Disaster Movie Binge

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With exam marking time back for another semester, I was on the lookout for something to watch. It had to require zero thinking to enjoy – I had no wish to be challenged – but be engaging enough so I would still manage to get something out of it. The answer was Amazon Prime and their collection of very, very bad disaster movies.

40 Days and Nights (2012)

Our hero, John (played by Alex Carter, who is better known for his television appearances, including a recurring role in CSI), is an engineer working to develop a new power system for the arks being built by the US Navy, because apparently diesel engines are not a thing. The arks are needed: any time now, a giant tsunami will flood all of the world’s continents and destroy all life. By “any time now” read “the next few days” – while they thought they had months (which I suspect would make this the slowest Tsunami in history), the time to prepare is constantly reduced until the entire operation needs to be completed in days, and the final disaster happens so quickly they get almost no time to prepare. Naturally, if only humans survive the disaster we’ll still be in trouble, so the second plot line concerns trying to load the ark with samples of DNA from as many animals as possible. This seems reasonable. What is less reasonable is storing the samples as far from the ark as possible. This leads to a near-disaster, where the samples are prevented from arriving when the train they are travelling on is hit by a landslide, forcing our back-up hero, Tessa (Monica Keena) to fly to the site of the wreck and select the most essential samples to bring back to the ark. Sadly, she drops half of them – and sadder still, that half contains bee DNA. Bees being the most essential animal on earth (I’m open to this possibility – without bees we would have no mead) necessitates a desperate search for more bees before disaster hits.

I’m not bothering to mention the acting, special effects or direction, because the less said on these the better. But the plot was a fine and beautiful thing, making less sense the further into the movie that you manage to survive. It was an enjoyable ride, so long as you have no objection to losing 90 minutes of your life that you will never regain, and you’re drunk. Plus I retain a special fondness for Asylum movies.

Ice Twisters (2009)

After substantial initial pain, my curiosity was raised when I discovered that the hero of this disaster was an arrogant and unlikable SF author. I’m curious as to who he was modelled on. That said, in this particularly terrible disaster movie, a research project involving cloud seeding with drones goes horribly wrong, producing “vertical weather” in which cold air from high in the atmosphere is pulled down to ground levels – and snap freezing any unfortunate people in the way. Fortunately the aforementioned SF author is on hand, and working with a mixed group consisting of some of the scientists in the project (one of whom carries a grudge, accusing the SF author of plagiarism), and two random university media students, they strive to regain control of the drones and shut the project down. The science in this is everything you would expect. Creating tornados with small drones is an impressive feat, and the notion of vertical weather has a certain appeal. However, when the ultimate solution involves punching a hole in the ozone layer to shut down the tornados, you know that the film might be thinking big, but has absolutely no grasp of science.

Honestly, this one was just terrible. The lead was so unlikeable that no amount of schlock disaster film fan service could overcome just how little I cared about every character on screen. None of the deaths had the remotest impact, none of the characters were worth saving, and in at least one case the desire to see him turned into a popsicle was almost overpowering. Bad science, acting, plots, and characters, with almost no redeeming humour.

2012: Ice Age (2012)

Another of The Asylum’s mockbusters, this was released to capitalise on Roland Emmerich’s 2012 (and completes a trilogy with 2012: Doomsday and 2012: Supernova). Normally the hero of these films is a scientist with special knowledge of the events about to occur. In this one, though, he has almost no special knowledge – just a warning, a rough understanding of what is happening, and the knowledge that somehow he must flee with his family to escape an oncoming glacier. Because in this film the threat is a glacier that has been travelling from Iceland at over 200 mph, ready to smash into the east coast of the United States.

To prevent the imminent destruction of the US, the President declares war against the glacier, launching a squadron of jets to fire missiles into its side. It doesn’t work – I’m not sure who thought that a small number of missiles could stop a 200 mph glacier, but clearly they haven’t had to go up against one before. Indeed, running does seem like the best option, but unfortunately our hero isn’t the best at doing so, being involved in multiple car crashes and one plane crash as he heads to New York – which is, I should note, on the east coast and in the path of the glacier, but it is also where his daughter and her impressively competent boyfriend are located. (If only the rest of the family were as competent – especially the son, who may be the least competent character in disaster movies).

We watched this one as a family, yet we laughed almost the whole way through. The stock footage, cheap CGI effects, bad acting, insane plot and incompetent but mostly likeable characters helped a lot, and covered for what Ice Twisters lacked.

500 MPH Storm (2013)

Some disaster movies like to start things slow, with a series of low-key events hinting at what is to come. Not this one. Minutes after the movie started a massive tornado was sucking up dozens of hot air balloons – the family we are following only survives because they get their balloon inflated late, and decide not to launch. The father – a high school teacher who apparently came up with the design of a massive energy plant that just happens to dramatically change weather patterns – recognises that the storm that took out the balloons is part of several unnatural hurricanes that will combine to create a “hypercane” that will destroy much of the US. Desperate to get to high ground where the impact will be lessened, the family flees by car as the storm chases them through the streets. Typically the same streets – the budget was such that for a painfully long time we’d see a shot of the car being chased by the storm across an industrial site, followed by a shot from inside showing them driving up to a suburban intersection (complete with cars patiently waiting at the lights – if only they had checked their rear-view mirrors), before the cycle would repeat, over and over again.

I know that I’ve complained about some of the plots, and while in a sense that’s to be expected given the genre, in their defence the plots were more-or-less consistent. Not so this time. I’m still not exactly sure what went happened, but there was a lot and none of it seemed to make sense. Still, the characters weren’t a total loss, which puts it one up on some of what I sat through.

Alien Siege (2018)

As far as big-budget disaster movies go, one of my favourites has been Independence Day. It has a plot as dumb as any of these low budget films, but better special effects and, (at least in some roles) better acting. Accordingly, I’m not sure why you would bother making a low budget version – the plot can’t get any worse, but the acting and effects can.

Thus I was pleasantly surprised by Alien Siege. Apparently it is possible to make an Independence Day mockbuster with a worse plot than Independence Day after all. It starts much the same – for various reasons, aliens have sent the required massive spaceship to Earth, and it is now parked over the top of the White House. The President launches the necessary futile attack, then escapes just before a destructive beam destroys the building. Unfortunately for the President his helicopter is damaged and he is forced to land in the nearby countryside, where he teams up with two teenagers and their parents in order to destroy the alien menace. Fortunately, the aliens have a weakness, being inherently allergic to firecrackers.

The aliens themselves are delightfully useless. I mean, we know that stormtroopers have the worst aim in the universe, but at least they don’t take 15 minutes to slowly line up their guns before finally firing. There’s a scene where two of the main characters are desperately trying to reach a car some 50 metres away, and in any normal movie you would expect them to be weaving and dodging the poorly aimed blaster beams. Not so in Alien Siege – they take so long to lift their guns that the best they can manage is a single shot before the humans escape – although subsequently performing a three point turn in front of the aliens isn’t the wisest of plans.

I rather liked the lead – Matthew Pohlkam, who looked the part of a rugged suburbanite with the wherewithal to take on aliens hand-to-hand. The rest of the cast were mostly serviceable and moderately likeable – their acting wasn’t quite on a par with the original Independence Day, but it was amusing. In the end, it was a toss-up between this and 2012: Ice Age for the best, worst disaster movie, although I wouldn’t be foolish enough to recommend either to anyone with taste.

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