2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Six

As we go about our daily routines one thing we may or may not pay heed to is the weather…unless it gets bad. Our civilization deals with constant disasters that strike us like hurricanes, volcanoes, tsunamis, blizzards and whatnot. But a very rare but real occurrence are the super disasters that threaten not only our way of life but all life on Earth.

Doomsday Scenario No. 7: Super Disasters Cometh

Ever since Hurricane Katrina, the deadly tsunamis in Japan and Southeast Asia and the cries about global warming, we’ve become all-too-aware about how nature can suddenly uproot us; sometimes without warning. There are several movies, cable programs and books that go into detail about these so-called super disasters. One of the mainstays on Syfy’s Saturday night schedule are movies about unlikely yet destructive disasters. While The History and Science Channels have a plethora of specials about these potential super disasters. Here are just a sampling:

  • Hypercanes: As its name sounds, a hypercane is a super hurricane that could occur if ocean temperatures reach about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. What causes this would be asteroid strikes, supervolcanoes or climate change. Hypercanes could be large enough to cover an area the size of North America and would have wind speeds of over 500 mph. That is inconceivable to our thinking when a Category Five hurricane is one that has wind speeds of over 157 mph. The storm surges would devastate coastal regions leading to countless death and destruction, but what is really frightening is that they could last a long time. A recent movie that depicted a hypercane (though its accuracy has been called into question) is The Day After Tomorrow.
  • Megatsunamis: Think of those deleted scenes from The Abyss where the underwater aliens threaten humanity’s coastal cities with gigantic tidal waves and that gives you an idea of what to expect from a megatsunami. What would cause such a catastrophe would be impact events like a meteor hitting the ocean or a supervolcano. Many scientist believe that if the Canary Islands’ Cumbre Vieja volcano were to erupt the event would create megatsunamis that would devastate England and the North American east coast.
  • Global Warming Effects: The controversy over what causes global warning or climate change rages on but the impact is starting to be felt by Earth. Let’s flash forward a few decades or centuries from now and look at what is in store. First of all, the ice sheets in both poles melt completely. Not only does this doom indigenous wildlife there but will probably raise the ocean levels by about forty feet. That is enough to flood parts of Florida, Louisiana, London, Southeast Asia, Belgium and The Netherlands, and other low-lying regions. That would result in mass migrations, droughts, scarce resources and finally civil unrest. At first the world’s temperatures would rise, including the oceans, thus leading to hypercanes. But it has been theorized that ultimately climate change would bring about a premature ice age. The film A.I. Artificial Intelligence showed this happening to Earth most famously with those scenes showing a flooded Manhattan and later with an ice age occurring two thousand years later. The Day After Tomorrow inaccurately has an ice age happening seemingly instantly as the Earth suffers through the devastating effects of global warming.
  • Supervolcanoes: This mega disaster is especially frightening for two reasons. We have very little means to accurately predict them, let alone locate all the supervolcanoes or calderas on Earth (scientists believe our planet may have as many as forty supervolcanoes). The other reason is because this event is fast and incredibly destructive. The Discovery Channel/BBC One aired a special years ago called Supervolcano about the eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera in Wyoming. Also Harry Turtledove penned a new trilogy of books about the same caldera (the first book out is Supervolcano: Eruption).The special presented a fairly accurate and frightening account of what would happen when the caldera erupts. First there will be constant earthquakes before the eruption. When the supervolcano blows, it will unleash toxic gas clouds and sulfuric ash that will blanket the skies over Earth for years. This in turns makes the air unbreathable and block sunlight. Obviously plant life will die off and food supplies will dwindle for the remaining humans who by then will be reduced to a meager stone-age level of existence. It actually happened 74,000 years ago in Toba, Sumatra. Fossil records show that humanity nearly went extinct from that event. But what curdles the mind is that the Yellowstone Supervolcano erupts roughly every 600,000 years and it turns out it is overdue. So it can happen in our lifetime.

There are many other mega disasters that Earth faces that are nearly incomprehensible because we haven’t experienced them (or they happened in our prehistory). Frankly if or when they occur there is very little we can do to prevent them. At that point the best we can do is literally hunker down and plan on surviving as a species.

Advertisements

Is The Bubble Expanding On Superhero Films?

Last year, there was a lot of speculation about the lasting power of superhero films. Many believed that they were on the way out due the way they underperformed in the box office in 2011.

There were three films in 2011 based on Marvel Comics characters (Thor, X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The First Avenger) while DC Comics’ Green Lantern was also released as a film. While the Marvel films did respectably in the box office they weren’t supersized hits like The Dark Knight or the first Iron Man movie. Still they were well-received by fans and critics and did well enough to warrant sequels.

Green Lantern however, was a different story. As everyone knows, the film was a huge disappointment to many fans and didn’t make a lot of money. According to Box Office Mojo, the big-budgeted Green Lantern only earned $116 million with a worldwide total of $222 million domestically.

Many factors went into account for the disappointing box office sales in 2011. Some blamed the lack of popularity of some characters. The general public may know who Batman is, but brining up Green Lantern would raise eyebrows. With X-Men: First Class, many said that it may have made more money if it featured more well-known mutant characters and if the franchise didn’t have the stigma of recent inferior entries. Others pointed to a general burnout for such films and inferior 3D conversions (which thanks to bad word-of-mouth would dampen sales). Unless the film was phenomenal many would rather wait for DVD.

With that, while this year’s crop of films had fairly positive buzz late last year, there were concerns when 2012 began as to how good this year’s superhero films would turn out. Nerves weren’t helped by the failure of Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance but the superhero genre showed earlier this year that it had some life left with the success of Chronicle. There seemed to be cautious hope that The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises would do well. The heavy-hitting properties starring the companies’ flagship heroes were to affirm the popularity of superhero films.

Of course, the release of The Avengers changed everyone’s perceptions about superhero films. It featured characters that were seeded years earlier, so that lesser-known heroes like Hawkeye were paired up with superstars like Iron Man. But more importantly the film was well made and able to generate a super-frenzied buzz before its release. To date The Avengers has made $598 million domestically and nearly a staggering $1.5 billion worldwide according to Box Office Mojo.

Seemingly overnight, upcoming superhero films are now highly anticipated regardless of past hesitations. For example, while many fans decried Bane’s voice in early trailers for The Dark Knight Rises, adjustments were made to alleviate those concerns, even though the jury is still out on Catwoman. The final Christopher Nolan Batman film will undoubtedly do well. It may not perform as well as The Avengers but count on it being one of the year’s biggest hits.

The Amazing Spider-Man is also poised to do well. There are many detractors about the validity of a reboot so soon after Sam Raimi’s trilogy but many are impressed by what’s being shown on clips and trailers and it has a major marketing push behind it (plus this year being Spidey’s 50th anniversary can’t hurt). The film will probably finish behind The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises in terms of sales. Another factor that could help the new Spider-Man film is that it is coming in a bit of a lull between the other two superhero films. Currently, other films are topping the charts but don’t seem to have the staying power that The Avengers had and The Dark Knight Rises will probably dominate the box office for the remainder of the summer.

If one or both of the upcoming superhero films reaches blockbuster status expect the floodgates to open even further for future superhero films. Apparently stunned by the spectacular success of The Avengers, DC Entertainment announced that a Justice League film is in development. Anticipation seems to be growing over next year’s slate of superhero epics–Iron Man 3, The Man Of Steel, Thor 2 and The Wolverine. Furthermore, Marvel has announced that there will be follow ups to The Amazing Spider-Man and X-Men: First Class (with new stars like Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence reprising their roles) in 2014, as well as a new Captain America film, and another unannounced Marvel film. There are plans to bring back to the silver screen Daredevil and the Fantastic Four as well as big-screen debuts for Black Panther, Ant-Man, Wonder Woman, Lobo, and the Flash. Even Kick-Ass which only did respectably in theaters is getting a sequel.

At this point, it’s too early to say where all this will go, but two things are certain: 1) we’re in the Golden Age of Superhero Films and 2) despite some failures they are now a well-established movie genre that will stay for some time to come.

José Soto

Polarizing Views On Prometheus

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ridley Scott’s film Prometheus brought out significant debate among our writers who fell into two differing camps. Presented are two separate viewpoints on the film, both pro and con. Warning: Spoilers ahead.

PRO: This is an excellent movie!

According to the folks behind the film, it’s supposedly “not-an-Alien-prequel” set in Ridley Scott’s Alien universe. The story revolves around the Weyland Corporation crew of the spaceship Prometheus searching for life on a far away planet. Not just any life, but searching for ones who may have created the human race.

Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron both did a great job in Prometheus portraying scientist Elizabeth Shaw and Weyland administrator Meredith Vickers respectively. Also, I should mention the acting of Guy Pearce (as Peter Weyland ) and Michael (X-Men: First Class’ Magneto) in another great role as the android David. Good casting all around.

The first Alien movie creeped me out for years. Jim Cameron’s Aliens was more action and suspense. Prometheus is more about discovery, revelations of the origin or mankind, alien biohazards and questioning religious faith in the disturbing world of the Alien universe. Fans of the original film were begging for Scott to return to the Alien Universe. After a few false starts, he finally was able to get the greenlight to direct Prometheus.

It should be noted that 1979’s Alien was a co-creation of a core team of brilliant filmmakers. Directed by Ridley Scott; alien designs by H.R. Giger; interior spaceship designs by Ron Cobb; spacesuits by comic book artist Moebius; produced by Walter Hill and David Giler and written by Dan’O Bannon and Ron Schusset. But no one individual could have produced the first movie on their own. There was no singular vision from one of them. It was a dynamically active collaboration between all of them during the production of the movie. It’s like they all have shared creative custody to the dreaded Alien creation.

After plenty of sequels which were not directed by Scott, it was nice to see many of Alien’s original founding fathers return—with plenty of ideas– Scott, producer Walter Hill, Giger and his designs. Many unexplored concepts that those original Alien founding fathers had are readily extrapolated in this movie.

The settings of the first Alien movie are there, like the space jockey’s horseshoe-shaped ship; the Weyland Corporation; a seemingly psychotic android; a relief sculpture inside the horseshoe spaceship, seen in darkness when a character points the flashlight on the wall that looks like Giger’s alien; human victims unwillingly hosting alien parasites (plenty of those). Also, all the ancillary Giger grey, bony biomechanical structures of the alien ship and tech are very well recreated. It’s got plenty of elements from the Alien universe.

The bio menaces in the movie are built up to show it’s not-the-face-hugger, not Giger’s alien, not-the-eggs, so there’s a whole new set of bio menaces in Prometheus. Believe it or not (can’t help it), Scott’s movie appears to take it in a new direction. Set-in-the-Alien-universe-but-seemingly-not-Alien this new movie proves that Scott is a sly guy. The final seconds of the movie reveal how this movie ties into Alien. Not to spoil it too much, but during the final seconds, the audience in my theatre expressed their approval by uttering, “wowwww”, “nice”, Oh, ok!”

The production design & CGI are truly well done, kudos to the crew. I’m ordering the book Art of Prometheus and the Cinefex issue with the article on the movie.

Thumbs up. Go see Prometheus in theatres. There’s nothing like being spooked by these master storytellers who helped create the Alien franchise. And finally, don’t believe the “not-an-Alien-prequel” marketing campaign. It’s a great addition to the franchise and stay to the end.

GEO

Con: While I do agree with GEO on many of Prometheus’ technical merits (production design, effects, acting), I had many problems with the film.

The first half of the movie was fine, good buildup and all. It begins with humanoid Engineers seeding a planet with their DNA, then Earth scientists in 2089 discover ancient clues leading to the Engineers’ planet. The film jumps ahead a few years later to a spaceship called Prometheus arriving at an Engineer planet with a scientific crew. At this point, I give the filmmakers credit for trying to do more than just a prequel to Alien and the approach was different. Instead of a grungy, beat-up and cramped spaceship like the Nostromo, we get a spacious, state-of-the-art explorer craft with eye-popping holographics (one of the best reasons to see Prometheus in 3D).

028_dp_260_0184_right.1260.jpg

But in the second half of the film, after the crew awaken things that should be left alone, then the film just fell apart thanks to the sloppy writing that left plot holes larger than those organic looking entryways into the Engineers’ ships.

Characters do dumb, illogical things, plot points are brought up, dropped without warning then taken up again; seriously how rushed were writers Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts? No one in production or in the editing room brought up these glaring mistakes?

Let’s go over some of them. During an expedition into the Engineers’ deserted pyramid, two scientist freak out and decide to leave the main expedition, but get stranded inside the structure when a storm approaches. So what do they do? They camp out in a chamber that holds countless vases with mysterious goo and after seeing a hammerhead slug-like creature they act like it’s a puppy, approach it and get attacked! Weren’t they scared by the entire place? Where did their scientific training go? Why not back away instead of leaving yourself open to attack? All of this could have been taken care of if the creature attacked them by surprise.

Later, the Prometheus crew goes back to look for them, finds only one body, make a comment about needing to find the other scientist and the matter is dropped for the next plot development. Of course, the other scientist shows up later and attacks the crew when a few thrills were needed.

Then there’s Elizabeth Shaw’s unexpected pregnancy. That entire plot development was chilling and worked well until after she has the alien fetus removed surgically. Shaw gets up and runs around afterwards after having major surgery! Any woman will tell you who had a cesarean, that running and even walking are impossible. That surgery slices open abdominal muscles that are needed for just walking. The film could’ve thrown in some line about advanced healing therapy in the form of an injection (as was shown later when a paraplegic Weyland was able to walk), something real quick could’ve been shown. But no, this glaring plot hole eluded the production team.

Another problem stemming from this sequence is that nothing is done about the alien fetus by the rest of the crew! No one really pays much mind to Shaw, despite the fact that by this point she’s running around all bloodied and that earlier she was treated as someone who was contagious! The list just goes on, but the point is that these glaring plot holes just took me out of the film.

Ordinarily, minor quibbles can be glossed over and forgotten but when a film just piles one shoddy mistake after another then that’s a problem. I can forgive the fact that the film never answers why the Engineers are so hostile to humans and so on. Those are valid questions set up for a sequel. But when characters lose all common sense and behave irrationally or plot developments don’t make sense, well then it’s time to admit that the film is flawed. Prometheus has many things to admire about it, but sadly too many detractions as well.

José Soto

Top 10 Summer Of 1982 Movies

While we’re in the midst of this summer’s crop of movies, one thing to remember is that it’s the 30th anniversary of the summer of 1982 films. That summer saw the release of many genre classics that are still revered today.

10. Firefox: Clint Eastwood’s stars as an emotionally fragile fighter pilot who is assigned to steal a Soviet stealth fighter plane. The sci-fi twist? The plane’s weaponry operates on thought. This underrated Cold War thriller is tense and riveting with some slick visuals of the plane in action.

9. The Secret Of NIMH: Former Disney animator Don Bluth showed up his old studio with this visually stunning animated feature. Beautiful layouts and designs highlight this tale of a mother mouse seeking aid from a society of rats with artificially enhanced intelligence.

8. Tron: Admittedly, the then-groundbreaking computerized special effects don’t hold up today, but Tron laid the groundwork for future CG productions. This film’s production design is very distinct and otherworldly and Tron gave viewers a fascinating cyberworld to explore in future follow-ups.

7. Conan The Barbarian: Arnold Schwarzenegger was perfectly cast as the title hero in this violent sword-and-sorcery film. While The Terminator truly made him a star, this film put Schwarzenegger on the map as he flexed his mighty muscles and hacked away at his enemies.

6. Poltergeist: Despite the ongoing controversy of who really directed this horror classic (either producer Steven Spielberg or listed director Tobe Hooper), this movie about evil spirits haunting a typical suburban family is very frightening with jump-out-of-your-seat thrills and special effects. It made many wary about falling asleep in front of a TV!

5. The Road Warrior: Technically this movie was released overseas in 1981 but didn’t premiere in the U.S. until the summer of 1982, so that is why it’s on the list. This sequel to Mad Max (about a renegade ex-cop in a dystopian future fighting crazy thugs that rule the highways in their custom vehicles) is actually a thrilling, white-knuckle action flick with kinetic car chases and stunt work.

4. The Thing: John Carpenter helmed this remake of the Howard Hawkes 1950s classic that is actually superior to the original thanks to a moody, paranoid setting and disgustingly gory makeup effects. Unfortunately, this movie about a deadly shape-shifting alien in an Antarctic research base bombed in theaters in the summer of 1982 but has attained a classic status over the years.

3. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece about a lonely boy who befriends a stranded alien won near universal acclaim and was the biggest box office hit for many years. It’s quite a wonder that still holds up today and would rank higher if not for the fact that E.T. hasn’t persevered in the popular culture and geekdom circles as much as the next two movies. Nonetheless, it’s still a terrific film that must be watched by film lovers.

2. Blade Runner: Ridley Scott directed this eye-popping, futuristic, detective noir movie. Blade Runner happens to be one of the earliest and best cyberpunk presentations ever filmed. Harrison Ford stars as Rick Deckard, a specialized cop who is brought out of retirement to hunt down renegade Replicants (synthetic humans). Along with the striking visuals of a crowded, deteriorating Los Angeles, this movie brings up many philosophical questions about what it means to be human and the impact of emotions and memories on souls.

1. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan: As with The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek II set standards for movie sequels. Generally regarded as the best Trek film, many subsequent films in the franchise (and other movie franchises) tried to copy Star Trek II’s winning formula. The movie has great character development, nifty special effects and an engaging storyline about growing old and being obsessed with vengeance. While other movie in this list may be considered superior in terms of the filmmaking talent behind them, Star Trek II is still emulated to this day. How many times has anyone screamed out “Khaaaan!” or talked about the Kobayashi Maru scenario? Also Ricardo Montalban’s classic portrayal of the revenge-minded Khan elevated that character as not just Star Trek’s best villain but as one of the best ever seen on film.

Lewis T. Grove

Falling Skies Returns

Falling Skies premiered last summer and while it was executive produced by Steven Spielberg it didn’t receive half the fanfare and hoopla that Spielberg’s other TV offering Terra Nova did. But Falling Skies did one thing that the other sci-fi show couldn’t, it survived.  This week, TNT premiered the second season of Falling Skies and it picked up where it last left viewers.

At the end of the first season, the show’s protagonist, a history teacher turned freedom fighter, Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) allowed himself to be taken captive by the alien invaders that have conquered the world. The second season premiere episode of Falling Skies (actually two episodes “Worlds Apart” and “Shall We Gather At The River”) takes place three months later in Boston and the Massachusetts countryside. Mason’s group led by the hard-bitten but sympathetic Captain Weaver (Will Patton) are engaging in harassing attacks against the alien skitters (vaguely resembling giant arachnids) and the robotics mechs. During one ambush, Mason’s two sons Hal (Drew Roy) and Ben (Connor Jessup), who was previously enslaved by the aliens, discover a wounded Mason in the melee.

Flashbacks reveal what happened to Tom Mason in the missing time. On board the aliens’ ship Mason is told that his group will be given sanctuary if they stop fighting. He refuses the offerand attacks the aliens’ bipedal overlord. Next thing he knows, he is released along with other military prisoners who are then executed; strangely he is able to escape. Eventually he reunites with the group but he no longer trusts himself. Convinced he has been turned into some kind of sleeper agent, Mason has himself restrained after a parasitic lifeform is found in his eye. The scenes where the group’s doctor, Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) removes the wiggling, worm-like creature were truly cringe inducing.

By the time, Tom Mason has reunited with his friends, it’s obvious that this rag-tag group is very desperate and depleted. Over a hundred people have been killed since Mason’s capture and they are low on supplies. These two episodes do a great job of showing how beaten down these fighters are and yet they keep on fighting. At this point, their primary objective isn’t to overthrow the aliens. They are simply outmatched. Rather their only goal is survival. The production design is excellent, everyone looks believably grungy and their equipment looks worn and well used. And the second season has ramped up the action and the tension.  As one of the few genuine science fiction shows on the air right now, Falling Skies is a well-produced effort and it seems as if the show has found its legs and will hopefully continue to grow. Unlike other genre shows, it’s fairly easy to jump into Falling Skies and watch the interesting story unfold.

Waldermann Rivera