" to which Dr. Pender responds, "Nobody knows more about how things collapse in on themselves than you."  Well, you can't argue with that.

After a bunch of scenes consisting of people in rooms talking to each other, with a few "ehh" disaster shots thrown in here and there, we get to the film's most gripping sequence: the launch of the shuttle during a furious tropical storm.  With time running out and no backup plan, Redding and the two shuttle pilots must go for broke and take off even as various systems hover in and out of "no-go" status and the storm rages around them.  Things also get pretty tense during the shuttle's approach to the moon through a dense field of debris.  By this time, I wasn't expecting ILM-level effects, so I found these scenes visually adequate.  What sorta had me scratching my head, though, was the fact that they seem to have gravity on board the shuttle.  I guess you just can't simulate having a big lug like Stephen Baldwin floating around weightless without spending some serious cash.

Speaking of which, these Baldwin brothers really are a bunch of big lugs, aren't they?  Don't get me wrong--I like them.  But they look like the kind of guys you'd see hanging out at a Flintstone family reunion.  Alec used to be the slim, handsome one--his "Flintstones" character would probably be a movie star named "Rock Granite" or something--and Stephen was the lanky, kid-brother one.  Daniel, the middle Baldwin, was the original "big lug" type of the three.  Now, they're all starting to look more and more alike as Alec and Stephen's physical appearance begins to move closer toward the middle ground inhabited by Daniel.  A time-lapse montage of close-ups from their movies, in chronological order, would probably look like one of those transformation scenes in THE WOLF MAN.  One of these days we won't even be able to tell them apart, and they'll be able to star in an all-Baldwin remake of WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH.

Anyway, once Redding and the astronauts reach the moon, they discover that the nuke plan isn't going to work and that an alternate plan based on the theories of Dr. Gale's late father must be improvised (which will vindicate the old guy at last).  Take that, you dumb old President's Chief Science Advisor!  This leads to a sequence similar to one in APOLLO 13 in which the eggheads at mission control must devise a way to utilize only the equipment and resources available on board the shuttle to conquer the problem.  And a certain level of suspense is maintained as the shuttle is bombarded by debris while the clock ticks down to the point beyond which it will be too late to save the Earth. 

Stephen Baldwin does a good job and is likable in his Barney Rubble kind of way.  The supporting players are good, particularly Matt Gordon as "Albert", one of the eggheads running around mission control like a chicken with its head cut off, and Richard Leacock as "Ollie", the mission control guy who wants to abort the shuttle liftoff.  I also liked Redding's building-demolition helper, Bryna (Anna Silk).  She's very appealing in a "girl-next-door" kind of way.  Does Bryna get together with Redding in the end, like I wanted?  I'll put it this way--no.  GRRRRRRRR!!!  The final romantic pair-ups in this movie are infuriatingly wrong, and made me want to smash the DVD into little pieces, mix it with mashed potatoes and gravy, and eat it, thus symbolizing my total victory over this film and everyone involved. 

But on further reflection, I decided that such a course of action would probably be overdoing it a bit.  After all, EARTHSTORM is just a low-rent sci-fi actioner that is fairly entertaining if you catch it in the right mood, and it's not going to kill me if it doesn't end exactly the way I wanted it to.  But Stephen Baldwin's character and Amy Price-Francis' character ending up together?  Pffft--never gonna work.  Just wait'll she sees how much hair this guy's gonna leave in the tub every time he takes a shower.

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