10.5 Apocalypse Part 1 (2006)

Part 1

When last we saw curly-haired and eminently grating heroine / seismologist Samantha Hill (that’s right, her name is ‘Sam’ Hill [!!]), U.S. President Paul Hollister and the rest of the, er, characters of the 2004 NBC mini-series 10.5, the climatic, titular earthquake had shaved off a substantial part of American’s western seaboard. Even so, it seemed like Sam’s plan to fuse the San Andreas Fault line with a series of nuclear explosions—yes, really—had worked. The remaining part of the country was saved.

But then, tragedy struck: The mini-series, despite being outlandishly stupid, garnered huge ratings. Needless to say, this meant that we were all still in danger.

Even so, the mini-series taught out two valuable lessons:

EVERYONE IS CONNECTED. (And not in an abstract way.)


We open with some selected effects highlights from the prior mini, which eventually are mixed in with a new sequence of a huge ocean liner being subsumed by a gigantic tsunami. (The original airdate of this second mini was supposed to be last fall, so I’m not entirely sure this is meant to be a direct nod to the recently released remake of The Poseidon Adventure.)

There’s an amusing bit where the ship’s bridge receives a radio alert to watch out for a tidal wave, whereupon the captain suddenly seems to notice the gigantic tsunami already towering to the port side of his ship. He then uses the PA system to issue a warning, whereupon the passengers out on deck finally notice the quickly approaching wall of water, one now about ten times taller than the vessel they’re on. Not the most observant bunch.

Apparently the third chapter, should the ratings hold, will indeed reveal that these disasters are sentient. In the first chapter, I had mused on this possibility after a sequence in which an earthquake-induced running chasm literally seemed to be chasing a passenger train around corners and such, only to simply cease entirely as soon as the train was caught and swallowed. In a similar fashion, the humongous wall of water here instantly seems to dissipate moments after the liner has sunk beneath the surface. So much for the laws of physics.

The CGI special effects here, meanwhile, are often quite cartoony, resembling something you might see in a fairly good video game. Considering the gigantic ratings the initial chapter captured, you might have thought they’d up the budget for the follow-up. Apparently not, though. Either that, or there will be a lot more disaster sequences and the effects dollars got overworked in that direction.

Meanwhile, the credits suggest that with Fred Ward’s character buying it in the last movie, enough money was cleared up to hire Dean Cain, Melissa Sue Anderson (her first acting appearance in six years!) and Frank Langella as the replacement ‘name’ actors.

Some might see former Superman Cain’s name in the credits and think, “Oh, Dean, is this what it has come to?” That’s because most people aren’t aware that things have been much worse than that for the actor, what with ‘starring’ roles in DTV crap like Boa. Sadly, this is probably Cain’s best gig in a while. I mean, damn, can’t Teri Hatcher get him a guest appearance on a Desperate Housewives episode or something?

These doughty—albeit no doubt somewhat desperate—actors thus join returning 10.5 cast members Kim Delaney (Sam) and Beau Bridges (Hollister.) Also returning is actor David Cubitt as Jordan, Sam’s spineless toady / romantic interest. Those are the only returning characters, or major ones, anyway, from the first mini. Admittedly, this makes sense, since the action of this chapter apparently moves on from the west coast. On the other hand, it also means you don’t have to negotiate an increased payday to secure the return of, say, actors John Schneider or Ivan Sergei.

Ms. Anderson, meanwhile, is playing Megan Hollister, the previously unseen First Lady. In this, she brings to the table the formidable expertise of having played what was essentially the Kim Delaney role in the 1998 cable movie Earthquake in New York. Her co-stars in that obscure telefilm were Greg Evigan, Cynthia Gibb, Michael Sarrazin and Michael Moriarty, which is nearly as impressive a roster of stars as we are treated to by our present subject.

We cut to Camp David, which is being set up as the President’s emergency command post. It’s here we get our first indication that the original mini’s highly annoying ‘continuously jerking, zooming and bobbing’ camera movements are to be just slightly toned down this time around. It’s an improvement, but not much of one. Still, given the success of the first show (at least in terms of viewership), they probably figured there wasn’t much percentage in screwing around with stuff.

The previously alluded to gigantic tsunami—which apparently hasn’t disappeared, although it seemed to—is now headed towards Honolulu. Luckily, as Hollister is informed, “The evacuation plan for Hawaii is in place.” Really? They managed to evacuate Hawaii, a set of remote islands, in just a few hours? That’s impressive. In any case, the massive wave indeed inundates Waikiki, although (whew!) apparently all the people that were there are safe.

I will say this, though, that even if the effects work is sort of cheesy, and despite the fact that we’ve already seen tsunamis bury cities in Deep Impact and The Day After Tomorrow and even a very special episode of CSI: Miami, you have to give the show points for attempting to satisfy our collective thirst for mass destruction. Unfortunately, I suspect we’ll soon be focusing more on the ‘character’ stuff.

Sure enough, we now cut to “United States Geologic Survey” headquarters in Denver. Here we resume the head-whipping camera style, much to my annoyance. Here important things are occurring, like when one white-haired guy barks into his phone, “Look, keep those field offices open 24/7!” Well, considering that about 14% of the country just fell into the ocean a few hours ago…yes, you’d think so. On the other hand, the scale of the situation makes his following order—”Nobody sleeps until this crisis is over!”—somewhat more dubious.

Then a woman shouts out that a series of quakes is being reported in Washington State. The epicenter is…Mt. Saint Helen’s. (Bum bum bum!) “It’s going to erupt!” White Haired Guy gasps. Well, yeah. It’s that kind of movie.

Cut to the Evac Center in Barstow, CA, where we had left Sam and Jordan at the end of the initial movie. They are herded into a communications tent, where Sam answers a call from the President. Hollister, being the Ronald Reagan / Dr. Phil sort of guy he is, pauses to interject a personal note before getting down to business.

“I look forward to the day we can finally meet in person,” he tells her. “Hopefully under more favorable circumstances.” Like, for instance, some juncture at which the very survival of the entire United States isn’t in dire and immediate peril. Yeah, that would be nice. An afternoon tea of some sort, perhaps, with scones and those little cucumber sandwiches.

He also pauses to ask after Jordan. I have to say, wow, this guy must keep a lot of details in his head. However, given the circumstances and the sort of hands-on leader he is, Hollister can’t afford the time he’d like to spare in inquire after, say, how Sam’s dog is responding to his newly prescribed flatworm prescription. Instead, it’s time to get back to the earthquakes and tsunamis and erupting volcanoes and such.

Sam, not yet aware of the even bigger picture (i.e., that the ratings of the first mini-series demanded a sequel), is shocked to learn that her nuclear bomb plan has not resolved things. Hearing the details, she grits, “You’re talking about an area that’s over a thousand miles!” Referring to this rather understatedly as “the new development” (!), Hollister asks whether she and Jordan will fly to Denver to oversee their efforts there.

Meanwhile, at FEMA headquarters—and yes, it’s going to be a long time before anyone sees scenes involving FEMA without be reminded of their less than crackerjack response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—the office is naturally in a frenzy, as the workers there shout into phones and gain important data about what is going on by watching cable news channel WNB on the office’s huge TV monitor. (Considering that the news media did at least as miserable a job in New Orleans as anyone else, this is hardly reassuring.) From this we learn that “the massive evacuation” of Hawaii has been “a success.” Man, I’d like to hear the logistics of that one.

Natalie Warner, the new head of the department (as Hollister’s onetime college roommate and previous FEMA chief, Roy Nolan, died both dramatically and moronically in the prior narrative) is herself to be found on the phone with Hollister. The President, for his part, is now strutting around the byways of Camp David sans jacket, because he’s a take-charge guy and that’s how seriously he takes things. One can only imagine the ominous moment to come when events become so desperate that he decides to loosen his tie, or, heaven forbid, roll up his shirtsleeves. Of course, one of his predecessors was even known to take off his pants in the Oval Office. But that’s another matter entirely.

Hollister wants to make sure that resources are being made immediately available to anyone who needs them—a typically ludicrous concept, given the scale of events—and Warner notes that she and Nolan had worked on creating a national network of volunteer emergency teams, “just in case this sort of catastrophic scenario should occur.” (One involving, I guess, a good fourth of the country simultaneously going up in natural disasters.) Obviously, though, these teams are completely untested.

“Is this a viable alternative?” Hollister barks, because he’s all about the Can-Do. Although, really, given the situation, wouldn’t you just have to mobilize every damn thing you had and hope for the best? Anyway. “It was something Mr. Nolan had a lot of faith in, sir,” Warner replies. Putting the responsibility on the back of his just dead best friend is good enough for Hollister, whose credo has always been “Go with your gut.” In fact, that’s one of the last things he said to Nolan before the latter was vaporized by the nuclear bomb sitting in his lap. And go with his gut he did. Along with every other atom of his being.

Hollister orders the volunteer team plan put into effect. First, however, the two pause a moment to wax sentimental over Hollister’s old chum. One imagines that actor Fred Ward, who played Nolan, considers himself well out this garbage, although he probably wouldn’t have minded another paycheck.

Speaking of actors, kudos to Beau Bridges. It’s hard to imagine that he wasn’t somewhat nonplussed to find himself again playing the cartoonishly perfect Hollister, who is wise, steadfast, thrifty, polite, tough, strong, caring, and just about every other positive trait you can name. Hollister makes Charlton Heston’s Moses in The Ten Commandments look like an angst-wracked anti-hero.

Even so, Bridges gives the part his all, and doesn’t spare the corn that the script and director apparently demanded of him. That’s the mark of a pro. If he takes the job, he sees it through, and gives you everything he’s got, even if it’s more than the role deserves. I would imagine that it’s difficult to put aside the fear that you’re going to end up looking like a complete jackass in front of tens of millions of people, with only your faith in your own talent to see you through. If you can pull that trick off, you can work in these sorts of dumbass projects and emerge with your reputation unscathed. However, I imagine that takes a lot more nerve than many of us would be able to muster.

In Medford, OR, we meet some more ‘characters,’ whose small, petty personal tribulations in these times of epic destruction are meant to supply the audience with people we can ‘care’ about. (Given the ratings of the first show, sadly, it appears the people who make these things know what they’re doing.)

First off, we meet Will and Laura. They are packing for a trip. They are also presumably newly married, a fact communicated via the typically clunky device of having the camera zoom in on a wedding photo hanging on their wall.

One of the truly weird things about this particular chapter of the 10.5 saga is that we keep meeting characters who seem utterly unconcerned with what is occurring in the larger. I know life goes on, but imagine a 9/11 that continued to unfold and grow over the course of days rather than a few hour; killed millions rather than thousands; and was spread over a major percentage of the entire country.

Meanwhile, the number of people we meet here who seem completely oblivious to everything that is going in is just plain weird. I mean, a sizable hunk of California, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, has been literally obliterated, as has much of Hawaii. Mt. Saint Helen’s is erupting; the government has planted and detonated a chain of nuclear bombs within our own borders…. Yeesh, what does it take to get people’s attention in this universe?

Will, at least, pauses to listen briefly to news reports about the catastrophe and grimace before moving on. Laura, for her part, is gazing with satisfaction as she removes her nurse’s uniform in front of a mirror and checks out how hot she looks in her little pink bra. This allows us to peer god-like into her soul and glean that she’s all shallow and stuff. Oh, and to see how hot she looks in her little pink bra.

Will comes in and they start pawing each other, because otherwise how could we know they’ really love each other? However, they are interrupted by the arrival of Will’s gung ho brother, Brad (Dean Cain). He drives up in a Man’s Man’s vehicle, a mud-splattered old jeep. Given this shorthand, we are unsurprised when we see the narcissistic Laura sending cutting glances and remarks his way.

Brad and Will are firemen, we learn, and members of the volunteer force Warner was talking about. Will brings the news that they have been activated. “For real?” a shocked-looking Will responds. (!!) Needless to say, Laura is all pouty. Apparently they were going to see her folks. “With everything going on, they’re scared to death,” she bleats. (Yeah, I notice they’re not, you know, dying, though.) For his part, Will tries to walk a fine line between her ire and Brad’s bluff jock exuberance. In the end, pissed off that Will chooses duty over her wishes, Laura stalks outside and drives off.

Back to FEMA HQ. A young, nervous-looking black woman named Natalie stops by and requests permission to enter Warner’s private office. Since EVERYONE IS CONNECTED (and Warner herself is black), I assumed this was Warner’s younger sister.

“I’m ready to go out in the field again,” the younger woman announces. This has an ominous sound to it. Lest I miss my guess, not only will she be related to Warner (EVERYONE IS CONNECTED), but she will also prove to have muffed things up in the past, while seeing the current situation as affording her an opportunity her for personal redemption (CATASTROPHIES PROVIDE MYRIAD OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERSONAL GROWTH). Of course, these guesses admittedly imply that the movie’s script will prove utterly generic and tiresomely predictable, and I would be the last person to make that sort of assertion.

Anyhoo, Natalie avers that she is “over the Clearfield accident,” and notes that, with the current situation, Warner would give anyone else a second chance without a moment’s hesitation. (Which doesn’t speak all that well of Warner, I’d think, but what do I know?) In any case, it turns out that two FEMA personnel died in Clearfield. Warner’s concern, however, isn’t with these deaths. It’s that Natalie “has been beating yourself up over that [the two dead people, she means] for over a year now.” Good grief, womyn, you can’t allow a little thing like the deaths of people under your command to interfere with your self-actualization and general you-go-girlness!

Natalie argues, however, that she’s prepared to take command again and live with the consequences; no matter how many people she gets killed. That’s not exactly how the dialogue words things, admittedly. I’m paraphrasing here. Even so, Warner remains hesitant. “I need to do this!” Natalie asserts. Ah. Well, as long as it’s a matter of your needs…. (CATASTROPHIES PROVIDE MYRIAD OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERSONAL GROWTH.) Having been told this is a matter of personal empowerment, how can Warner refuse? Natalie is duly assigned a command.

And then things take a sudden, shocking, completely unforeseeable turn. Warner clutches Natalie’s hand, and tells her “Make me proud, baby.” It turns out that Natalie is…are you sitting down…Warner’s daughter!!* I mean, what are the odds?! What an amazing twist!! (cough *EVERYONE IS CONNECTED* cough)

[*For all my smart-assedness, I thought Natalie would be Warner’s younger sister. Instead, she’s her daughter. SO WHO LOOKS LIKE A DUMBASS NOW?!]

In Denver, Sam and Jordan are just arriving at the USGS Survey Headquarters. They are greeted by White Hair Guy, whose typically generic name is Al Roberts. Our Heroine’s team will consist of Jordan, Al, Ian (Asian Guy) and Gina (Eastern Indian Gal). Sam asks for an update on Mt. Saint Helen’s, and Ian reports that currently all activity there has ceased. “Are you sure?” Jordan asks. Because, you know, that’s the sort of thing they’re probably not really paying attention to.

However, Ian confirms that this is the case. “The eruptions just seem to have stopped,” he reports. “That doesn’t make sense!” Sam blurts. Unlike, for instance, the literally unprecedented serial earthquakes that just dumped half the west coast into the Pacific. “There’s something we’re missing here,” she maintains. “But what?” Jordan replies. (BUM BUM BUM.)

Cut to “Sun Valley, Idaho,” a pastoral scene with a mountain looming over it. A passel of extreme BMX biking enthusiasts are doing some enthusiastic BMX biking. They are hooting and hollering, apparently under the impression that they are in a Mountain Dew commercial. In any case, we know that sequels often present the exact same stuff as their progenitors, only bigger. And 10.5 started with a single extreme BMX biker getting caught in an earthquake. So…well, draw your own conclusions.

A young chap and his lady companion are riding a T-Bar, which is taking them and their bikes up to the top of the biking trails. That seems pretty lazy for extreme biking enthusiasts, but perhaps the newest trend in their circle involves Sitting on Their Asses…TO THE MAX!! OK, we can see now that they are pretty high up. I guess the T-Bar is necessary, even if I still think it’s sort of lame.

In a charmingly nostalgic moment, we see that the film doesn’t just offer bad CGI effects, but good, old-fashioned, bad rearscreen projection work. Let’s just say only the very pure of heart will be able to refrain from bursting into laughter at the effects work used to represent the kids’ T-Bar ride coming to a sudden halt against a not-entirely convincing background. The pair is naturally concerned at this turn of events, as the T-Bar cradle rocks ominously and boulders skitter and tumble around far below their feet.

Meanwhile, back to USGS HG in Denver. “We have harmonic tremors coming out of Sun Valley, Idaho!” Gena calls. “Breaking every 50 seconds,” Ian picks up. “No, every forty-five!” The info is put on the Big Board, which instantly locates the disturbance as centering at Bald Mountain and displays all sorts of nifty graphics. (It’s just amazing what computers in TV shows and movies can do.) “That’s an extinct volcano!” Jordan apprises. “It’s going to erupt!” Sam guesses. Oh, yeah. The ‘disaster movie’ thing. Right.

The Big Board sudden features a ludicrous animated cross-section graphic of the volcano, which morphs to a cutaway shot to portray in real time the lava streaming up to the eruption point. Man, seriously, however programmed all this equipment really earned his money.

Back in Sun Valley, the volcano is sure enough erupting, shaking both the T-Bar and the bluescreen rear projection. As plumes of smoke, ash and rock erupt from the nearby peak, the two T-Bar riders look on with mild concern. Eventually, rolling boulders smash into the embarrassingly bad miniature of the T-Bar base—you only see this for a second, for obvious reasons, yet you still wince—and the girl is thrown from the cradle.

Her beau grabs her arm, but can’t manage to pull her back up what with the turmoil and all. The fact that she’s wearing an unzipped sweater over her sports bra probably isn’t helping either. “Hang on!” the guy keeps yelling, which, under the circumstances, is pretty good advise, although she was probably already thinking along those lines. Anyhoo, what with the lava bombs plummeting down around their position, things don’t look good. When last we see the two, she is falling to her death, and he is being swallowed by an (inadequately computer rendered) ash cloud.

Back at FEMA, Warner is again conferring via phone with the President. “I need to know we’re doing everything in our power to help those survivors,” he concerns. Weaver assures him that this is the case, and fills him in on all the personnel out in the field. Hollister, being the Winston Churchill / Phil Donohue sort of guy he is, pauses to interject a personal note before getting down to business. “Including your daughter, I understand,” he says. “Not an easy assignment for a mother to make.”

Warner admits that this is so, noting however that “Her eagerness to be where the action is left me with few, if any, options.” (Such as, for instance, saying, “Look, Natalie, I have bigger things to worry about right now than helping my adult daughter vanquish her fears of personal inadequacy.”) Hollister concurs, opining “Our country is indebted to everyone involved in this rescue mission.” He then asks if there’s anything else he can do, and she replies he can wish them luck. “With all my heart,” he warbles. Gaak, let’s cut away before he begins demanding details on Operation Milk & Cookies.

Cut the rescue effort going on around Sun Valley, established with a brief CGI shot before segueing to a rather discrete area of actual destruction. This locale, which is not substantially larger than that resulting from many an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition teardown, will handily provide a backdrop several of our featured players, including Natalie, Brad and Will.

We also now meet Amy, a willowy blonde Red Cross volunteer seen carrying some prop towels randomly around the area. To her shock, she is called upon by Handsome Hispanic Dr. Miguel Garcia—gee, that’s original—a surgeon working upon somebody’s abdomen in the dust-clogged open air. (I realize he’s supposed to be stabilizing her for transport, but damn.)

Handsome Hispanic Dr. Miguel Garcia calls upon her to apply pressure to the patient’s wound. Amy at first is too frightened to comply. However, she soon is successfully performing her assigned task—since this is a TV show, she needs do so for only about ten seconds before the job is wrapped up—and in the process learning a little something about her what her limitations really are. (CATASTROPHIES PROVIDE MYRIAD OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERSONAL GROWTH.)

Meanwhile, Natalie arrives on the scene and checks in with one Alec Becker, with whom she is to co-run this Incident Center. (Yeah, two chiefs. That’s always a good idea.) We can tell he’s a hands-on sort of guy, because he’s first seen shouting instructions to a truck driver to back up his vehicle. In any case, Becker seems less than impressed with Natalie, and she takes immediate umbrage. She quickly informs him that if he doesn’t want to work with him, that she will take over sole management of the operation.

This is a good idea, because she’ll obviously become quite popular throughout FEMA as

a) Someone who got a couple of FEMA personnel killed,

b) Someone who then completely retired from field work for over a year,

c) The daughter of the current head of FEMA, and

d) Someone not averse to immediately throwing her weight around when greeted by suspicion due to points a-c.

On the other hand, Becker is a white guy, and Natalie is a black woman, so the former can clearly never, under any circumstances, really be in the right here. Moreover, he’s also fascistically ignoring the fact that CATASTROPHES PROVIDE MYRIAD OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERSONAL GROWTH. His grotesque over-focusing on whether Natalie is ‘up to the job of saving lives’ completely overlooks the prospects this situation provides for her to overcome her current killing-people-related dearth of self-esteem.

Back at GS HQ, Sam is theorizing that the only way the defunct Sun Valley volcano could erupt would be if volcanic gas should “…punch through the plate, creating a ‘hot spot’ volcano.” This would, she continues, require a gigantic level of force. “Force, I suspect, that was generated by the ongoing earthquake storm that began on the west coast three days ago.” Gee, you think?

[Actually, a far funnier possibility would be if it were produced by the series of underground nuclear bomb blasts instigated under her direction. Needless to say, though, this theory is never even broached.]

“Are you saying there is a connection between these events?” a dubious Roberts asks. Good grief! Again, a major percentile of the western seaboard has sunk into the sea, and a literally unprecedented series of earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, etc., has quickly followed. How likely is it that these events wouldn’t be connected?

At this point such a question is just flat out dumb. In the first movie, it made sense for a more conventionally-inclined geologist to question Sam’s ludicrous theories, because the ludicrous events that comprised the bulk of the program hadn’t occurred yet. However, those ridiculous occurrences have, at this point, occurred. Therefore having someone question whether all this is connected less makes Sam look like a visionary maverick than make her questioners look like utter morons.

The meeting is interrupted by news of further “quake swarms” occurring in Utah. For some reason, they don’t stay in the meeting room and look upon the large video monitor there, but trod out into the main chamber to stand around looking upon the Big Board.

[This is probably because the meeting room wasn’t large enough to allow the handheld cameras to roam around in the now customary effort to make a group of people standing somehow look dynamic. By the way, did they rig the cameras to automatically zoom randomly in and out as they recorded the action? Because if the camera operators had to manually trigger all these zooms, they must have suffered from Tunnel Carpel by the end of shoot.]

Further completely ridiculous computer stuff occurs. Characters call out things like, “Let’s see a thermal overlay!” and an appropriate computer graphic is instantly summoned with a few clicks on a keyboard. Looking upon the dire data, Jordan sagely notes, “Something is definitely going on.” (Yeah, thanks, chief.) “The question is…what?” Sam ominously responds. Bum bum bum. And…cue commercial.

Back to the Incident Command Post at Sun Valley. Natalie and Becker are briefing the recently arrived two-man volunteer teams. Brad and Will, naturally, are front and center. The teams are to be divvied up and sent to four different zones. Brad asks who will be in charge of the teams. Becker jumps in and says it will be him. At this Natalie assumes a ‘oh my god, he’s such a jerk!’ face, because I guess he’s supposed to be all servile and stuff and he isn’t.

Becker emphasizes that if the teams find someone trapped under debris, they are not to go in after them until an engineer arrives to check out the situation. Being the kind of movie this is, I’d right now bet a thousand dollars that Brad and Will will find somebody so trapped, the engineer will not arrive right away, and Brad will bullheadedly decide to ignore orders and go after the victim. Then, expecting praise, he will be ragged out by Becker for ignoring procedures, and told if he disobeys orders again he will be sent packing.

As the briefing continues, Natalie begins naming the four zones, but manages to forget what one of them is. This again despite the fact that there are only four of them, and that she has a map right on hand to refer to. In response, Becker ‘rudely’ steps in and takes over the briefing. He ends by noting that the two-man teams will require depending “on the man standing right next to you,”* and the teams depart.

[*Gee, where is that line going?]

Natalie, of course, is infuriated at Becker for showing her up. “Don’t you ever cut me off like that again!” she bitches. “Do your homework and I won’t have to,” he retorts. And gee whiz, he’s right, isn’t he?

The infuriating thing is that Natalie was clearly unprepared for the briefing, and yet the film obviously intends for us to sympathize with her anger. In reality, Becker was clearly correct in taking over. Indeed, the sheer fact that Natalie insists on taking over command from an in place and manifestly competent field manager, especially when she herself patently hasn’t bothered to get even the most elementary details down, is more than a little obnoxious.

Meanwhile, the great weariness that washed over me when Becker told the teams they must depend on their partners proves fully justified. Sure enough, the scene ends with Natalie saying, “Remember what you said about depending on the person right next to you?” “Absolutely,” Becker says, somehow not seeing where this is going. “Take a good look,” she replies. “That’s me!” Snap! Oh no she didn’t! Etc.

In the next scene, Natalie is calling her Mommy—you know, the emergency head of FEMA appointed just a few hours ago, following the death of the actually appointed director, who died attempting to forestall the worst natural disaster in our country’s history by a few orders of magnitude—to complain about Becker.

“How are you doing, baby?” Mommy asks, because it’s not like she doesn’t have something better to do. “Alec Becker isn’t the easiest person to work with,” Natalie replies. Yeah, his hysterical focus on ‘doing their job’ and ‘saving lives’ would be a tad wearisome. Here we get another expected ‘bombshell,’ as Warner admits that she expected this. See—and I hope you’re sitting down as you read this—Becker’s cousin was one of the guys killed during Natalie’s former command. Gee, what are the odds? (Pretty good, actually, because EVERYONE IS CONNECTED.)

Now, I’d frankly been waiting to ‘learn’ something along these lines. This is just the sort of show where if you sit there and continue to think up the dumbest thing possible, you’re going to be ahead of events every time.

Even so, this particular ‘revelation’ is pretty hilarious. First, it means that Warner chose to assign Natalie this particular command, out of presumably dozens of them currently available, despite (because of?) Becker’s likely animus. Second, there’s the fact that Warner was aware of this and yet didn’t bother to give her daughter a head’s up.

I can’t tell if this is just monumentally inept scripting, or if Warner is actually supposed to be administrating a dose of tough love here by given her daughter the most stressful possible job. However, you can’t help but laugh when Warner admits that she didn’t want to pass on this info because “I didn’t want to scare you off.”

In any case, the reason I was so certain Becker would have a personal reason to mistrust Natalie isn’t just the EVERYONE IS CONNECTED thing, but what lies behind it. When watching modern movies or TV shows, it’s now generally de rigueur to give someone an individual, personalized motive for doing something that seemingly transcends their own interests.

For instance, a doctor reveals how his mom painfully died of cancer when he was still a kid. A cop tells of how her dad was one of several generations of cops and pushed him into it. A priest relates how a friend died from a drug addiction. A soldier explains how a beloved older brother died in the military and she intends to honor his memory, etc.

In other words, simple patriotism, or a generalized wish to help your community, or more basically just having a certain job aptitude, are considered inadequate reasons to do such things. What sort of maniac would risk being killed just because he wants to ‘serve his country’? (Especially this one, one suspects the thinking often goes.) The really farcical aspect of this is that filmmakers and such tell themselves this sort of thinking is ‘sophisticated.’ For some reason, the idea of simply be willing to work and sacrifice in the service of something larger than one’s self is considered too simplistic to command one’s respect.

This holds true the other way around, too. For one obvious example, to the small extent one might actually see an Islamic terrorist in a movie these days, it’s a good bet that his backstory will reveal that he was formerly a peace-loving man who only turned murderous when American or Israeli troops killed his wife and children or something. The idea that people murder purely—even, sadly, joyfully—for ideology’s sake, as have millions of Nazis and Communists and, yes, Islamofascists (among, obviously, others), apparently just strains credulity somehow. Reality notwithstanding, only a bumpkin would buy such a simplistic notion.

The problem is that such ‘sophistication’ generally ends up presenting us with an entirely selfish cast of characters. This movie is definitely a case in point. This entire section of the film—including many of the scenes that directly follow the current stuff with Natalie—revolve around people who we are meant to look kindly upon as they steadfastly ignore the larger picture around them in their supposedly inspirational quests to achieve personal autonomy and self-respect.

Personally, I find this more than a little repulsive. Imagine a movie about the firemen and cops in New York on 9/11, the ones who entered the doomed World Trade Center buildings and died trying to save others. Now imagine that the filmmakers, hoping to make us ‘care’ for these people, thought it would be beneficial to make them ‘real,’ by, for instance, having one fireman’s girlfriend keep calling on his cell phone to bitch about how he put an empty milk container back in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, an EMT’s husband would similarly call to complain that she hasn’t yet responded to their earlier discussion about having children…. Oops. Actually, that last one did happen in the preceding 10.5. Only there the woman being so hectored was the chief aide of the Governor of California in the immediate wake of a massive earthquake, rather than an EMT treating the wounded at Ground Zero.

The point being, though, that hundreds of cops and firemen and medical personal did risk and lose their lives that day in an effort to save complete strangers. And many of them, presumably, did so without some DEFINING EVENT-driven life story that psychologically compelled their actions. They did it because it needed to be done, and while knowing there was a good chance they were going to die and leave mourning loved ones behind. That ability to instinctively sacrifice oneself is as much a part of the human animal as any other, and to deny that is to deny the noblest part of us. Sophisticated, my ass.

To sum up, there are times—and I’m sure I’m not alone here—when you look at the larger culture around you and are startled to realize that much of it isn’t simply stuff you disagree with, but is actually alien to you. There were times when I was literally infuriated watching this movie, wishing I could punch the characters in the face and scream, “THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU!!” However, that viewpoint, apparently, would be just as incomprehensible to the people that made this film as the film is to me.

Anyway. It’s interesting, if entirely predictable, that the film never stops to look at this situation from Becker’s standpoint. (Since he isn’t, you know, one of the Focal Characters, but instead a foil for one.) The daughter of the newly-minted emergency head of FEMA, believed by many to be a screw-up and coward, suddenly shows up at an operation he has running like clockwork and immediately bigfoots him, despite clearly not knowing her ass from a hole in the ground. Of course, the film presents Natalie’s incompetence as merely the result of her being new to the scene, avoiding the question of why then she insists on taking active command before she’s ready.

Cut to a mountain range in King’s Peak, Utah. Sam and Jordan are checking it out from a helicopter. Sam is a weirdly hands-on operator. Who would have thought that the President’s advisor on these quakes and such would have all this time to fly around and do field research?

Say what you will for the movie, in between the obnoxious personal stories it does strive to present as many variety of disasters as it can. Here Sam and Jordan come across a huge dead patch amidst the mountain forest greenery. Jordan doesn’t see it at first, because, you know, Sam’s the film’s Heroine. She helpfully points it out, though.

Sam calls HQ and has them relay to the helicopter satellite images of the same spot from six hours ago. (Again, who knew we had this sort of technology at our disposal?) This reveals—gasp!—that the dead patch wasn’t even there at that time. “That’s impossible!” Jordan asserts. You know, by now you’d really think people would stop saying things like that.

Back at the Sun Valley center. Amy is again wandering around doing nothing useful, when she answers her cell phone and we learn that—oh, c’mon—she’s in fact Amy Hollister, the President’s daughter. (EVERYONE IS CONNECTED.) I have to say, of all the insufferable characters in this thing, Amy is undoubtedly the one I’d most like to grab by the shoulders and give a good shaking to. She has one of those whiny, quivery voices that drives you up the wall, and scrunches up her face in a most unpleasant manner when detailing all the ways the universe has been mean to her. Indeed, her only reaction to all the horror and death and destruction around her is to bitch to her parents about how they are smothering her.

In response, the President calmly attempts to reassure her that he completely and utterly respects her autonomy. In contrast, the First Lady worriedly hovers in the background and tries to mother hen her. Amy resents this, of course, and moreover demands that her father call off the ‘suffocating’ Secret Service agents following her.

The correct answer to this is, “Honey, I’m the President of the United States. We’re currently in the midst of a crisis that has basically in three days wrought upon our country the devastation Europe experienced during the entirety of World War II. I’m barely able to function as it is, and I hope you would realize that removing the agents protecting my only child is only doing to distract me all the more. In other words, maybe you could stop for just one minute and consider the fact that THIS ISN’T ALL ABOUT YOU!!”

Needless to say, this doesn’t happen. Hollister, sage individual that he is, accedes to Amy’s wishes and orders the agents to be pulled back. If I thought for one second that this might result in Amy dying a particularly stupid and pointless death—getting buried by falling rubble in a Port-a-Potty, for instance, and eventually suffocating to death because she sent away the guards who would have heard her squeaky little screams—this might actually cheer me up. Fat chance, though.

Cue another Bad CGI Disaster Vignette. This one features an American Indian horse rancher in Monument Valley, one complete with long black hair and a beaded necklace. He suddenly—and I mean suddenly—finds much of the desert plains around him covered in water. His only warning is when his horses go crazy, because ANIMALS, THEY ALWAYS KNOW.

This latest disaster again has Hollister on the speaker phone to the USGS team, seeking an update on their research. By the way, isn’t the notion of a handful of scientists finding an ‘answer’ to this massive confluence of natural disasters pretty much just retarded? Exactly what would such an ‘answer’ entail? Anyway, the conservation goes like a dozen before it. “We’ve got a lot of scared and confused people out there,” blah blah “We’re going all we can, Mr. President” yada yada.

“Something must be at the root of all this!” Hollister asserts. (You think?) At this point Sam enters the room bearing an armful of file folders, and answers him. “I believe it’s the movement of the [tectonic] plates themselves,” she asserts. Here we get a long spiel about the ancient, single continent known as Pangaea, which broke up millions of years ago into the seven current continents, etc. Hilariously, the idea is that the current disasters are being caused by the plates having suddenly reached “their maximum point of separation” (whatever that means) and beginning to move back together.

This is so stupid on so many levels that you can’t even really begin to pick at it. For instance, why isn’t the rest of the world (apparently) experiencing any of these problems, then? And most obviously, why, when it took “hundreds of millions of years” for the continents to drift apart, would there suddenly be this gigantic series of calamities occurring over the span of three to four days? Would the plates really snap back like a rubber band stretched to its maximum size?

In any case, it sounds like at least one of the writers watched a lot of bad ’50s sci-fi movies:

Hollister: “This sounds more like the coming of the Apocalypse than a scientific conclusion!”
Sam: “For all intents and purposes, Mr. President, that’s exactly what it could turn out to be!”

Cut to Laura, spending the night in a motel on the way to her parents’ house. She’s watching the news—yeah, you’d think—and is worried by the tales of death coming from the area Will and Brad are stationed.

She manages to get a call through to Will, who’s on his way to another rescue location. Needless to say, Laura thinks this the perfect time to start back in on how Will won’t stand up to Brad. (Hey, at least if her new husband does die up here, it won’t be without Laura having had a final chance to tell him what’s really in her heart.) Oh, and he probably keeps putting the toilet paper hanging over, rather than under, as she prefers. Hopefully we’ll get to see that scene in the extended director’s DVD cut.

In any case, they arrive and he has to end the conversation. She hangs up with a peevish look on her face, indicating that she’s more annoyed that Will won’t discuss the Brad situation than she’s concerned about his physical wellbeing.

Back at USGS, Jordan follows after Sam and raises the whole ‘geologic events occurring in days’ thing. “I have a theory about that,” Sam replies. What follows literally had me wondering if the writers had some sort of contest to see who could come up with the most asinine and ludicrous plot device.

Fans of the first movie will remember that Sam was established as a renegade geologist—you know the kind—who had been driven out of the Community of Scientists (according to the movies, this happens quite a lot) due to her radical theories about hidden, deep earth fault lines. Much of the first movie detailed her theories being proven right, thus providing her with some well-earned personal vindication and validation when most of California slid into the ocean and millions of her countrymen died.

Of course, they can’t really go to that particular well again. After all, Sam’s radical theories have already been proven correct. Instead, the current premise she’s pursuing, the one about the impossibly rapid moving together of the Earth’s tectonic plates, proves to be the radical theory of yet another geologist, who himself was also driven out of the Community of Scientists.

And this other scientist is…Dr. Earl Hill, Sam’s father. (EVERYONE IS CONNECTED.) I mean, seriously, what can you say to that?

In any case, perhaps as a further nostalgic nod to fans of the first movie, Jordan greets this revelation with a smirk. This, naturally, puts Sam’s dander up, allowing for a warmly traditional Jordan Spinelessly Apologizes to Sam scene. Ah, the memories. Man, he must have groveled to her a good dozen times in the first movie. Sigh. Good time.

Back to Sun Valley. Brad and Will are called by a canine worker over to a pile of rubble, one that Fido indicates has a victim buried beneath it. Fido and his handler then move on, and things go about the way you’d expect. Brad and Will call in per procedure, and are told an engineer will join them. However, Brad naturally decides to defy orders and go in after the guy.

This results in some suspense stuff, albeit of a fairly tepid grade, since one doubts the film’s major guest star is going to get bumped off this early in things. Instead, the victim is brought to safety. Later, though, Brad and Will meet with Becker. Brad is expecting kudos, but Becker rags him out for disobeying direct orders, and threatens to send them packing if it happens again.

OK, that stuff hasn’t happened yet, but I just wanted to save time. [Future Ken: Amazingly, my Nostradamus-like prediction bears out. However, they play out at some length over several scenes, so you should be glad for my atypical concision here.]

Back at USGS, Sam fills Jordan in on her dad’s unpublished theory of Accelerated Plate Movement, or A.P.M. “The theory essentially argues that when Earth’s plates reverse direction, as I suspect they’re doing now, geologic processes are greatly accelerated.” Well, gee, that explains it. By the way, how would one even formulate such a theory? Based on what data?

Sam is trying to further research this theory, but her dad’s writings on it are sketchy. Jordan then suggests the obvious, that she actually contact her father. It turns out, however—are you sitting down?—that he and Sam are estranged. Well, of course they are.

Sam thus hesitates to reopen these wounds, although maybe she should consider it, what with the IMMINENT DESTRUCTION OF THE ENTIRE NORTH AMERICAN CONTINENT and all. And, hmm, wait a minute! Maybe something good can come of this epic devastation, if only it can help bring reunite a man and his daughter! (CATASTROPHIES PROVIDE MYRIAD OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERSONAL GROWTH.)

Back to Sun Valley. Amy bumps into Handsome Hispanic Dr. Miguel Garcia and moons all over him, because he believed in her and thus afforded her an OPPORTUNITY FOR PERSONAL GROWTH. Unlike her dumb parents, who keep Secret Service agents watching over her just because she’s the daughter of the President of the United States. Basically this scene involves Amy acting all gooey while fishing for compliments from Doctor Dreamboat about her amazing levels of autonomous self-actualization.

Seriously, have I mentioned how much I loath this character? Her tic-ridden, stuttering displays of sniveling insecurity which all but demand bystanders to coddle and reaffirm her; her grotesque fixation, in the midst of wide-scale tragedy, on people paying her respect she clearly hasn’t earned….yuck.

The nauseating capper of the scene is when she tells Handsome Hispanic Dr. Miguel Garcia that she doesn’t want to be treated any differently than anyone else (which will shortly prove false, by the way). He agrees, before then revealing that he does indeed already know that she’s the President’s Daughter. This results in further simpering on Amy’s part.

Back at HQ, Sam sits at her computer. She proceeds to scan through several news stories about her Pop, allowing us to glean pointless details of his tragic history vis-à-vis the Scientific Community. By the way, you know you’re looking at some esoteric websites when you get headlines like “Dr. Earl Hill’s ‘Fractal Earth Theory’ rejected by Berne Conference.” I also liked the headline asserting that his then recent book New Directions in Geology was “greeted with skepticism and universal derision.” Really? “Universal” derision? Wow.

In any case, the pertinent points we pick up are that daddy is a) played by Frank Langella, and b) currently a championship poker player. Gee, how trendy. Not the Langella part, the poker thing.

The poker headline cues a standard montage of Las Vegas stock footage, of the sort filmmakers presumably can order from a mail order catalog. From that, we cut to Dr. Hill at The Atlas Casino (another rather chintzy looking set). Needless to say, his is playing high stakes poker against a sweating opponent, one who undoubtedly will soon fall victim to a bluff on Hill’s part. Because, you know, that’s how you introduce poker players in movies. And…sure enough, Earl picks up over a hundred grand on a bad hand. Astoundingly, though, he then fails to lecture on his opponent on the fellow’s ‘tell.’

Sam calls him on his cell phone, and Hill mentions “seeing your name in the news a lot later.” Considering that the initial quake in the first movie happened perhaps two days ago, I’m not sure that really makes sense, but anyway. It’s too early for their inevitable rapprochement, so Earl gets a little buggy when he hears she’s working at the U.S. Geological Survey. See, he had himself been a bigwig there before being ousted for his radical theories.

When he hears that she’s considering some of these theories vis-à-vis the current crisis, he warns her off from them and hangs up. However, we viewers can tell that Earl’s estrangement from his daughter isn’t because he doesn’t love her. Indeed, it’s because he loves her too much, and doesn’t want to also risk destroying her career by association. (Wow!) Sam, meanwhile, seems more saddened at what appears to be another rejection from her father than concerned that she won’t have help saving the country.

After a commercial we see the Brad-being-reamed-by-Foster scene, as predicted above. Let’s move on. The funniest part occurs after the brothers leave and Natalie comes up to Becker. He’s all surly, expecting some insult on how he handled them, but she basically supports him. Then she leaves, and Becker assumes a thoughtful “Hey, wow, sure she killed my cousin, but then she complimented me about something, so maybe I should consider giving her a break” look. You know the kind.

Meanwhile, Will experiences his own Moment of Personal Growth when, in the midst of Brad bitching about the chewing out they just got, he declares that he agrees with Becker. Brad retorts that maybe Will should have his own life instead of always following Brad around. In other words, he basically agrees with Laura.

Back at HQ, Sam is told that they are registering seismic activity in the Lake Meade area, right around Hoover Dam. This isn’t surprising, because movie earthquakes tend to like areas with dams. Sam walks out to check the Big Board. The mandatory thermal overlay reveals “magmatic” activity, just like under the dying trees in Utah.

Since the Magic Computers don’t provide enough real-time info for once—IITS—Sam remarks that they need somebody out there. (Action Geologists!!) Jordan volunteers, and refuses Sam’s offer to join him. “We can’t both go,” he explains. Which is sort of strange, given that they both flying over Utah like an hour ago.

In any case, the fact that they’re arranging for Jordan to go sans Sam makes me assume that he’ll be this chapter’s Martyr Character. Assuming that’s true, I think we can further assume that Dean Cain will get whacked in the movie’s second half. He is, after all, the biggest guest star other than Langella, and they wouldn’t kill off both Sam’s lover and her father.

Wait, does that mean Amy isn’t going to die? DAMMIT!!

Time for another Bad CGI Disaster Vignette—collect ’em all!—this one involving a huge sinkhole that undermines a jammed highway and eats up a bunch of cars. Sure enough, this presages a commercial. Apparently they alternate the pre-commercial breaks with Big Emotional Moments, such as Sam’s dad hanging up on her, with Bad CGI Disaster Vignettes.

Back to the show, following something like six straight minutes of commercials. Jordan’s helicopter is approaching Lake Meade. As they fly over the river leading to the Dam, Jordan notes the water is flowing faster. “What’s the median speed of the current this stretch?” he asks over the radio hookup. “Between 1.7 and 3.3 miles an hour,” Al Roberts instantly replies. Really? He knew that off the top of his head? Wow, these guys are good.

Jordan’s computer, in contrast, marks the current speed of flow as being 7.4 miles an hour. (Astoundingly, nobody gasps, “That’s Impossible!”) I’ve got five bucks that somebody asks for a thermal overlay in the next couple of minutes. Probably Sam, since that seems to be her main job.

Oops, no, Jordan’s computer is already tracking that info. Yes, from a helicopter flying over the river. Shut up, computers can do anything. In fact, there’s one keystroke macro that would calculate the volume of water below him and indicate how many Tickle Me Elmo dolls would needed to displace all the water for a half mile in either direction. However, it’s a silly function and seldom used.

Meanwhile, Laura is driving along the highway and nearing Las Vegas. Guess she’ll be meeting Sam’s dad pretty soon. (EVERYONE IS CONNECTED.) This is followed by more catch-up stuff with our various characters, but I’ll spare you.

Jordan’s CGI helicopter is soon flying over a CGI Hoover Dam. It’s not exactly unpredictable what’s about to happen here, but hey, bursting dam. I mean, seriously, that’s the sort of thing you watch disaster movies for, am I right? Besides, I’m even more certain they’re going to kill Jordan now, and who doesn’t want to see that?

Almost immediately he and the pilot are flying way too low over the dammed water, which is starting to steam and steam as its temperature increases rapidly. (That’s a whole frickin’ lake back there, so I really doubt if the water temperature could possibly be “rising fast.”) Meanwhile, water is starting to spill over the top of the dam, and then simply gushing over in a torrent. OK, that’s pretty cool.

Soon after this, inevitably, the dam bursts outright. Such enough, Jordan and the pilot get kacked. But only, it should be noted, because for some asinine reason they flew back in front of the dam, below the level of the spilling water [!!], and hovered waaaay too close to the whole thing. Morons.

I mean the scriptwriters. Admittedly, Jordan was a complete putz who nobody in the audience could have possibly cared about. Still, it’s simply unbelievable that he or the pilot would have elected to hover directly in front of a bursting dam. How hard would it have been to write the scene so that they flew to a safe altitude before noticing somebody in distress below? At least that would have given them a reason for flying into danger. But no, instead they die of terminal stupidity. And frankly, if that’s a cause of fatality in this universe, than every character we’ve met so far should be dead.

The death of Jordan in the Hoover Dam collapse leads the news. (!!!) Sam, meanwhile, is mourning the loss of her primary toady and (I guess) lover. Her grief is soon interrupted by a call from the President. Hollister, being the Margaret Thatcher / Oprah Winfrey sort of guy he is, pauses to interject a personal note before getting down to business. “How are you holding up, Samantha?” he rasps. (By the way, despite us being supposed to ‘care’ about Jordan’s death, he’s not even directly mentioned here, and will in fact remain unremarked upon the entire rest of the show.)

This is Kim Delaney’s big Emmy Clipâ„¢ scene, as she cries a few sloppy tears and tries to tell Hollister that she just can’t do it anymore. “It’s a losing battle, Mr. President,” she says, probably referring to the growing millions of deaths and, oh, yeah, the fact that the Earth’s very crust is tearing itself apart in a fury of seismic activity. “Only if you give up!” Hollister responds. Yeah, because if he can only keep this one scientist on the case, surely she will be able to find a ‘solution.’

“I honestly don’t know what to tell you,” she admits. “Tell me you’ll stand beside me in this crisis!” he quietly thunders in return. After a big dramatic pause (as if she’s going anywhere), Sam concedes. “I’ll do my best,” she affirms. “You always do,” he replies. And indeed, in the like three days he’s known of her existence, she always has.

Meanwhile, Will gets a call through to Laura’s cell phone, who is stuck in Vegas. The previously alluded to sinkhole has cut through the highway to Flagstaff, where Laura’s parents are. Three guesses, by the way, as to her exact present location. That’s right; she’s on the gaming floor of the Atlas Casino. Small world, isn’t it?

Will tells her, more or less, to stay alive and he’ll find her. However, she now realizes that the job he’s doing is more important. (CATASTROPHIES PROVIDE MYRIAD OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERSONAL GROWTH.) Actually, I would have hoped that a registered nurse would have figured that out in the first place, but there you go. Anyway, she now plans to go join the nearby Incident Center / refugee camp for the Hoover Dam area.

We cut to Amy, who is again just wandering along aimlessly with an armful of props when Destiny Calls. This time, she notices a child’s shoe sticking out of some rubble. She calls for help, but no one is close enough to hear her. It’s time for Amy to buck up, you see, and act on her own. (CATASTROPHIES PROVIDE MYRIAD OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERSONAL GROWTH.) This entails shifting about two boards and lifting the revealed young girl from the wreckage. Yeah, my first impulse would definitely be to shake her spine around a lot, just to make sure she’s OK.

Having had her Moment of Heroic Personal Growth, she can now safely find aid. As she runs around jostling the kid no end, who should happen to drive by in a flatbed truck but Handsome Hispanic Dr. Miguel Garcia. As he ministers to the kid, Amy of course demands further validation that She Done Good, and naturally Doctor Dreamboat provides it. I think in the extended Director’s Cut he also gives her a Liver Snap.