Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NBC’s “Meteor: Path To Destruction” Destroys Planet, Movies

By Lars Trodson

We may have reached a point in time where we have this thing -- and I think it can only be called a “thing” -- that has all the earmarks of a movie but yet, on even the most cursory inspection, you realize it isn’t even a movie at all.

This thing has got a cast of actors whom you presume were actually paid, as well as a screenwriter, a cinematographer and, yes, a director. It has all the crew that goes into what we would once, back in the olden days, would call a movie.

And yet...and yet...it can’t really be called a movie. Because a movie, even the worst God-damn movie ever made, you would argue, was at least being made by people, no matter how delusional they may be, who thought they had talent. So what I mean to say is the guy who made “Myra Breckinridge” or “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” or even, God rest his soul, Ed Wood Jr., at least had the hubris to believe they had the ability to make movies they thought other people would pay money to see.

That time, ladies and gentlemen, may now be past. I enter into evidence the made-for-television movie “Meteor: Path To Destruction”, which debuted on NBC on July 12.

I have to admit that maybe this isn’t even as much fun as it should be. The movie doesn’t even bother to come up with a new name, or, to make a short list, a new plot, new characters, new special effects, or even new cliches.

This film, after all, is called “Meteor”, which is the same name of a movie that had the same plot and situations that was released in 1979 with Natalie Wood and Sean Connery. That “Meteor”, which also starred Henry Fonda, was considered the last, pathetic gasp of the so-called “disaster movie” genre that started with the much-admired “Poseidon Adventure” in 1972.

What nobody has really noticed is that the “disaster movie” genre took about a decade off, and then came back when everyone realized that computer generated effects could finally accommodate the grander dreams hidden inside their more modest predecessors. It is no accident that the the “The Poseidon Adventure” -- which has superior and inventive production values -- has been remade twice.

The reason “Poseidon” (original novel by Paul Gallico) has been remade twice is not because anyone wanted to improve on the original -- it was simply because someone thought the scenes where the wave consumes the ocean liner could be improved upon digitally. What no one took the time to notice was the effects in the original were fine, and the filmmaking after the wave hit -- the editing especially -- was excellent.

Let’s face it, everything since “Jurassic Park” to last year’s remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” are so-called “disaster films” -- they’re just gussied up with big stars and glorious special effects.

But now we can only dream of the days when even the cheesiest remake or not-so-subtle ripoff had first-rate effects and movie stars (think Matthew Broderick and “Godzilla”).

This new “Meteor: Path to Destruction” could easily be confused with the movie “When World’s Collide” (1951), which chronicles the days leading up to when a big fat asteroid slams into Earth. Or “Armageddon” or Steven Speilberg’s remake of “When Worlds Collide” -- due in 2010. It could be mistaken for “Deep Impact” (1999) -- which is about a comet. Or you may think it’s “Earthquake” -- starring Charlton Heston, but that was a terror that came from within, not without. But how could you know?

Not only are the plot elements familiar, so is the title. “Meteor: Path To Destruction” is part of a weird trend where writers and producers have no issue with naming their film after a film or TV show that has come before. I remember a few years ago there was a Queen Latifah movie called “Taxi”, and I just assumed it was a big screen version of the great TV show. But, no. It had no relation.

I just read that there is a new TV show in production called “Parenthood” that has no relation to lovely and charming Ron Howard film of the same name. So it is no wonder that the producers of “Meteor: Path to Destruction” not only trotted out an old name but also every sad element ever presented in any movie of this sort. It has the scientist who no one believes (Christopher Lloyd), the sexy scientist (Marla Sokoloff), the genius who will probably save them only they don’t believe him at first (Jason Alexander), the gruff military man (Ernie Hudson), the gruff but moral law enforcement officer (Stacy Keach) and assorted townspeople who are either violent or compassionate.

It has not one, but two people who run out of gas at convenient plot points. It has a Mexican police officer who sounds like he came out of regional theater in Ohio, and plot holes -- cliche alert! -- you can drive a truck through. And many people in the cast do.

The special effects are beyond terrible. They look muddy and out of perspective. When Stacy Keach looks out over a burnt out field where a small fragment of meteor has landed, the CGI is so inferior that they looked bad on my TV -- which is a Sony more than 25 years old. How they must have looked on HD is mind-boggling.

Let it be noted that in the original “When World’s Collide” the scientists caught wind of the impending collision with Earth months before our beloved, peaceful plant is destroyed. They had time, in 1951, to design and build a rocket ship that would take a select group of people to safety. Then they sent them off into space, not into underground bunkers as they do in the new film.

In “Meteor: Path To Destruction” they only discover the speeding asteroid 48 hours before it will hit our beloved, peaceful planet.

It is obvious, despite advances in science and technology, things have not improved.

Part 2 of “Meteor: Path To Destruction” will air on your local NBC affiliate on July 19.