Category Archives: SyFy Channel
Disaster movies form a special subset of the broadest definition of the horror genre. They tend towards one or both of two themes, namely flat-out survival or reunification with family, friends, etc. They also always, at least in my experience, include some of the craziest, most off-the-wall pseudoscience you will ever find in life anywhere.
Megafault focuses on five people. Amy Lane (Brittany Murphy, King of the Hill, Sin City) is a seismologist with the United States Geological Survey. After Charlie “Boomer” Baxter (Eriq La Salle, ER, Coming to America) blows up a mountain in Virginia, earthquakes shoot out east to Washington, D.C., and west on a path of destruction towards the Pacific Ocean, so Amy’s mentor and the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Mark Rhodes (Bruce Davison, X-Men, Harry and the Hendersons) sends her out to investigate. Meanwhile, Amy’s husband Dan Lane (Justin Hartley, Smallville) takes their daughter Miranda Lane (Miranda Schwein, Megafault) to the family home in Denver, Colorado. Various things get destroyed, there’s a phenomenal amount of explosions and really bad special effects, and in the end, the earth is saved once more (duh).
Top left – Amy Lane; top right – Dan and Miranda Lane; bottom left – Charlie “Boomer” Baxter; bottom right – Mark Rhodes
I’m gonna say this once to get it out of the way now – the acting was bad. It was flat, it was uninspired, and it almost seemed like they had to try harder to be as bad as they were than they would have to be halfway decent. These people see whole cities getting destroyed, and just point it out to each other like they’re looking at a particularly interesting piece of art or something. And the special effects were worse – way too many fake explosions, images of fissures that looked like they had been Photoshopped over the film footage, and horrible CGI flight sequences. Awful, awful stuff. For instance, in the opening scene, as Boomer blows up a mountain, the explosions look like they lack depth, instead being two-dimensional. Moreover, somehow the mountain collapses (without sending debris and rubble flying every which way) despite the explosions seeming to come from the surface and not underground (ignoring the fact that at the very opening of the movie, trucks are seen driving out of an underground mine, presumably after having placed dynamite at various points in the mine). Then, once the ground continues shaking from tremors and such, Boomer quickly realizes that something’s wrong and spots fissures heading straight for the miners closer to the explosions. Predictably, however, all of them are oblivious to the way the earth is disappearing in front of them until it’s too late and they get swallowed as the surface splits apart. Because actually managing to see the earth fall away in front of you is too much to ask. Of course, the fissure continues on its course and makes straight for Boomer, who tries valiantly to outrun it before falling into the growing crater himself.
After the earthquake hits D.C., Amy and Mark are talking about how it’s a first-of-its-kind event for the area, reading 7.0 on the Richter scale; yet somehow, after she flies out to the apparent epicenter of the event, she’s the only geologist there. In fact, except for the helicopter pilot, she’s the only person at the site – there are no rescue crews, there are no excavation crews, there are no awkward bystanders trying to get a better look at what happened; it’s just her and the pilot, until they hear Boomer blowing his truck’s horn. But if there was such a large earthquake, and people knew where it was, why on earth were there only two people who went out to see what happened? Moreover, once Amy manages to rescue Boomer, aftershocks and more fissures send them running back to the helicopter. This time, however, despite the inability of Boomer to outrun fissures earlier while driving a truck, somehow the three of them manage to run back to the helicopter in time to get in and get it airborne, getting off the ground just before the place where the helicopter had landed disappears. So how is it that three people on foot can outrun what one guy in a car couldn’t?
Jumping now to Dan and Miranda, who were put on a military plane to get them back to Denver – en route, the C-130 Hercules they are in collides with another plane (air traffic control towers in Indianapolis having been destroyed, thereby eliminating all possibility of planes to ever know what’s going on ever again), losing an engine. Obviously, a plane that big can’t fly with only three of four engines working, right? Wrong. Now, had part of a wing been destroyed, then I could understand the thing crashing; but the movie only presents the damage as being to one engine, somehow causing the plane to crash. I’m not a pilot (nor do I play one on tv), but follow links here, here, and here to read more things supporting my statement, some of them from actual pilots.
I know I said that I wouldn’t say more about the acting, but there’s one scene in the movie that deserves special recognition. After Dan and Miranda crash land, they hitch a ride from a trucker (who, conveniently enough, is hauling a tank full of petroleum, which later explodes). As they drive, their path meets up with the earthquake racing across the United States, which leads Dan and the trucker to an exchange wherein they repeat each other and seemingly agree with each other while simultaneously arguing, all the while talking about the danger of their situation in the completely deadpan, unengaged tone that is ubiquitous in this movie. Somehow, despite the overall dismal acting in the movie, this scene stood out as substantially worse than the rest, and to me, that’s pretty remarkable.
“I can’t stop… That fissure’s right behind me…”
Back to Amy and Boomer – given the widespread destruction, martial law gets declared and all air traffic gets grounded, but since Amy has to get to her family, she and Boomer steal a helicopter, causing the military to arrest them. At the base to which they get taken, they meet a general and Amy ends up working with him to try to stop the earthquake. Here’s where the craziness starts. The earthquakes are so destructive because (somehow) the U.S. has a previously undiscovered fault running the whole length of the continent (leading to the movie’s title); therefore, if nothing is done to stop the quakes, the fissures will continue all the way to the Pacific Ocean, destroying the entire West Coast and sparking tsunamis that will then go on to destroy the rest of the world. Obviously. But there’s hope, because the military has a secret satellite weapon that was originally designed to cause earthquakes in enemy territory by freezing the water table with lasers so that when the water thawed, the release in energy would cause massive tectonic disruptions. Obviously. So they plan to intentionally start another earthquake that will cancel out the megafault, much in the way a controlled burn is used to help stop a wildfire. And here’s the key – if the second earthquake continues westward, it will just run into the Grand Canyon and then stop, because there’ll be no more earth for the quake to travel through. Obviously. (Keep in mind, I’m not making any of this up.) The movie fails to explain, of course, how it could be that the man-made earthquake would be stopped by the Grand Canyon but that the megafault would not be, but that’s such a minor point, it’s really unimportant.
The supposedly invisible beam from the ice-making death-laser.
Now, once the army freezes the water table to start another earthquake, it results in the weakening of the mantle underneath Yellowstone National Park, destabilizing the Yellowstone Caldera and causing magma to boil to the surface and melt everything in the area, literally starting the state of Wyoming on fire. But the megafault gets slowed and eventually stopped, which is good. But the earthquake caused by the space ice laser starts travelling towards the Caldera, threatening to unleash a fiery river of death upon the continental United States, which is bad. So Amy and Boomer head to Wyoming in the hopes that they can create a second Grand Canyon by blowing up a large part of the state, thereby causing miles and miles of coal mines to collapse and a canyon to form. (I repeat, I am not making any of this up.) Enter the seemingly-obligatory montage scene – five minutes of army guys in army trucks placing army explosives around the area, combined with images of Amy and Boomer setting charges to later detonate the explosives. What bothered me about this scene is that thirty-five or so charges were placed, and I felt like they showed us the placement of each and every one. To me, a good montage should demonstrate how much time has passed and work been done in a concise fashion. This always means that things get cut out, so that the placing of thirty-five or so charges doesn’t show the placing of each and every one. So not only did this movie fail at acting, special effects, and science, but it also failed at montages.
Because Wyoming doesn’t have enough problems as it is…
Finally, during the climax, Boomer and Amy have to drive past each charge to set them all off via an infrared transmitter in their Jeep. Ignoring the fact that they, again, have to outrun fissures, and ignoring the fact that the charges supposedly have a delay of three seconds yet seem to cause explosions before the Jeep has actually passed them, I was unable to ignore the fact that, of the fifteen or twenty scenes of explosions going off all around the Jeep, only four or five looked to be unique shots. Although I wasn’t counting, I do remember seeing the same scene (literally) at least three or four times within an eight- or ten-minute segment of the movie. And there were a couple scenes like that. So add “original film footage” to the list of things at which this movie fails.
Two more lists for you – things that were used to chase people – earthquake fissures, power lines, gas line explosions, magma, and avalanches. Places that were destroyed just for the purpose of destroying them – Louisville, Kentucky; Vail, Colorado; Denver, Colorado; and the entire state of Wyoming.
“Look out! A CGI avalanche is about to destroy a CGI chalet!”
Final thing this movie failed at – dialogue; said as Amy and Boomer try to outrun fissures and explosions – “Drive harder!”
So did this movie do anything well or right? Surprisingly, yes. At one point, Amy says that there are up to three thousand earthquakes a day (presumably worldwide). As you can see here and here, that one fact is supported by actual evidence. So good on them for getting that right.
Until next time, keep an eye out for flying sharks.
If you’re like me, then hardly a day goes by when you don’t ask yourself, “I wonder what would have happened if the Aztecs had made it as far north as the Grand Canyon?” And if you’re like me, then you’re in luck, because that is (almost) exactly the question this movie sets out to answer. Because somehow, it accepts as a plausible premise the idea that 1800s America would somehow have had no record of the Grand Canyon having a cliff with a gigantic painting of a guy on a rock wall. And no record a ziggurat. And no record of a flying demon-dragon-god-thing that summons clouds and eats people.
The movie is about a team of archaeologists from the Smithsonian who are exploring the Grand Canyon in order to prove that North America was visited by the ancient Egyptians, besides the more well-known and well-documented discoverers. After Susan Jordan’s (Shannen Doherty, Beverly Hills 90210, Charmed) father goes missing, she sets off on a mission to find out what happened to him, accompanied by Jacob Thain (Michael Shanks, Stargate SG-1) and various expendable characters.
I love a Fun adventure movie as much as the next guy; the Indiana Jones series (excluding Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; we here at Jumping Sharks don’t talk about that), the Mummy series (starting with the reinterpretations in 1999); they’re all Fun. And, while The Lost Treasure of the Grand Canyon fits the bill of being a Fun Movie, in the ridiculous sense, unlike Indiana Jones, it could not be considered a Good Movie. It’s essentially a nerd-boy’s fantasy – the bookish, aloof smart guy overcomes all obstacles to not only show the beautiful girl that he’s worth something, but also to upstage the jock who figures he can get by on physique and action without actually knowing much of anything. So when one of the expendable characters gets his head cut in half by an axe rigged to a door, the nerd can blame it on the jock, who was the one to set off the trap over the objections of the nerd (happens all the time in real life – it’s all fun and games until a booby trap cuts someone’s head in half).
As always, the acting and CGI leave quite a bit to be desired. There’s also a very Scooby-Doo-esque moment wherein our heroes are staring at a rock wall, seemingly oblivious to the very obvious door cut into the cliff face. Moreover, while the movie answers the question of Aztecs in Arizona, it also raises other equally-perplexing questions, such as “why on Earth, when confronted with a vase on a pedestal in a room full of skulls, would you blindly stick your hand into the aforementioned vase?”; “how can a rock the size of a baseball move a small column from a well-supported position on a doorframe to come crashing down on the head of an unsuspecting deity-dragon-thing (a sort of incarnation of Quetzalcoatl)?”; and “how poor do the makers of this movie believe the memory to be that they find it necessary to spend five minutes of an hour and a half movie literally showing a montage of scenes that happened less than two hours ago, in the movie, just to make sure we know that the beautiful girl has fallen completely in love with the nerd? Couldn’t the same be accomplished with the right significant glance in approximately five seconds?”. Not to mention all the token references to the rampant chauvinism of the era that seem to be there just to say “look at us, addressing social issues and stuff”.
In all, The Lost Treasure of the Grand Canyon is quite the mix of predictability, adventure movie tropes, and SyFy-trademarked CGI. What else can I say?
It’s not right to say that I’m afraid of the water – when I was in Boy Scouts, I got my Swimming and Lifesaving merit badges (for those of you unfamiliar with those, they are both water-intense), and I swam the Mile Swim at scout camp. Moreover, I grew up a block or so from a lake, and my brothers and I used to go swimming there all the time during summer. Plus there were canoe trips, occasional kayaking, and ice skating when the weather was right. But I have a sort of terrified fascination with the concept of being over or in deep – I mean deep – water, like one of the oceans. So for me, every time I watch a movie that deals with creatures deep down in the darkness, the underwater scenes automatically have a sort of tenseness to them regardless of what I expect to happen. And although this one was no different, the movie failed to add anything on top of that.
Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep is a 2006 SyFy (Sci Fi) Channel original movie about marine archaeologist Nicole (Victoria Pratt, Mutant X, Day Break) on a personal mission to save her career and regain credibility by finding lost artifacts that everyone thinks only exist in legend. Along the way she is joined by Ray (Charlie O’Connell, Dude Where’s My Car?, Sliders), an underwater photographer whose parents were killed by a giant squid when he was a child; and opposed by Maxwell (Jack Scalia, Dallas, Red Eye), a mobster whose family deals in recovered antiquities. From there, things go more or less as expected, with threats, thefts, and lots of squid-induced death. Though it was interesting to see Cory Monteith (Glee) out of his natural habitat.
As with most SyFy Channel movies, the main stumbling blocks were plot, dialogue, acting, and special effects, although to be fair, the acting was decent enough to not get in the way. As for plot, the main surprise was how peripheral the titular sea monster was to the main action of the movie (diving for shipwreck treasure), though there’s also a completely random scene wherein three young people are out drinking and fishing in the rain, only to get eaten by the squid; except there’s no explanation of who they are, there’s no reference to them after they die, and no one even finds their boat the next day. They just show up for one scene, die, and are then completely ignored for the rest of the movie.
The dialogue, while containing two admirable references to Spielberg films (okay, okay, one of the references is obligatory these days for any movie dealing with large predatory sea creatures), certainly could not be described as witty, sharp, or terribly engaging. It got the job done, but not much more (though it also didn’t need to do much more, I suppose). And regarding the effects, well, see for yourself – some scenes with the squid were fairly decent; others, not so much. Basically, as long as the CGI squid was only trying to interact with CGI environments, it was okay; but otherwise (like when it was eating divers, for instance) it was hard to look past the computer part of Computer-Generated Imagery, and ended up looking alternately silly, fake, and unfortunate.
I think my quasi-fear of the deep ocean stems from the ability of things to attack me not just from in front of, behind, to the left of or to the right of me, but also from above, in a more practical way than on land, and, most unsettlingly, from below. The thought of swimming along, looking down, and just seeing teeth, from a shark, from a squid, from whatever, kinda terrifies me, a little bit. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.
Now, on to shark-jumping, the main focus for us here at Jumping Sharks. First of all, based on the images of the squid in the movie, it appears that the inspiration for the so-called “kraken” was a colossal squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni (please keep in mind that this is entirely my own speculation, and is in no way based on written accounts by anyone involved with the movie; also, any research done is the result of five minutes on Google and ten or fifteen minutes scanning the most promising hits – no scientific papers were studied for this review). As such, my main question was – is it possible for a creature mainly known for thriving extremely deep in the ocean to survive at the surface for as long as did the one in the movie? As it turns out, it seems the answer is “yes”, or at least a resounding “maybe”. Marinebio.org reports that juvenile colossal squid can be found between the surface and depths up to 1000m; since there is no frame of reference in the movie for how old the specific squid is, nor does it follow that adult squid must stay deeper than juveniles just because they’re bigger, it appears that the squid in the movie could survive for extended periods of time, albeit perhaps uncomfortably, at depths which are also SCUBA divable
The next question raised was about the actual size, as monster horror movies tend to unrealistically exaggerate the size of the creatures (or have them change size throughout the movie; see Anaconda for more on this); however, comparing shots from the movie against real-live pictures with a similar frame of reference, it seems they got the size pretty well-on, give or take.
As for how the squid attacked its victims, some scenes were good, and some were not so good. Although this video, of pictures taken by researchers in 2004, is of a giant squid (not a colossal squid), I’m going to guess that it’s a decent approximation of how colossal squid hunt. Given that there are scenes wherein the kraken knocks people off of boats or just grabs them directly with its tentacles, I’m going to have to call shenanigans on the movie. On the other hand, that’s about the only thing this one has that’s biologically unrealistic based on available Google research, and I’m willing to forgive them one oversight.
Oh, and it’s implied that the squid might in fact be the living basis for the sea-monster Scylla, from Homer’s The Odyssey. So there’s that.
And, because I would be remiss not to conclude this entry with it, I leave you with a joke:
What do you get if you cross a duck with a squid?
For this, the first installment of Jumping Sharks, I chose a crime-thriller styled after the classic film noir detective films we’ve come to love and know so well…. with dinosaurs. That’s right, dinosaurs. Imagine taking every cliché, every stereotype of a film noir, and combining them into a movie. Distill the essence of Prairie Home Companion’s Guy Noir, Private Eye – itself already the purified spirit of film noir – and you have something coming close to Anonymous Rex. Then add dinosaurs.
Let’s start with the basics – this is a SyFy (then Sci Fi) Channel original movie, made in 2004. It is loosely based (according to Wikipedia, only the overall concept was kept, and few of the actual details) on the novels Anonymous Rex and Casual Rex, by Eric Garcia. Vincent Rubio (Sam Trammell, True Blood) is a private investigator, who also happens to be a Velociraptor. His Triceratops partner Ernie Watson (Daniel Baldwin, Cold Case, Vampires) takes a case involving an apparent suicide which quickly leads to questions about the dead dino. From there, the plot progresses basically as you’d predict – murder, cover-up, conspiracy, cult, China Town, dinosaurs.
The movie itself was not bad, at least, not by SyFy standards (for those of you unfamiliar with what that truly means, keep following this blog as it develops – SyFy Channel will be a staple of mine). While the acting is mediocre, the plot cliché and predictable, and the writing way too concerned with reminding the viewer that yes, dinosaurs are in fact still alive, when the movie gets away from the dinosaur thing, it just comes across as cliché and predictable. Not bad, just kinda boring.
That’s not to say there was nothing good here. The CGI was definitely a step above what I’m used to in SyFy original movies, and the movie never quite took itself too seriously. At the same time, it raised some good, universal questions about what it means to be a person, and it even had two moments of almost poignant metaphor, which lasted just long enough for the metaphor to be beaten over the viewer’s head, completely ruining the effectiveness.
So how did this movie jump the shark, you might ask? Well, aside from the whole “dinosaur” thing (the accepted premise of this movie, after all), dinosaurs in society maintain their secret through the use of disguises – holographic disguises. Which just raises the question that, if dinosaurs have personal holographic devices, why have they not been able to dominate the whole of the planet and forced humanity into servitude? Why are they not at least flying around in hover cars, or hunting using lasers, or even just using 3D holographic entertainment? Moreover, why are all the dinosaur mannerisms so very distinctly human, even when in the privacy of their own homes? More to the point, evolutionarily speaking, how can dinosaurs talk with such distinctly human voices? The movie never attempted to answer any of these questions, and maybe that’s all for the best, since none of them really relate to the plot more than tangentially. But the fact remains that, for whatever reason, questions along these lines kept drifting into my mind, distracting me from the dinosaurs and predictability.
Though there is something to be said for watching Daniel Baldwin sprout a Triceratops head to gore a guy into a fence.