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Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Just in case you haven't been paying attention, here's a tip: if the DVD cover says "SyFy Channel Original", then chances are it isn't the latest rival for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY as "Best Science-Fiction Movie Ever Made." Or even "Best Science-Fiction Movie Made This Week." But whether or not it's worth watching anyway is subject to a number of amorphous factors that are in a constant state of flux.

For example, ZODIAC: SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE (2014) actually starts out looking like it might be an above-average entry in SyFy's ongoing effort to populate the world with staggeringly bland Canadian sci-fi flicks. When archeologists discover a stone-carved "astrology board" in a cave in Peru, they call upon the last surviving expert in such things to figure out what it means.

That happens to be semi-retired smarty-pants Neil Martin--played by old standby Joel Gretsch of GLASS HOUSE: THE GOOD MOTHER and "The 4400"--who's been out of circulation while raising his now-grown son Colin (Reilly Dolman), an irritating lad with a penchant for second-guessing his old man.

But when they join romantically-available female archeologists Kathryn Keen (Emily Holmes) and young, blonde Sophie (Andrea Brooks) at the cave, something weird happens as the astrology board somehow powers up and connects with a mysterious, newly-discovered ninth planet which has just appeared in front of the sun.

Soon after we learn that a strange stone also found in the cave possesses secret powers which react with the rogue planet and might possibly be needed to head off global calamity when Mother Nature herself starts attacking the human race Zodiac-style!

I know you probably can't believe you just read that--I can't believe I just wrote it, either. While it all sounds like a foolproof blueprint for solid sci-fi entertainment, it's at this point, believe it or not, that the movie starts to get a little silly. Basically a rehash of another SyFy end-of-the-world tale, 12 DISASTERS (OF CHRISTMAS), it's pretty much just another excuse to pile on several scenes of poorly-rendered CGI destruction (one for each of the 12 signs of the Zodiac) for which these movies are not only well known but celebrated by bad-movie fans.

As so often is the case, these calamities--which include a tsunami, a giant typhoon, a deadly meteor storm, mega-hurricane-force winds, and killer lightning bolts--all occur within a small enough area to menace our heroes, who must outrun them all in various minivans and other vehicles. So we get lots of scenes of the principal characters driving around haphazardly with crudely-rendered CGI doodles swirling around them.

Meanwhile, there's the inevitable government bad guy, Agent Woodward (Aaron Douglas, "Battlestar Galactica"), who wants the stone for its "weapons potential" and will stop at nothing to get it. Thus, the bickering father-and-son team and their lovely female companions must flee cross-country and track down reclusive billionaire Harry Setag (Christopher Lloyd), who has, for some reason, already built the giant mechanical device needed to stop the Zodiac apocalypse and which is powered by, you guessed it, the precious stone.

If this all sounds like nonstop edge-of-your-seat suspense and heart-pounding excitement, then rest assured--it isn't. As in most other SyFy disaster flicks, the worst of the ongoing global apocalypse is mainly referred to in the dialogue. Poor old Paris, we learn, has been obliterated yet again and this time we don't even get to see it. The Zodiac weather anomalies that we do see are pretty nutty since they're actually shaped like astrological signs--which is just goofy--and the CGI used to depict them is downright laugh-provoking at times.

When not strictly functional, the dialogue is similarly amusing. At one point government baddie Woodward is arguing with a junior agent who allows that Martin may be right about this Zodiac stuff since, after all, the last natural disaster, a massive volcanic geyser, did indeed resemble the sign for Aries. "Yeah, and atomic explosions look like mushrooms," Woodward retorts, "but I don't wanna put 'em on my pizza." Later, after yet another tense scene in which the good guys drive away real fast from some menacing CGI, Sophie exclaims, "I think I just crapped my third grade homework!"

The best parts of the movie are supplied by two of the characters Martin and company encounter during their adventure, the first being a crazed but lovable survivalist named Marty (Ben Cotton, STAN HELSING, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK) who gives them shelter in his well-stocked underground bunker, and the second, everyone's favorite oddball Christopher Lloyd, who appears late in the story to eccentric things up for a few minutes while supplying some vital last-minute exposition.

The Anchor Bay/Starz DVD is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound. Subtitles are in English and Spanish. There are no extras.

What it all boils down to is this--if you don't like bad movies even if they're fun, you're probably not part of the intended audience for this one. But veterans of the typical "SyFy Original Movie" who just keep coming back for more will happily lower their expectations enough to allow ZODIAC: SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE to come into their homes and entertain them. And chances are they'll be glad they did.

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