Part 2 of Alice picks up right where part 1 left off, naturally – with Alice (Caterina Scorsone, Edge of Darkness; 1-800-Missing) imprisoned in a crumbling house while Doctor Dee and Doctor Dum (Eugene Lipinski, Rollerball; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) interrogate her to learn where she hid the Stone of Wonderland, a ring with the ability to open up a portal between the real world and Wonderland via the looking glass. Meanwhile, Hatter (Andrew Lee Potts, Return to House on Haunted Hill; Warrior Queen) and the White Knight (Matt Frewer, 50/50; Dawn of the Dead) break into the casino in order to rescue her from the Queen and King of Hearts (Kathy Bates, Midnight in Paris; Titanic and Colm Meaney, Get Him to the Greek; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, respectively). Once free of the Hearts, Hatter and the White Knight take Alice to the ancient Kingdom of the Knights (once again), where Hatter sends word to the resistance movement that Alice needs to meet with their leader, Caterpillar (Harry Dean Stanton, Rango; Alien). The resistance sends an emissary in the form of Jack Heart (Philip Winchester, In My Sleep; Thunderbirds), son of the Queen and King of Hearts and former boyfriend to Alice. Despite Hatter’s misgivings, Alice decides to leave with Jack after he tells her that the resistance knows where her father is and could get him out of Wonderland with her. One thing leads to another, Alice and Hatter set everyone free, the White Knight helps bring down the casino and with it the reign of the Queen of Hearts, and Alice leaves Wonderland to live happily ever after.
Top left – Alice; top right – Doctors Dee and Dum and Alice; middle left – the White Knight and Hatter; middle right – the Queen and King of Hearts; bottom left – Caterpillar; bottom right – Jack Heart, Alice, and Caterpillar
Before I go on, I feel this needs to be said, and it cannot be stressed enough – they left out the Cheshire Cat, and for that, there can be no forgiveness.
Anyway. One big thing worth noting is that in this second part, Alice, a black belt karate instructor, finally starts fighting back against the Hearts, quite literally at times. One thing you’ll notice if you watch enough horror or SyFy Original movies is that women characters often serve only to run around screaming or give the men characters something to fight for or after. I’m not sure at all why this is the case, but it does seem to be widely true. Thus, when you find a movie (or in this case a miniseries) with a strong female lead, it’s often refreshing. Sadly, the first half of this miniseries completely missed that point, portraying her as weak, timid, and scared. Still, it was good to see her take more control of her fate in the second half of the miniseries.
“I’m going with him, and there’s nothing you or King Skellington can do to stop me!”
While the first half managed to avoid too many terrible effects, either CGI or sets, the second half fell well behind. While there was no increase in the CGI (always a boon), the use of green screen backgrounds became way too common, and in general, they were not done well. I found myself remarking on how bad they were numerous times throughout the second half, especially during the two flamingo chase scenes. But hey, who doesn’t want to watch guys in suits fire shotguns while riding flamingos altogether too quickly?
The second part of the miniseries continued the social allegories and commentaries begun in the first, as expected. For example, in order to thwart the plans of the Hearts and start a revolution, Alice and Hatter free the kidnapped Oysters (see the review of part 1) in the casino by telling them to wake up and realize what was done to them, conveying the not-so-subtle undertones of individuality and disbelieving the story told by power; basically, the idea that blind complacency is the best friend of a dictatorial leader. Likewise, when their actions cause the emotion collection vats to overheat and be destroyed, the entire casino comes crashing down to the ground, a direct visual showing the Queen’s loss of power and authority. After the collapse of the casino, the Queen orders her henchmen to arrest Alice, but of course, they refuse, instead forcing her to hand over the Stone in order to reopen the looking glass and return the Oysters to the real world.
“The Stone or my finger? Off with your head! Please?”
The other big theme in the second part of the miniseries is the idea of reuniting with a lost parent, in this case a father. It turns out that the lead scientist for the Queen, and the one in charge of collecting the emotional essence from the Oysters, Carpenter (Timothy Webber, Cypher; The Grey Fox), is in fact Alice’s missing father, who finally manages to wake up with the other Oysters when Alice and Hatter set them free, only to die in Alice’s arms before the casino collapses in an all-too-common scene wherein he apologizes for everything and urges her to save herself before the building comes down (Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, anyone?).
“I can’t be her father. I do science!”
“Go, Alice. Return to your mother and your life.”
One of the concepts I’ve always enjoyed in movies like this, or like Labyrinth, or MirrorMask, or any of those movies where the hero travels from our mundane world to a fantastical one and back, is the melancholy at the end where the character (and the viewer) struggles with the question of whether any of it actually happened. It creates a very unique poignancy and sense of loss, while at the same time maintaining a shred of hope that that other world is still out there somewhere, waiting to be found. Of course, this melancholy is completely destroyed if one of the characters from that other world follows the hero back into his or her world, as happens here. To me, probably the biggest point of these things is the idea that it might have all been a dream, and when that uncertainty gets removed, the piece also loses a big part of its impact and significance.
“Is this real or a dream?”
“Real. Definitely real.”
“Oh. Okay then.”
So that’s it for Alice, and this installment of Miniseries Week. I hope you enjoyed it, and that you’ll join me in a thorough scathing of SyFy Channel for cutting out the Cheshire Cat. Because honestly, he’s just plain awesome. ’til next time!
“That’s for leaving out the Cheshire cat!”
Given the nature of SyFy Channel, they tend to make a number of miniseries, some of which (like the Battlestar Galactica miniseries) go on to be highly successful full series; others, such as Tin Man or Riverworld, are never really intended to be more than retellings or re-imaginings of well-known or popular stories. So it is with Alice, the subject of this installment of Miniseries Week. (This review only covers part one of the two-part miniseries. Part two will be reviewed later in the week.)
Alice is a retelling of the Lewis Carroll classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (naturally). Alice (Caterina Scorsone, Private Practice; The Devil’s Arithmetic) is a 20-something karate instructor who’s been living with her mother since her father went missing ten years ago. Jack Chase (Philip Winchester, Flyboys; The Patriot), Alice’s boyfriend and karate student (and secret Knave of Hearts), joins Alice and her mother for dinner one night, after which he gets a mysterious text telling him to “RUN”. He offers to take Alice to meet his own family, and when she hesitates, he presents her with a very old ring passed down from his ancestors. She kicks him out of her apartment, but not before he slips the ring into her pocket. After a moment of indecision (and a talk with her mother who reminds her that not all men abandon their families; just her father), she runs after him, finding him just as he gets kidnapped. As the van he gets thrown into pulls away, an elderly gentleman with a white rabbit pin asks her about the ring. He manages to take the ring box from her, then proceeds to run. Alice follows him through a mirror, falling into the world of Wonderland. Soon, all sorts of well-known characters appear – the Hatter (Andrew Lee Potts, Primeval; 1408); the Queen and King of Hearts (Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law; Misery and Colm Meaney, Hell on Wheels; Star Trek: The Next Generation, respectively); the White Knight (Matt Frewer, Watchmen; Honey, I Shrunk the Kids); and of course, Dodo (Tim Curry, Charlie’s Angels; The Rocky Horror Picture Show).
Top left – Alice; top right – Jack Chase; middle left – Hatter; middle right – Queen and King of Hearts; bottom left – White Knight; bottom right – Dodo
Alice is by no means the first remake of a popular children’s book to grace the SyFy screen. The same writer and director, Nick Willing, is also responsible for the SyFy re-imaginings of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (in the 2007 miniseries Tin Man) and J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy (in the 2011 miniseries Neverland). Both Alice and Tin Man (I have not yet seen Neverland and so can’t comment on it) are a good deal darker than many more popular versions – think Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to get a decent idea of the tone of Alice. In Willing’s telling, Alice finds herself in Wonderland 150 years after the events described in the story (much like Burton’s has Alice returning after however many years), and the world depicted is both fantastical and allegorical. The Wonderland of Willing’s Alice shows a world where people seek instant gratification, and those who can afford the prices can buy any emotion they want. These emotions, of course, have to come from a source; namely, the so-called “Oysters”, or people from the “real” world who are taken by order of the Queen of Hearts and locked in a casino, where they are continuously confronted with a situation designed to elicit a specific emotion, which is then drained from them and purified into a liquid essence to be imbibed by those wishing to experience that feeling. (Obviously, the ones in charge of distilling the emotive essence are Walrus and Carpenter, and if you don’t know why that’s obvious, read this poem in its entirety.) And if that allegory weren’t quite clear enough, they saw fit to include a stock market where people buy and sell the various emotions.
Though I have no idea what this guy’s feeling…
As in the book, the Queen of Hearts is not known for her kindness; it’s been a while since I’ve read the book, though I don’t remember this being in there, but I do know that the Burton film included a resistance movement, as does Willing’s miniseries, again getting at the idea of dystopia. Once Alice meets the Hatter, he takes her to see the leader of the resistance, Dodo. The resistance base is in a library housing 5000 years of history; when Alice asks about it, the Hatter remarks that the Queen of Hearts would burn it to the ground because “wisdom is the biggest threat” to her power. Now, I could be a cynic, but it seems to me that this is also a jab at the current state of government in the United States. (I don’t want to politicize this blog if I can avoid it, but I have to say that I have definitely noticed over the past two or three years a decided rejection of facts by politicians, of both parties, in favor of more desirable delusions which have then been spread to the public in various ways. In this world order, it is very definitely true that wisdom is a threat to power. Of course, as was seen recently with the Occupy movement around the country and the world, a rejection of the current power balance is not necessarily predicated on wisdom, either.)
And can land you in a room with giant men spying on you
But that’s neither here nor there, because this is SyFy Channel, and everything’s grittier with a good resistance running in the background. Right? Right.
After the run-in with Dodo (who, of course, wants the ring that Alice conveniently held onto when confronted by the White Rabbit), Alice and the Hatter try to return to the Hatter’s tea shop (a front for the emotion stock market; or vice versa, it’s not really clear at all which enterprise is the legal one), but when they arrive, Mad March (as in the March Hare), the deadliest of the Queen’s assassins (and, for some reason, a Chicago or New York-style mobster) is already looking for them. He chases them into a nearby forest, where they run afoul of a jabberwock (because duh), but also meet up with the White Knight, who takes Alice and the Hatter to the ruined Kingdom of the Knights.
Note: the White Rabbit is the one without a rabbit head
First of all, the White Knight is very much in the style of Don Quixote, crossed a little bit (in my mind) with the Grail knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The White Knight is also a self-described inventor, which puts him in one of the most classic clichés – the Mad Scientist. He’s certainly a lot smarter than he seems at first, and smarter than most everyone perceives; but he is also absent-minded and manic, just like all the best inventors from television and movie history.
“Mad, you say? Would a mad man tilt at windmills? HMMMM?“
Second, though, he talks about how the Red King (as in, chess piece king) once ruled the land with wisdom, before the Queen of Hearts overthrew him and refused to accept that bad things could happen. I’m not sure whether this was intended by Willing, but this history of Wonderland presents a war between cards and chess, arguably allegories for impatience and simplicity on the one hand, and thoughtfulness and planning on the other. Of course, those of you who know me know that I love a good card game; you also know that I’m not terribly talented at chess. But however you look at it, it’s difficult to make the case that chess is a game of instant gratification, or that many card games take much strategy. So again, it seems as though Willing is trying to tangentially force certain allegories between the Wonderland dystopia he’s created and the real world in which we find ourselves.
“Ahead truth-factor 7. Engage.”
Before I go, I need to mention some of the basics. Despite the beauty of Wonderland shown throughout much of this episode, the run-in with the jabberwock demonstrated poor enough CGI to make me notice it and remark that it just barely avoided being called “bad”. The acting, on the other hand, was pretty good across the board. Certain characters were exaggerated, of course, but then, they’re kind of supposed to be. The dialogue and music served to complement and complete the desired effect of a restless sort of dystopia, and overall, the darker tone throughout was handled well and served as a successful homage to the strangeness of the source material. My one main complaint is that the Cheshire Cat, my favorite character from the book and possibly one of the best characters from fiction, was almost entirely absent. Hopefully, he’ll be back in a big way in part two, but to find out, you’ll have to wait for the next review! See you then!
Part two of this installment of Franchise Week. Enjoy. (Also, at some point in the future, whenever it releases, there will be a review of the second sequel in this series – yes, they are (apparently) making a third Dungeons & Dragons movie.)
Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God picks up exactly nowhere where the first movie left off. One hundred years after the metaphorical fall of Profion and the literal fall of Damodar in the original D&D movie, Damodar (Bruce Payne, Dungeons & Dragons; Miss Marple: Nemesis) has returned, cursed by Profion to remain in a permanent state of undeath. After finding an ancient orb which contains the powers of a black dragon god, he returns to Izmir to wake the god and wreak his revenge. Meanwhile, the king of Izmir learns of Damodar’s plot, and tasks his advisor Berek (Mark Dymond, Rage of the Yeti; Die Another Day) with assembling a party of adventurers to thwart Damodar’s plans. At the same time, Berek’s wife Melora (Clemency Burton-Hill, Dark Relic; The Lady Musketeer) races to help her fellow mages find a way to defeat the dragon god before a curse placed upon her by Damodar turns her into an undead abomination. Pretty standard stuff.
Top left – Damodar, looking good after a hundred years and a hundred-foot fall; top right – Berek; bottom – Melora, pre- and post-curse; recommendation – sunscreen
The best part about this movie was that it was undeniably better than its predecessor in just about every way. The acting was better across the board, the plot was not a rip-off of a recent popular release, the dialogue, while still hokey, didn’t contain jarring slang from the real world, and the dragon renderings were mostly better. That being said, the CGI overall was a step down in this movie compared to the first one, which was unfortunate.
But best of all, this movie was what I would want from a Dungeons & Dragons movie, were I to request one. While the original installment of the franchise more or less tried to distance itself from the source material, Wrath of the Dragon God embraced its roots, including creatures, gods, and lore from the role-playing game (RPG).
While this definitely increased the nerdiness of the movie, it also increased my appreciation for it, and made the movie stronger overall by recognizing that it was a movie based on a tabletop RPG. Thus, when Berek calls Nim (Tim Stern, Dirty Filthy Love; Santa Claus) a “rogue”, it makes sense to people who have played the game (rogue is one of the classes available) as well as to those who haven’t (“rogue” definitely fits his personality and actions); likewise, people are constantly yelling at Lux (Ellie Chidzey, Everyone’s Going to Die; Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God) to control her anger, which fits her personality, but difficulty controlling rage is also one of the hallmarks of the barbarian class in the game.
Left – Nim; right – Lux
However, I do have two big problems with the plot. The first is that Berek and his company are supposed to be embarking on a secret mission to save Izmir from destruction, but for some reason, the king decides to convene a full audience to send them on their way, because the best way to keep a secret is to tell fifty of your closest lackeys.
“…and while I am confident of your success, I also harbor no fears that the secret of your mission will be betrayed.”
Second, at the end of the movie, Damodar releases the dragon god from its mountain prison. The dragon then proceeds to terrorize the kingdom, breathing fire all over everything. Which is just ridiculous. Everyone knows that fireballs belong to red and gold dragons. A black dragon’s breath weapon is an acid cloud, dealing 4d8+6 acid damage with ongoing 15 acid damage every turn. Duh.
What kind of a moron doesn’t know that?
As for the obligatory science shout-out, I’m going to examine the physics of bat flight for a moment. It turns out that bats are actually really good flyers. They have economy of effort, as each downbeat of the wings produces more lift and each upbeat less drag than for many species of birds; as well, they have an abundance of joints in the wings that can allow bats to turn extremely quickly, and their wings boast a membrane that is good at repairing itself. Moreover, even with some holes in the wings, bats are still able to fly.
“Damn it feels good to be a gansta!”
So why, for a movie about dragons and adventurers and magic, am I talking about bats? Well, aside from the fact that bats are actually pretty awesome, the titular dragon god has wings that are very bat-like, at least so they seem to me; but if you look, you’ll notice quite a few holes in the wings. Obviously, dragons are not known for being real-world creatures, but it did make me curious as to how much damage a bat wing could suffer before flight would become impossible. As with most things in science, the answer depends on the circumstances – I would suspect that broken bones in the wings are a much bigger impediment to flight than rips and tears in the membranes – but I also feel pretty confident saying that, given the number of holes in the dragon’s wings, it would be really difficult for it to generate enough lift to fly, making its reign of terror a lot less terrifying.
Bring that guy down to ground level, then we’ll see how tough he really is!
And this concludes the second installment of Franchise Week. Hope you enjoyed it, and remember – Shark Week is right around the corner!
“I can hardly wait!”
Dungeons & Dragons is, in many ways, a combination of all fantasy movie clichés rolled into one great big ball of “what the hell?”. Queen Amidala is trying to bring peace and order to the planet Naboo, but the Trade Federation, spurred on by Senator Palpatine’s manipulations of the Imperial Senate, moves to forcibly overthrow her rule.
Left – Queen Amidala; right – Senator Palpatine
…Wait a minute… That’s not right…
Dang. You know what? I was thinking of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I’m not sure why I’d do that, except that THEY’RE EXACTLY THE SAME MOVIE. Dungeons & Dragons tells the story of Ridley Freeborn (Justin Whalin, Dorm Daze 2; Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) and his sidekick Snails (Marlon Wayans, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra; Scary Movie), two unassuming thieves who get dragged into a political storm when Profion (Jeremy Irons, The Borgias; The Lion King) pits the advisors of the kingdom against Empress Savina (Thora Birch, American Beauty; Patriot Games) in an attempt to gain ultimate power for himself.
Top left – Ridley; top right – Snails; bottom left – Empress Savina; bottom right – Profion
The parallels between the movies certainly don’t stop there. Profion has his own trusted lieutenant in Damodar (Bruce Payne, Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God; Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire), an unmistakable mirror of Darth Maul (though decidedly less awesome than the Darth). At one point, it is explained that elves “are part of magic, as are all living creatures”, sounding suspiciously like the ephemeral Force. There’s even a fight scene at the end of the movie featuring lightsabers… I mean swords. Glowy swords. A red glowy sword and a blue glowy sword. Let’s face it, THEY’RE THE SAME FRICKIN’ MOVIE!
Left – Darth Maul; right – Damodar. No, wait – left is Darth Dam, right is Maulodar. No, that’s not right either…
This sword fighting scene is entirely original in every way ever
So what else do we find? For a start, there’s the perpetuation of the sexy librarian trope. Marina Pretensa (Zoe McLellan, Dirty Sexy Money; JAG) starts out the movie as one of the privileged mages, a student in the magic school. When we first see her, she is assisting her mentor in the school’s library, hair all done up in a bun, complete with nerdy-looking glasses (think Evelyn Carnahan, Rachel Weisz’s character in The Mummy, at the beginning of the movie, before all the adventures). As the movie progresses, she loses her glasses (but somehow doesn’t seem to notice or care), her hair becomes disheveled, and her overall look becomes more and more relatable and less arrogant and aloof. Because clearly, she was just waiting for an excuse to leave behind the shy and useless girl she was and start showing the… still timid and useless woman she becomes. Rarely does a movie have a female lead that is quite as useless during movie events as this one. She manages to save Ridley once, despite being a mage, compared with the three times she gets captured and needs rescuing.
Marina; note the change in appearance as the movie goes on (earliest at top left, latest at bottom)
Then there’s the portrayal of evil in this movie. Dungeons and Dragons (the game) is not necessarily known for subtlety (more on that below), but this movie, to my mind, goes so far trying to depict evil that the villains leave behind all (or most) of their sinisterness and enter the realm of laughable caricatures. Profion is the quintessential mad scientist of the fantasy world, spending the entire movie (minus his scenes in front of the advisors) with a wild, manic look on his face, yelling at everyone and planning to either conquer the world or destroy it. Meanwhile, Damodar is given the opposite cliché, being soft-spoken and deliberate in everything he says, clearly dictating and enunciating every. Last. Word. He also wears armor that screams menace, has a shaved head (in movies, rarely a sign of a friendly man), abstains from facial expressions of any sort other than pain, and for some reason, spends the whole movie with blue lips.
He’s also got these things in his head. Eeugh!
A perfectly sane and rational expression
Finally, there’s the trope of the antihero with a heart of gold. Ridley presents himself as a thief out for no one but himself (and Snails, of course), but as soon as he’s faced with the consequences of failing to help Marina and the Empress, he betrays that nature, stopping at nothing to make sure Marina stays safe and Profion’s plans get thwarted. And of course, he has a special destiny about which he’s unaware, because what hero doesn’t these days?
“Now, should I use this to get rich or to get laid?… Why not both?!”
On to the standards. The CGI was above average, though it definitely missed once or twice. Considering that this is not a SyFy Channel movie, the CGI was at least as good as expected. Sadly, despite involving a number of well-known actors (besides those mentioned, it also has Lee Arenberg, of Once Upon a Time and Pirates of the Caribbean et al fame), the acting was not this movie’s strong point. The writing was passable but nothing special (though it was refreshing to see overall decent line delivery for a change). The music was suitably epic, but again, nothing remarkable. Overall, this was somewhat better than most movies I review (as expected) but definitely worse than the vast majority of medium-budget studio releases.
A miss and a sort-of hit, plus the best the CGI gets with those ear things. Eeugh!
Lee Arenberg as Elwood Gutworthy, wondering why he’s in this thing
So what did this movie do well?
As many of you know, I am a huge nerd and an enormous geek (if you didn’t know that, just read… well, pretty much any of my blog entries). Dungeons and Dragons (the game) holds a special place in my heart, including some very good memories from my childhood. I know that the stereotype of D&D is socially awkward teenage boys sitting around in a basement rolling dice, and while that stereotype is not without basis (to be fair, we often used the dining room table), D&D in its best incarnation is so much more than that. I find it interesting that, in our society, gamers (of all stripes) are often derided as living in a fantasy world (and yes, this is much less true today than it was, say, ten or twelve years ago, but even today some of my good friends have difficulty understanding why I play computer games), while authors are celebrated, at least nominally. I’m not trying to imply, of course, that writers don’t deserve appreciation and recognition, as I’ve tried writing stories from time to time, and it is nothing resembling easy. However, the point I want to make here is that D&D, in its best interpretation, is a form of collaborative storytelling. All the players, both character players and dungeon master (the person who provides the setting and obstacles to be overcome), work together to create and develop a world that can be as rich and detailed and interesting as any best-selling novel. The main difference is that the story in D&D is written by several people, not just one.
“Several people, you say? Tell me more!”
The point of all this is that, to my mind, the Dungeons & Dragons movie captured this feeling very well, although certainly not perfectly. But the characters in the movie made meaningful choices that affected the outcome of the overall plot in significant ways, which is just as it should be in a good D&D game. The writers had a certain lack of imagination, of course (Ridley and Co. are trying to find the Scepter of Red Dragon Control, which involves bringing the Eye of the Dragon to the Temple of the Dragon, for instance), but having been in the position of creating a D&D adventure, I’m willing to forgive them for it, given the justice they did to the spirit of the game. So while the technical aspects left quite a bit to be desired, the essence of the movie was definitely well-conceived and interpreted.
So, I guess one of these controls dragons, and the other helps them see? Or maybe fits inside them? And there’s a temple somewhere?…
Finally, since this is Jumping Sharks, and I do try to make a point of looking at science stuff, I will bring up the one science thing I noticed. At the beginning of the movie, Profion is trying to create his own dragon-controlling scepter, but fails, resulting in him killing the dragon he had hoped to control. When its blood reaches a pool of nearby water, the water ignites, lighting up the entire river in the city. Ridley notices this, and asks Snails when was the last time he saw a river catch on fire. However, something that seems so impossible is actually not so! For instance, the Cuyahoga River, in Ohio, is probably best known for lighting on fire multiple times throughout history, most notably in 1969, a fire which resulted in passage of a multitude of clean water legislation, among other things. Additionally, some metals are so reactive in their non-ionized state that simply by placing them in water, they ignite (I’m looking at you, Lithium and Sodium!). To be fair, the water itself is not burning, but rather certain materials in the water; however, the point is that flame on top of water is not impossible.
Once more, just ’cause. Eeugh!
So that’s that. Stayed tuned for the second Dungeons & Dragons movie later this week and remember – shark week is coming!
I’m going to start this entry with a bit of Bible study, just to make sure everyone’s on the same page. This movie deals (loosely; oh, so loosely) with the story of Noah, and the ark he built to save humanity from God’s wrath in the form of a flood. The short version is that people had become corrupted, except for Noah and his family, so God instructed him to build an ark and load up two of every animal, and then he and his family were to get on and ride out forty days and forty nights of rain that destroyed the rest of the world. (As an interesting side-note, the idea of a flood destroying the early world is found in a good many religions.)
Monster Ark is an archaeological tale (meaning inevitable homages to Indiana Jones, some intentional, some incidental) in which Dr. Nicholas Zavaterro (Tim DeKay, White Collar, Tell Me You Love Me) uncovers a long-lost Dead Sea Scroll that contains the original version of the Book of Genesis. Wanting to ensure the best translation is made, he takes it to his ex-wife Dr. Ava Greenway (Renée O’Connor, Boogeyman 2, Xena: Warrior Princess). After some effort (science montage!) they find that the scrolls talk about two arks built by Noah, one that survived translation throughout the centuries and was described in the Bible, and another that was used to transport the last demon to the ends of the earth to be banished. Unfortunately, the forces of darkness managed to cause this second ark to sink as it crossed the ocean, and the cage containing the demon was lost. However, because people are, historically, stupid, someone had written down coordinates (who knew they had GPS back then?) in the scrolls, so the two doctors head out to Iraq with a couple of graduate students and a squad of US Army soldiers to find the ark, predictably unleashing the demon on the world.
Left – Dr. Nicholas Zavaterro; right – Dr. Ava Greenway
Left – Joanna; right – Joanna and Russell
Left – Sgt. Gentry; right – Sgt. Gentry and his ineffectual weapon
The acting in this movie fell into two camps. The first is the scientists – DeKay, O’Connor, and the grad students (Amanda Crew and Bill Parks) are all pretty solid, and are definitely a step up from the SyFy norm. Then the first half-hour or so of the movie ends, and for the remaining hour, we’re left having to come to terms with rather unfortunate impressions of soldiers (led by Tommy Lister). Additionally, the CGI was sparing and, as such, was again an improvement over most SyFy, until the end, when a very sad-looking CGI thunderstorm, complete with very sad-looking CGI lightning, forced its way on screen, as though to drive home the point that this movie is a Sci Fi Pictures movie.
Left side of picture – sad lightning 😦
Lamentably, the cliché count is rather high in this movie. First, there’s the beginning, wherein Dr. Zavaterro and his grad students are at a dig site in Israel; when they find a long-lost chamber, the locals they’ve hired to dig refuse to open it, citing reference to a curse chiseled into the outer stone. This really touches on two clichés, that of ancient curses and warnings being left on doors to tombs and various resting places (which, of course, they were), and that of local diggers being superstitious (which I suppose they might be, but always strikes me as kind of over the top). Second, there’s the recurring theme throughout the movie of the dichotomy between science and evidence on the one hand and religion and belief (separate from proof) on the other. Here’s my issue with this juxtaposition – science and religion really aren’t mutually exclusive. There are plenty of religious scientists, and there are plenty of religious people who trust that science knows what it’s doing (modern-day politicians notwithstanding). The fact that movies, tv shows, etc. continually show scientists as ardent champions of atheism, trying at every turn to disprove all religion, is way too narrow, and way too overdone. (Yes, I realize that there are scientists like this out there, chief among them Richard Dawkins; but, though I may be mistaken about this, I like to believe that scientists actively trying to disprove religion are few and far between.) Finally, surprise surprise, the monster ark is guarded by its very own secret society. The descendents of Noah apparently took it upon themselves to preserve the secret location of the monster ark to ensure that the demon never escaped. Predictably, they failed without much effort on the part of our heroes. Strange how these secret societies always manage to keep a secret for umpteen thousand years, yet always end up looking kinda incompetent when a few people come along and unwittingly bypass their supposedly foolproof countermeasures…
“The cleverly disguised maps to the demon will throw everyone off the trail!”
Now, a riddle for you – if I shoot my Army-issue gun at a demon made of stone, with no noticeable effect, what should I try next? If you answered “the mythical staff that was originally used to subdue the creature”, then you’re better-prepared for such a situation than anyone in this movie, because the best they could come up with was “more bullets”. I seem to recall something like that being the definition (or one of them, at least) of insanity.
Bullets don’t work! Try more bullets!
The aforementioned staff was, of course, buried in Noah’s tomb along with him, but the location was known only to the aforementioned secret society. It’s a good thing someone long ago decided to build a map room straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. This was the most obvious, and most avoidable, Indiana Jones reference in the movie. (There were others, of course, but they were varying degrees of subtler.) And wouldn’t you know it, but the nonbeliever Dr. Zavaterro has a miraculous conversion along the way. He uses his newfound, hours-old (if that) religiousness to King Arthur Noah’s staff out of a sarcophagus that was supposedly Noah’s tomb, thereby giving him the power to subdue the demon and confine it once again in its monster ark, which brings me to this little gem – it’s difficult to watch this movie and not see the monster as the physical manifestation of Zavaterro’s refusal to believe in God. After all, it was after he had given himself over to God completely, turning to blind faith, that he found the staff allowing him to save the day. Moreover, he only was able to find the staff because he didn’t doubt his faith. He was also able to reconcile with his ex-wife because of it. Which brings us back to the beginning of the review portion of this entry – why can’t science and religion get along?
As a final, parting thought, I want to mention something in this movie that I, as a scientist, appreciated. When Dr. Zavaterro and his team bring the scroll to Dr. Greenway, there is the briefest of science montages, but then a cut-away with the caption “3 weeks later”. I would like to applaud this movie for recognizing the basic fact that science and research are not things that can yield solid results in minutes, and only rarely in hours. Of course, I suspect that three weeks is absolutely no time at all when one is trying to translate an ancient scroll, but it was still good to see some reference to the fact that science, as a discipline, typically takes time. (For a more accurate summary of science vs. montages, click here.)
Tune in next week for more sharks jumping; I can hear the splashing now!
So now we come to the final chapter in the adventures of Jack Hunter. For my take on part 1 (Jack Hunter and the Lost Treasure of Ugarit) and part 2 (Jack Hunter and the Quest for Akhenaten’s Tomb), follow their respective links.
At the end of part 2, evil, beard-wearing German Albert Littmann (Thure Riefenstien) had managed to escape Egypt with a legendary staff and an idea of where to look for a companion artifact. Part 3 begins with the NSA trying to apprehend Albert in order to gain possession of the staff. When Jack Hunter (Ivan Sergei) interferes with the operation, he gets taken in to NSA headquarters in Turkey, where he provides evidence that the second artifact Albert is searching for was in Constantinople at one point. So off he goes, meeting up with Nadia Ramadan (Joanne Kelly) once more to find Albert and try one last time to take the staff from him. As the treasure hunt continues, it becomes necessary to enlist the help of Nadia’s old flame, leading to several betrayals. Finally, during the ultimate confrontation, a lot of people die, things explode, and the earth is saved once again by Jack and Co.
Look! A betrayal!
Before I begin my critique, I realize that I need to retract something I said in my review of part 2. Therein, I claimed that Albert had an unexplained character reversal by making the choice to keep Jack, Nadia and Tariq alive while showing no hesitation to kill tens of miscellaneous workers during the first episode in the miniseries. However, in the third part of the series, he directly articulates that he wants to keep Jack alive in order to work with him. So I apologize, Albert; I mistook your seeming change of heart for Bond-villain stupidity when it was, in fact, compassionate stupidity. I’m sorry. Now, on to the critique.
In this final installment of the adventures of Jack Hunter, we have yet another car chase, this time through the streets of Istanbul. Ignoring the overdone use of car chases through the streets of big cities in action movies in general, there’s a moment where Jack mentions how remarkable it is that he’s still being followed, after all of the evasive driving he’s done. What he seems to be forgetting is that it shouldn’t be too hard to follow someone, even at higher speeds, when they only make two, maybe three turns total. I’m not an expert driver, but I do suspect many people would be able to follow him through those two or three turns. Especially when it looks as though they don’t get going much faster than about 40 mph or so (though that estimate is a wild guess, and based on nothing whatsoever).
There was one scene in this episode with horrendous CGI, and it wasn’t what you’d expect. There were no monsters in the series, very few supernatural occurrences, and overall, very little use of special effects. Except for one unfortunate scene with fire. Some thugs light a pool of gasoline on fire, allowing the flames to make their way to a gas tank, causing it to explode in order to kill our heroes (who, needless to say, escape in the nick of time). But rather than film, you know, actual fire in a controlled environment, they use CGI flame that stands out so badly from the rest, it’s hard not to notice how fake it is.
Our heroes, more concerned about losing their passports than about the fake fire they “barely” survive.
I’ve written before on the use of flashback montages in movies, and while part 1 of Jack Hunter had one montage on which I remember remarking while watching the episode, I was willing to overlook it as it was also mixed with images from the present and generally served to demonstrate Jack’s grief at the murder of his mentor. Then part 3 of Jack Hunter came around. This time, the montage was used to drill into the viewers’ skulls the idea that Nadia had in fact finally fallen in love with Jack and Jack with Nadia, and that they were coming to terms with that. But anyone – anyone – who has seen movies of this nature before knew, from the beginning, that they would overcome all their differences and end up together, at least for a time. Viewers are intelligent, on the whole; they don’t need a five minute montage of scenes from the miniseries to remind them that Jack and Nadia care about each other. Part 3 made that pretty clear on its own, and the buildup while watching parts 1 and 2 only helped add to that. But, much as I am doing right now, the director decided to spell out every last reason why they fall for each other, and ends up with a fairly eye-roll-worthy scene.
Now to the end of the miniseries. By the end of the episode, Albert has both artifacts – the staff and a ring that fits on top of it – and is getting ready to sell them to the Russian mob. Jack has already called the NSA to let them know where the deal is happening, but he, Nadia, Tariq and Nadia’s former fling drive out there to try to stop Albert because the NSA might not get there in time. In order to distract the half-dozen machinegun-armed Russian mobsters, everyone gets out of the car and then Jack sends it directly into the meeting between Albert and the lead Russian. Naturally, all the lackeys open fire with their machineguns and, this being an action movie, naturally the car explodes. Completely. Big fireball, shrapnel, no more car – all from machinegun fire aimed at the engine of the car (not even the gas tank). Later, using a confiscated machinegun, Jack manages to do the same to a helicopter. Mythbusters demonstrated that this was essentially impossible, unless using the right ammunition from the right distance. In other words, both car and helicopter should have survived the final scene.
Left – the third member of the evil beard society (the lead Russian). Right – the guys who open fire on the NSA.
I’m gonna take a moment now and address Hollywood. Hey, Hollywood. I know you like big explosions and bullets, and what could be better than combining the two? Well, have you thought about realism? You make so many action movies that try to be mostly realistic, and then this sort of thing comes along. Stop. Just stop. Cars can still be incapacitated by bullets – bullets can destroy engines, they can cause fuel leaks, they can put cars out of commission in so many ways; just stop allowing bullets to cause cars to explode. Okay? Okay. Glad we had this talk.
Anyway, eventually the NSA shows up – I’m talking twenty or thirty agents in tactical combat gear (bulletproof armor, actually good guns, etc.) in order to take down the dozen bad guys with no such protection and not even any cover (the NSA agents have rocks and such to hide behind). So the Russians do the smart thing and surrender, right? Of course not. They start shooting, as though that’s a good idea. To me, this makes no sense at all, and of course, the Russians all end up dead. Of course, so does the NSA team, but that’s because it turns out that the staff and ring, when combined, form a really big laser gun, which Albert then uses to vaporize everyone (except Jack and Co., obviously). Long story short, Jack manages to disarm Albert, the staff gets thrown into lava, and Albert gets thrown in after it. (SPOILER ALERT – the bad guy dies.) Which brings me to my next point – what’s the deal with movies having characters getting thrown into fire to kill them? Look at this series, look at Lord of the Rings, and look at pretty much any Disney movie ever. The villains always get thrown into pits of fire. What’s up with that?
Ring… plus staff… equals LASER!
The last thing I need to say about this series is that it was filmed on location in Turkey. And that, to me, is pretty awesome.
So that’s it for the adventures of Jack Hunter, Indiana Jones wannabe, and for the first in the occasional Jumping Sharks feature Miniseries Week. I hope you enjoyed it, and check back here next week for more movie reviews.
For those of you just joining us, this week Jumping Sharks introduced the first in an occasional feature, Miniseries Week. The first entry can be found here, in case you missed it.
The good guys – Tariq, Jack, Nadia, Lena (l to r, left pic).
When we left Jack Hunter (Ivan Sergei) and Nadia Ramadan (Joanne Kelly), the evil bearded German archaeologist Albert Littmann (Thure Riefenstein) had beaten them to the legendary treasure of Ugarit and absconded with a staff of unnatural power. The second part in the miniseries starts off with an excavation in Giza, led by Lena Halstrom (Alaina Huffman, SGU Stargate Universe, Painkiller Jane), finding an ancient obelisk with Ugaritic markings on it. She brings in Jack to help decipher what the writing says, not knowing that Jack has already been recruited by the National Security Agency to track down the staff and another artifact that goes with it. The obelisk leads them on a treasure hunt to find Akhenaten’s tomb, and has them run afoul of the Russian mob (who are backing Albert), a colonel in the Egyptian army (who wants to use the discovery of Akhenaten’s tomb to get promoted), and a gang of bandits whose leader claims to be a descendent of Akhenaten and therefore the rightful heir of the treasure. As the three groups periodically encounter each other, hilarity ensues.
The bad guys – Albert Littmann (top left); Egyptian army colonel (top right); leader of secret society (bottom)
First, I’d like to bring up this little adventure movie trope – whenever these movies have ancient artifacts/secrets/locations of legendary importance, why do they always – always – have secret societies guarding them? Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Secret society. The Mummy? Secret society. The Da Vinci Code? Hell, that whole movie is about a secret society. I get that these things need to have bad guys, and that secret societies are easy enough to explain without going into a lot of detail; but when Jack Hunter already has the Russian mob and the Egyptian army after him, does he really need to have a secret society chasing him, too?
Second, we have a return of the “that guy has a bad-guy beard, he must be a bad guy” issue, this time on an Egyptian. So now we have a German with a bad-guy beard and an Egyptian with a very similar beard, both trying to use our hero to find the treasure so they can take it for themselves. You’d think one of them might have a scar or an eye patch or something…
Maybe they’re both members of the same secret beard society…
Three more points – they have a scene wherein a car gets hit by a truck, and of course, the men in the car race out of it, getting out and away just before it explodes. In a big ball of fire. When where was no fire present after the crash. I’m not gonna say it’s impossible (I’ll let this website do that instead), but seeing completely unrealistic car crashes in every action movie ever is getting kinda old. Next, there’s a scene where our hero uses a gunfight between the Egyptian army and the secret society to escape, but the only way out is by jumping into a lake. Here’s the thing – he has a book on him with all of his notes about the Ugarit treasure that he’s tracking. Obviously, in a choice of his life or the book, I’d expect him to choose his life; what I wouldn’t expect is for the book to show absolutely no signs of damage later on in the episode, despite lacking any special protective covering and being carried in a satchel (not even a backpack). Again, not entirely impossible, I suppose, but certainly extremely improbable. Finally, our villain (the German one, not the other two) is led to a site he believes to be the tomb, but doesn’t find what he’s looking for and gives up to go search elsewhere. But before he goes, he has his men seal Jack, Nadia and Jar Jar – I’m sorry; Tariq – in the tomb. This is the same man who, in the first part of the miniseries, has a whole excavation team killed because they knew too much, but now he’s showing compassion and making the classic bad-guy mistake of locking the heroes inside? I get that dehydration is a much crueler way to kill someone, but isn’t shooting them the safest way to do so? Oh Bond villains, how misled you’ve made modern bad-guys…
Top left – a car blowing up completely realistically; top right – our villain about to give up; bottom – what happens after he does
And while this episode did leave out the unnecessary Indiana Jones references, it included two unnecessary gangster movie references. So that’s a plus? Kinda? Maybe?… Anyways, stay tuned for the final installment of the adventures of Jack Hunter here on Jumping Sharks.
Continuing this week’s theme of adventure movies, Jumping Sharks is also proud to bring you the first installment of a semi-regular feature, Miniseries Week. First, let me make it crystal clear – this is a completely original miniseries, in no way stealing anything at all from Indiana Jones. Nope. No siree. Well, maybe just a bit. Okay, maybe a bit more than a bit. Oh, alright – they basically copied Indiana Jones, right down to his trademarked hat. Let’s see how they did.
I can’t tell them apart! Which is which?!?
The first installment in this three-part miniseries starts off with only-in-it-for-the-money archaeologist Jack Hunter (Ivan Sergei, Gravity, Jack & Jill) stealing a tablet, originally from the lost city of Ugarit, with details of a lost treasure. When the tablet leads to the murder of his mentor, Jack heads off to Syria to find the treasure and track down the murderers, teaming up with Syrian archaeologist Nadia Ramadan (Joanne Kelly, Warehouse 13) in a race to beat sinister German archaeologist/treasure-hunter Albert Littmann (Thure Riefenstein, Die Machtergreifung, Schwarz greift ein – seriously, we’re still using Germans as villains?) to the mythical treasure. Naturally, our heroes do all the work while our villain is content to follow after. Zero plot turns (okay, there might be one or two) and at least three obvious Indiana Jones references (not counting the hat) later, we have the villain escaping with a legendary scepter that has supernatural powers, conveniently setting us up for the second part of the series, to be discussed in a future post.
You can tell he’s evil ’cause of the beard.
So, let’s begin with the beginning. Mediocre acting (at best) – check. Poor CGI – check, although there was thankfully little of it. Overly dramatic dialogue – major check. Now, I’d like someone to explain the following to me – in the opening scene, Jack Hunter sneaks into a private museum guarded, as you would expect, by rent-a-cops. Of course he triggers the alarm, causing the guards to come running. But when the first guard to get there doesn’t shoot Jack and instead gets disarmed (because for some reason, he figures that he can’t actually shoot someone unless he’s two feet away from them), all of a sudden our guard is able to throw Jack against the wall and lift him a foot or two off the ground by his neck, but then goes back to being not a terribly good fighter, as one would expect from an average private security guard. So where did that neck thing come from? Can anyone tell me? Is it easier than I’m guessing to lift someone by their neck?
Indiana Jon – I mean, Jack Hunter and the Raiders of the – I mean…
Moreover, when our villain gets introduced, I’m sorry to say that the movie resorts to the unfortunate cliché of having him gun down a bunch of innocent workers excavating a site for him, just to let us know that he’s evil. On top of that, he also spends a certain amount of time breaking antiquities seemingly to accentuate the fact that, yes, he is in fact evil. As if his being German wasn’t enough…
It’s like Satan Himself gave him that beard…
Speaking of movie clichés, there’s a fight scene in an antiquities shop during which it seems like the fighters go out of their way to break as many things as possible. I’m not saying this is unrealistic or anything, but I do have to say it’s an incredibly overdone trope. I also have to wonder about the following little exchange – after returning with the tablet, Jack gets into an argument with his mentor about going after the treasure, wherein Jack says that he doesn’t care about the treasure despite being, according to his mentor, the person with the most knowledge of the Ugaritic language in the world. Now, I’m not a scientist – oh wait; yes I am! As a scientist, I can’t easily imagine a situation wherein someone would study an ancient language, which I can’t easily imagine is easy to understand well enough to read and interpret, without having a keen interest in the culture, on the whole, from which that language originates. That just doesn’t make sense to me, as a scientist, and so it doesn’t make sense that Jack would not want to go after the treasure. But maybe that’s just me.
Devil-beard agrees with me.
Two more points that struck me as odd/unfortunate/bizarre – there’s a car chase scene (because of course there’s a car chase scene), part of which includes a passenger in the attacking car shooting into the air. At first I thought he was intentionally trying to not harm our heroes (instead trying to force them to stop), but later it is revealed that he was, in fact, shooting at them. Which I don’t really see as being possible, given that our heroes’ car was next to the shooter’s, and not above it. The other point that stuck out was that of the obligatory comic-relief sidekick. Clearly the creators of this miniseries didn’t learn anything from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace because the character they created to be comic relief is what I would imagine an Arab version of Jar Jar Binks to be. He has eccentric hand gestures, a very bouncy way of moving, and even refers to himself in the third person way too often. He also bears a striking visual resemblance to the Gungan and has a voice in an eerily similar register. I would have thought they’d have learned, but noooooo, learning would be too easy.
I’m seeing double!
However, there are two things I thought this first part of the miniseries did well. First of all, Jack Hunter actually makes intelligent use of technology – he takes pictures of things and uploads them onto his laptop, instead of relying on the physical copies that always manage to either get stolen or broken. The other thing this episode did that I thought was surprisingly well-done was the music. Very rarely does a movie on SyFy Channel make me remark on how fitting the music is, at it tends to be fairly rote and uninspired. Maybe I’m a sucker for the large, open orchestral style, but I found myself pleasantly surprised, at multiple parts of the episode, by how good the music was. Too bad that doesn’t happen more often…
So where does all that leave us for this, the first part of the legendary tale of Jack Hunter? Well, it leaves us more or less where we’d guess we’d end up just based off the premise – with a predictable Indiana Jones rip-off, right down to the hat. I know it goes without saying, but Harrison Ford did it better.
Finally, on a serious note, given where I went to college I would be betraying my alma mater if I didn’t comment on this point. The below images are clearly remarkably similar, but with one glaring difference – the female co-star has been taken out of the one on the right. I don’t know why that change was made or how extensively each was used to advertise the episode, but it strikes me as a pointless devaluation of the female role in this miniseries, and I can’t imagine a situation where such a change would be desirable. It’s not as though she was cropped out of the image to make it fit a smaller area – I can only guess that she was deliberately taken out of the right-hand poster to help focus more attention on the hero. (We here at Jumping Sharks don’t intend on preaching to our audience too often, but this, to us, seemed too blatant to not at least mention.)
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?