Heatstroke – “Welcome to Hell on Earth”
I figured I’d follow up my review of Mammoth, a standard creature feature, with a good old-fashioned disaster movie. After all, what else could Heatstroke be about, right? As it turns out, here’s a plot that both SETI enthusiasts and right-wing conservatives can get behind – aliens have secretly invaded Earth and are intentionally accelerating global warming to make the planet more hospitable for their eventual colonization. Honestly, I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming; it’s just so obvious!
Capt. Steve O’Bannon (D.B. Sweeney, The Darwin Awards, Strange Luck) heads up a team of researchers tracking a unique radiation signature. At the beginning of the movie, he crash-lands an ultralight airplane (seriously, follow that link – they look like so much fun to fly!) into the middle of a photo shoot run by Caroline (Danica McKellar, Young Justice, The Wonder Years), a model trying to make it as a photographer. After two of her models get killed by an alien, she joins up with Steve and his team to help destroy an alien structure that was set up to emit radiation to destroy the ozone layer. Also, there’s plenty of blood, a bit of alien possession, and even a guy spitting up an over-sized caterpillar/larva thing. Good times all around.
Top left – Capt. Steve O’Bannon; top right – Mental Blanakoff and Caroline; bottom – why you should always chew your food
It’s difficult for me to decide where I even want to begin this critique. The CGI was some of the worst I’ve seen in a long time, the plot overall made little if any sense, and throughout the movie I kept wishing the cast could find it in themselves to act just a little bit harder. So I guess I’ll start with an objective observation we can all agree on – hammocks rule. They’re just awesomely amazing.
Like I said, the effects in this movie were pretty terrible. There were some shots of the aliens that looked decent, including an actual physical model they made that, if it hadn’t looked like it were a rubber suit one could buy at a costume shop, would have been decent. Then there were other fairly mediocre CGI shots where the aliens looked a bit too bright against the background, but still moved somewhat realistically and weren’t completely terrible. Then there was the beach scene. Oh dear, was it horrible. One of the aliens surprises two models and Romeo Romero (Zac Heileson, Heatstroke), one of Steve’s team members, while they’re swimming in the ocean. They get separated, and the alien runs after one of the models as she runs down the beach trying to get away from it. Except it doesn’t really run after her so much as kind of… floaty-hop after her? She’s clearly running in front of a green screen, and it almost looks like the alien is on a string that someone’s pulling up and down in front of the screen, but also as part of the screen image, and… you know what? Just take a look for yourself. It’s terrible. And just… wow. Plus, that gives a pretty good look at the aliens, which I can only describe as being a cross between a velociraptor (like from Jurassic Park) and the Predator, or one of those vampires from that one Blade movie. You know the one.
Left – among the better CGI in the movie; right – among the mediocre/bad CGI in the movie
Before I look into the sciencey bits (which I know you’re all dying to read about), there is one other part that deserves special recognition – at the end, Steve and what’s left of his team attempt to blow up the radiation emitter and, apparently, put an end to global warming. He encounters Waters (Chris Cleveland, Dry Run, The Prestige), who was possessed by one of the aliens earlier in the movie. They engage in an epic fight scene lasting a good five or seven minutes and consisting entirely of the exact same footage, repeated at least three times from different angles, separated by shots of a CGI cruise missile on its way to destroy the emitter (and presumably the terrible acting). It was one of the laziest things I have ever seen in these movies; and it was glorious.
Left – best effect in the movie; right – hilariously bad CGI
As I mentioned above, the basic plot is that, in 1975, aliens caused a volcanic eruption on an island, resulting in average temperatures on that island to increase every year, along with the average size of the insects living there. See, apparently, the aliens are insectivores (with wicked-sharp claws, multiple-hinged jaws, and the ability to spit acid clouds, because why not?), and they saw that humans were going to destroy the world eventually anyways, so they decided to speed up the process and turn the planet into their own bug farm, killing most other life in the process. Which made me wonder what actually would (or, really, will) happen as the Earth gets warmer.
A clearly insectivorous species
Aside from some of the obvious (temperatures increasing, weather patterns changing, insect-borne diseases becoming more prevalent), there are some observations that are not what you might expect. For one thing, apparently the cloud layer is lowering, on average. But more interestingly, as relates to this movie, is the finding that ancestral horses (Sifrhippus sandrae, to be exact) were a lot smaller than modern horses and actually shrank as temperatures increased (the first link there is to a paper abstract (you can read the whole thing if you have a subscription to Science magazine); the last one is to a more reader-friendly summary of that study’s findings). If it is indeed the case that increased global temperatures could push mammals toward smaller body sizes, that could open up new ecological niches into which other creatures (such as insects) could spread. Basically, if mammals need fewer resources to survive (say, by becoming smaller), that means more resources are available for other organisms to use. This doesn’t automatically mean insects would become bigger – they could become more plentiful, or reptiles could dominate again, or who knows what; but what it does mean is that the possibility is there for insects to take over niches vacated by mammals as mammals get smaller. So while there is no guarantee that the aliens’ plan to grow insects by making the Earth hotter would work, there is some amount of tenuous possibility to it. And to me, that’s actually kind of neat. Though I could not find any evidence supporting the idea that heat alone could make insects larger. So there’s that, too.
I leave you with one more link, because it’s awesome. Enjoy!