Monday, 5 May 2008

Magma: Volcanic Disaster (2006)

Xander Berkely and Amy Jo Johnson drink heavily and
commiserate about being stuck in this film

Xander Berkeley plays the generically named Dr. Peter Shepard, an expert vulcanologist. When he is not lecturing he travels around the world to research volcanoes, assisted by three male grad students and a perky newcomer, played by Amy Jo Johnson (pink ranger). Supposedly they are brilliant geochemists, but they still take time out on plane rides to explain extremely basic principles of vulcanology to each other. During an expedition to a supposedly dormant Icelandic volcano there is an eruption, evidence that points towards his pet theory, "Exodus". He predicts that the earth's core is expanding and soon every volcano will blow it's top simultaneously. The consequences? Extinction of all life on Earth (dramatic sting). Of course, when Dr. Shepard presents his theory to a room full of government bigwigs, they all laugh it off.

It wouldn't be much of a film if it turned out that the weaselly bureaucrats were right, so soon volcanic activity is erupting all over the place. While Shepard's team are exploring a Columbian mine, one of them is killed when they stupidly wander into a lava tube. To be fair, the lava tube is fitted with electric lighting so you can see how they'd be confused. Also, Shepard's wheelchair-bound mentor and his foxy assistant are killed in Japan (unconvincingly played by Bulgaria) while examining Mount Fuji.

The Doubting Thomas' call Dr. Shepard back to the war room, cap in hand and suitably ashamed. One slimy weasel even hacks into Shepard's servers and steals his data rather than admit he was wrong. Luckily Dr. Shepard has a plan: Launching a bunch of nuclear warheads into the ocean floor, creating fissures that allow the magma to escape safely. Is there any problem that can't be solved with huge explosions?

Soon they've donned scuba gear and are airdropped into the ocean so they can swim onto a submerged nuclear submarine. No time for the sub to surface, there are lives to save! As the multi-national task force undertakes mission "Heal the Earth", the President gives a solemn and rousing speech that hits every cliché imaginable. Unfortunately, the retarded plan fails and the planet is consumed by molten lava. Nah, just kidding, it works perfectly.

We've only got about an hour of screen time here, so we need a few subplots. Luckily Dr. Shepard has an estranged wife (Reiko Aylesworth), and they have long, boring phone conversations throughout the film. Would it surprise you to learn that her life is jeopardised by the volcanic eruptions? And that the events of the film bring them closer together? Only if you've never seen a disaster film before or had one described to you.

This is a Sci-Fi channel movie, so it's lousy with bad CGI. Would it be so bad to have a few scale models? If you're going to have cheap, fake-looking effects then go with the physical effects I say. At least then it looks like things interacting in the real world. In fact, this whole film was probably generated by a computer, so determined is it to hit every disaster movie cliché in the book. I mean, Jesus, at one point the President says "Atlas has shrugged, gentleman. What are we going to do about it?"

The only reason to watch a movie called Magma: Volcanic Disaster, or indeed any movie with the word "disaster" in the title, is to see thousands of panicked citizens running for their lives, famous landmarks consumed by lava, skies choked with black ash, fire raining from the sky, etc. Unfortunately, this film fails to deliver on that front, such large-scale disasters are only hinted at through news reports (one mentions Rome being threatened by Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Etna, which are nowhere near Rome). We do bear witness to a few minor disasters, such as Old Faithful spewing magma onto some unfortunate tourists, but we are usually limited to a handful of cheap Bulgarian extras.

In conclusion: This film is no good.

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