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Earth's Final Hours

Director: David Hogan
Cast: Robert Knepper, Julia Benson, Cameron Bright, Bruce Davison

(US DVD: 2 Apr 2013)

Earth’s Final Hours ia a made-for-TV movie broadcast on the SyFy channel and it kind of blows. The reason it’s bad isn’t because of the acting, which is actually pretty good. It isn’t because of the effects, which are better than average for a TV movie. It isn’t because of the ridiculous plot, because hey, if you’ve signed on for a TV movie from the SyFy channel, you’re pretty much willing to accept anything—including, in this case, a rain of super-dense radioactive meteorites that punch a hole straight through Earth, impacting in Washington State and with an exit wound straight through Australia.


The effect of this is—of course!—to halt the Earth’s rotation, pretty much on the spot. If you’re watching a TV movie on the SyFy channel, none of this should surprise you, let alone bother you.


No, the reason Earth’s Final Hours kind of blows is because it’s a non-sci-fi movie masquerading as a sci-fi movie. In fact, apart from the premise (Earth stops rotating) there’s nothing particuarly science-fictiony at all going on here. Instead we have FBI agents chasing each other in SUVs and and taking potshots at every opportunity; we have single dads and estranged sons trying to find a way to start over again and make it work (yawn); we have the brilliant teenaged bad boy who makes his own rules but has no respect for what adults want to impose on him; in other words, we have every tired cliché in the book, that book being How to Write a Movie Screenplay That’s Extraordinarily Lame.


But in terms of science fiction ideas, there’s virtually nothing.


To clarify: SF extrapolates a change in some circumstance of the universe—like, hey, the Earth stops rotating!—and then wonders what would come about as a result. Would people migrate in panic to the “twilight zone” between the “hot” and “cold” sides of the planet? Would weather patterns become so disruptive that even in those zones life would be impossible? Would some new technological breakthrough allow survivors to hang on in isolated pockets around the globe? Would civilization move underground? Would qualities such as dwarfism become prized attributes in a cramped, underground society? Would changes in diet lead to changes in physiology? How would organized religion incorporate these changes?


The questions are endless. Many SF books are interested in exploring them; many movies will at least acknowledge their existence, even if their thrills tend to be more visceral in nature (i.e., spaceships exploding).


Then there are movies like Earth’s Final Hours, which is essentially an hour-long car chase with a meteor shower at the beginning and a satellite hack at the end. This could as easily have been about a bank heist or a Russian spy as anything else. Science fiction? Nah. Not even sci-fi.


That said, the performances are fine. Robert Knepper plays John Streich, an FBI agent who goes rogue in the process of trying to save the earth from a permanently stalled rotation; he carries himself with a wound-tight intensity that’s believable, given the circumstances. Julia Benson plays the swimsuit-model astrophysicist who holds the key to his future, if you know what I mean, and who does a fine job of looking intelligently at computer screens, just like a real scientist would.


Cameron Bright and Julia Maxwell play a couple of teenage kids who are supposed to humanize everything but have nothing to do besides stand around acting insufferably smug. (Another gripe: Why can’t anyone in Hollywood write a teenage character as being anything but insufferably smug or else a plain genius? There are kids out there who are, like, normal.)


The special effects are also competent. The meteor strike, besides punching a hole through the planet that halts its rotation—more or less immediately, though I think inertia would have something to say about that, and besides, wouldn’t there be earthquakes and tsunamis and so on?—oh fuck it, I’m thinking about this too much—besides doing all that, the meteors also release some kind of weirdo energy storms that cause circular-saw blades of cosmic lightning to sweep down and fry everything to toast from time to time. Those effects are fun too, although they’re used sparingly. You can’t help but think there were budgetary constraints.


That’s about it for fun, though. There are no extra features at all on the DVD, which is not repeat not a cause for heartbreak. It’s hard to imagine anyone sitting through this thing and then wishing they knew more about the behind-the-scenes story that went into its making… No. The movie itself is enough. More than enough, in fact.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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