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10.5 Apocalypse






Note:  I apologize for the lack of picture, but I was working off a video tape and no longer have the device (or, frankly, the patience) to pull stills off a VHS cassette.



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 Clip™ 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.

    Back at the Atlas, Earl Hill is watching the news at the hotel bar. Hilariously, this briefly features effects footage of the Hoover Dam collapse lifted directly from earlier in the show, despite it not corresponding to anything anyone was in position to film. Earl then engages in conversation with Jackson, the hotel’s bartender. During this, some hanging glasses lightly clink together, a fact unnoticed by others. Perturbed, Hill lays his palm flat on the bar. Apparently being a geologist is being like an American Indian, and one can instinctively sense the Earth’s Anger.

    Earl takes a regular elevator down to the underground, apparently employees-only part of the casino, which is totally unsecured. There the pipes and the very earth Speak to Him, and he becomes increasingly uneasy. He wanders into the boiler room and turns on a tap. From his reaction, I assume the water smells of sulfur. Then he times something, presumably the tremors. (The time between these is apparently important, like contractions announcing an imminent birth).

    Back to USGS HQ. Ian the Asian Flunky—he’s good with computers, who would have guessed?—comes into Sam’s office and calls up a computer model he’s been working on. According to this, the entire country will within 48 hours (!!!) literally be blanketed with catastrophic seismic events. Sam immediately phones the President and his staff to share these findings.

    "Ancient fracture zones and stress points," Sam explains, "are being reawakened in the entire Central and Western United States." The best case scenario, she continues, will be "a string of more catastrophic quakes and volcanic eruptions throughout this region." Much more egregious, however, is the danger posed by predicted incidents in the Midwest.

    Sam explains that long ago, the entire middle section of the United was in fact a "vast sea." Should the anticipated events occurs, within two days (again, c’mon!) the entire middle third of the United States, which is "barely above sea level," will once more be underwater, dividing the remaining North American continent into two, much diminished landmasses. "The geography of North America," she sums up, "could be changed beyond all recognition.

    Hey, since this would also affect Canada, maybe we should check to see what help they can offer. Ha, but I kid.

    On the other hand, joking aside, it’s too bad that we never get a clue as to what is happening to the rest of the world. Even assuming that no other continent is facing similar seismic destruction—and I find that unlikely, since surely all the plates are moving—it’s astounding to imagine the impact on the rest of the globe should America basically cease to exist as a financial, military and political power in a span of about four or five days. Things must be getting…interesting in many a location.

    With a more localized disaster looming in Las Vegas (with the show’s first night’s chapter nearly at an end, we obviously need a Bad CGI Disaster Vignette to wrap it up), Earl calls his daughter and explains that he feels tremors. However, when Sam has her staff check their Magical Super-Computers, they don’t show anything.

    Still, the first 10.5 taught us that there is something even more powerful than a Magical Super-Computer: One’s Gut. "You’re staring at a bunch of machines!" her father snorts. "You’re not feeling it, Sam! You’re not feeling it in your bones!"

    Seconds later, the Super-Computers confirm what Earl’s bones already knew, that tremors are starting there. He explains his quickly formulated theory, that magmatic heat or some damn thing has acidified the water conifers under the city, eating away at the sandstone bedrock. "The whole city is sitting on a crumbling slab of Swiss cheese!" he exclaims.

    This statement naturally presages the climatic Bad CGI Disaster Vignette. And in the case, when I say Bad CGI, I mean it. This whole sequence, albeit brief, is horrendously cheap-looking. One shot in particular, of extras running around in front of a rear screen projection, is nothing less than laugh out loud funny. I understand that they must have run out of money at some point, but this shot is just flat out embarrassing.

    Meanwhile, because it would have cost more money to animate all individual buildings crumbling to pieces (as this would have required much more intensive CGI rendering), instead the cityscape just lowers into the ground, pretty much intact, much like the buildings hijacked by the Mole Man in the first issue of The Fantastic Four.

    Meanwhile, Earl, having come back up the elevator to the main floor, takes command sa rubble falls on the various extras. "OK, everybody, get down!" he yells. Yeah, good thing he was there. Nobody else would have thought of ‘everybody, get down.’ Then he rushes to pull aside a woman about to be crushed by a big neon ice cream cone. Amazingly, the woman he saves is none other than Laura. (EVERYONE IS CONNECTED.)

    And so Las Vegas sinks from sight. Join us on Tuesday night for…



    Part 2

    [Editorial Note: Thankfully (for both you and me), Part 2 proved to require rather less commentary than the first half. That’s because it’s much more consistently an action piece, with consequently less moronic exposition and ‘character’ development. There’s some of that, of course, but nowhere near what the first half delivered.]

    We open on the President and his advisors at Camp David, as well as the staff over at FEMA, again watching WNB news to see what’s going on. Yep, that’s reassuring. Anyway, the latest report is on the sinking of Las Vegas. In the aftermath, the newscaster explains, "five to six hundred thousand people are now buried alive beneath the desert floor." However, we only know two of them, so screw the rest.

    Soon Sam is again conferring with Hollister, leading him to recap the situation in an amazingly clunky sentence: "Then your prediction of massive flooding and separation in the Midwest with the country cut in half by these disruptions is going to come about?"

    When she confirms that is so, Hollister spits, "There must be something we can do about this!" Sure, why not? It’s just the very continent ripping in half over the next day or two. How hard can that be to remedy? Sam admits, however, that she is hamstrung by the fact that the whole ‘tectonic plates snapping back together’ theory isn’t hers, but rather her father’s.

    "Can he use this theory of his to guide us through this situation?" Hollister inquires. I still don’t get it. This is like asserting that if I have a theory that the sun is shortly to go supernova, that must mean therefore that I can come up with a way to stop it doing so. Well, no, see, because it’s the sun. In any case, with the potential solution to this entire fandango resting on Earl’s back, Hollister promises to mount a rescue operation.

    Having received orders to this effect, Warner phones Natalie and tells her to assemble a rescue team to head to Vegas. This will require members with rock and mountain climbing experience. Shockingly, it turns out, Brad and Will have exactly those qualifications. Well, OK, this hasn’t happened yet, but I’m assuming. In addition, this will provide an opportunity for Brad to die a brave and noble death whilst in the very act of saving Will and Laura. (Oops, sorry.)

    First, though, Will is seen freaking out after failing to raise Laura on her phone. Then, hearing about the Las Vegas team, the brothers race to get themselves appointed to it. Because, you know, Las Vegas is only a city, so once they are on the scene, there’s no doubt they’ll find her amongst the dozens of buried buildings and hundreds of thousands of folks interred within them.

    Hey, but wait! The team is in fact being sent to locate Earl, so was known to be in the Atlas Casino…which is just where we last saw Laura! In fact, Earl was last seen shoving Laura to safety! What are the odds?! (Pretty good, actually, since EVERYONE IS CONNECTED.)

    Back to Sun Valley. Amy sees Handsome Hispanic Dr. Miguel Garcia preparing to leave camp and runs to intercept him. Ascertaining that he’s part of an emergency medical team going to the Hoover Dam area, she asks to go with. He explains that the team will be very small, and won’t have room for an extra person.

    She nearly breaks out in tears at this rejection, and basically goes all, "BUT YOU SAID YOU LIKED ME!! AND THAT I WAS GOOD AND STUFF!!" (Beside which, once you start giving people Liver Snaps, you have to assume they’re going to want to follow you around.) He concurs that he so praised her, yet while failing to point out the obvious distinction between someone who can keep be generally keep their head in an emergency and one who possesses the actual medical training necessary to save lives.

    In the end, however, he can’t withstand her importuning, and allows her to come with. This is easily the biggest "IT ISN’T ABOUT YOU!!" moment in the movie. One can only assume that if Amy is going, then there is room for one less person with actual training. Still, paltry concerns like saving lives pale against the realization that CATASTROPHIES PROVIDE MYRIAD OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERSONAL GROWTH. In case, after he gives in, she gives Doctor Dreamboat a hug. Gaak.

    Meanwhile, Brad and Will are attempting to secure a spot on the rescue team. Overachiever Brad has tons of useful qualifications, but Becker is wary following Brad’s earlier incident of rule breaking. However, knowing how important this is to Will, Brad plays it completely straight. There’s a tense pause—made, admittedly, perhaps less suspenseful by the fact that of course Will and Brad are going to end up on the team—before Natalie finally makes the call in their favor.

    As helicopters fly over the buried buildings of Vegas, we cut inside the Atlas. Earl and Laura are just raising themselves up from the rubble. He asks if she’s OK, and she answers (I swear!), "I hope so. I just found out yesterday I’m pregnant." Oh, bru-ther. For those keeping track, that’s the first laugh out loud moment of the show’s second half.

    Earl also quickly locates and frees a pinned Jackson, so I guess he’s forming his own little quest party. They then determine that their cell phones won’t work. However, Earl is a scientist, and hooks a phone into, I guess, some of the hotel’s dangling fiber optic lines. "I’m going to use this whole building as an antennae," he explains. Wow, watching all those old MacGyver episodes really paid off. He briefly gets through to 911, but as he identifies himself more of the room collapses and they are forced to flee.

    They then stop to help a showgirl in full costume (not from one of the topless revues, alas) free another trapped showgirl. I have to say, quite a high percentage of people who get trapped under rubble remain essentially unharmed in this universe. Pregnant Laura springs into Nurse Action, leaving me to wonder why she didn’t do the same when Jackson was freed. It’s because he’s black, isn’t it? ISN’T IT?!

    In any case, the girls join their crew, helpfully providing further cleavage.

    Back at GS HQ, Sam is informed that "major tremors" are emanating in South Dakota. "South Dakota?" she gasps. I don’t know why she’s surprised, since Ian’s computer model indicated that every other square foot of the country would see such activity. Unsurprisingly, this leads to the next Bad CGI Disaster Vignette. Since movie disasters tend to target tourist attractions, we’re less than shocked to see this one decimate the presidential portraits hewn into Mt. Rushmore. Take that, Dead White Guys! Hazzah!

    Meanwhile, a huge trench opens in the earth beneath the mountain, lit by an interior river of molten lava. It continues moving south, and presumably is the fissure Sam warned would divide the continent if not halted. (It’s a shame that neither mini-series led to the release on DVD of the film that each, and the second one in particular, rips-off with gusto, 1965’s proto-disaster flick Crack in the World.)

    Sam informs Hollister of the fissure’s appearance and rapid progress. Even worse, this is a "rift fault," which is "more volatile" than the regular faults they’ve been victimized by so far. This one will end up "gaining momentum as it goes." Meanwhile, Warner pipes in to note that Earl Hill had called 911 in Las Vegas and identified himself as being in the Atlas. (Amazing in all this confusion that one piece of local data would end up reaching the head of FEMA.) The rescue team has been sent to find and retrieve him.

    Then we waste some time. For instance, Hollister gives yet another purportedly heart-tugging, Churchill-esque television address. Hey, remember the weasely Presidential aide from the first movie? He’s back, I guess to provide continuity. He has, however, nary a single line in the entire show, and certainly not one of any import. Nice work if you can get it.

    Probably the most notable thing here is that they establish that the first quake in Seattle, which opened the first movie, took place four days ago. The second best thing is the line, "I’m ordering the complete evacuation of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas." Oh. Is that all? Actually, I’m being a bit unfair, as Hollister does acknowledge this to be "a daunting task."

    Meanwhile, Amy and Handsome Hispanic Dr. Manuel Garcia are at work at the Hoover Dam medical camp, with Amy in nursing fatigues and handling medical equipment. Ha, those poor suckers who actually went to nursing school.

    Then it’s back to the Atlas for what is probably the single funniest scene in the second mini-series. This finds Earl arguing with a casino security guard about the best way to reach safety. The security guard, assuming the building is still topside (??), believes they must dig their way out where they are. Earl, for his part, asserts that the bulk of building is now sunk beneath the earth’s surface. "The only way out of here, man, is up, not down!" he asserts.

    This is such a ballsy, unabashedly naked rip-off of the exact same scene from The Poseidon Adventure that even I, who has seen more of his share of blatant imitations over the years—and I’m talking Italian genre films here!—was both appalled and grudgingly impressed.

    Further following its role model, a small band of characters joins Gene Hackman’s wise but faith-shaken priest to the bottom/top of the ship…er, I mean, follow Dr. Hill to the top of the building, while a far larger collection of extras stays below and presumably meets their doom safely off-camera. (By the way, during his debate with the security guard, Hill never mentions that he is a geologist. Maybe if he had a few more people would have sided with him.)

    Hill’s crew includes The Sweaty Guy Hill Beat at Poker, Sweaty Guy’s Girlfriend, Generic Guy, the Showgirls, Pregnant Laura and Jackson. Since this is Vegas, baby, let’s lay down some odds here. Hill and Pregnant Laura, obviously, will make it out. Everyone else should be at least nervous.

    Sweaty Guy is the most obviously doomed, I put it at 100 to 1 against him making it out. Generic Guy is equally kaput. In fact, he’s even wearing a red shirt. (Could that actually be a joke? Did somebody on this film actually have a sense of humor?) Put down his chances of survival at a 100 to 1 against, too.

    SG’s Girlfriend and the Showgirls are also probably not long for this world, although I guess one of the three might come through. Put them individually at 25 to 1 against surviving. Jackson’s a black sidekick, so by tradition he’s screwed, although these days they sometimes save the black guy instead. (As I’ve noted in the past, I’m not entirely sure that saving a character because he’s black is any less ‘racist’ than killing a character because he’s black.) I’ll go five to one against him.

    Oh, and odds of Will and Brad showing up, with Brad nobly dying to save Will and Pregnant Laura, are about 50 to 1 in favor.

    At the Las Vegas Incident Center, the rescue team is receiving a mission run-down. Sagely, Will doesn’t pipe up during this and go, "My brother and I don’t really give a rat’s ass about saving this Dr. Hill, the person the President is counting on to save the country. We’re here to go looking for my wife." However, because this is a movie, they’ll end up saving both, so it’s OK, I guess. Besides, after Brad’s heroic death, who’s going to be a jerk about this?

    Oh, and of course the building could collapse under the pressure of the sand it’s buried beneath at any moment. Well, any moment after Will, Pregnant Laura and Earl get out of there.

    We cut to a Bad CGI panorama of Sunken Vegas, before moving in on a Bad Process Shot of the rescue team standing on the yet-projecting top floors of the Atlas Casino. They cut a hole in the roof (wasn’t there rooftop access?) over an elevator shaft, and Brad and Will are lowered down via winch.

    Meanwhile, the evacuation of Houston is represented by the usual mélange of traffic jam stock footage and a tightly shot ‘crowd’ of extras fleeing their homes. One child runs around with her goldfish bowl. Another drops his teddy bear. It’s poignant. Houston abandoned. Will History blame Hollister, or the earthquakes? Oh well, at least the coming inundation should kill off all the killer bees.

    Also in Houston is the small home of an elderly man and his wife. He’s in a wheelchair and hooked up to an oxygen hose. Since they are evidently Hispanic, I’m assuming these will be the parents of Handsome Hispanic Dr. Manuel Garcia. (EVERYONE IS CONNECTED.) Let me shuffle through my Disaster Movie Character Flash Cards™, and…yes. I’d say these are the People Who Stubbornly Refuse to Leave Their Land/Home in the Face of Imminent Disaster.

    The phone rings, and Mama picks it up. (Again, I have to give props to the various phone companies, which service hasn’t skipped a beat during any of this.) I hope you’re sitting down, because on the other end is none other than Handsome Hispanic Dr. Manuel Garcia. It turns out that these two are none other than…his parents! Wow! What an unexpected development!

    Because racial Balkanization multiculturalism is good, the entire conversation is in Spanish, accompanied by English subtitles. Miguel demands to know why they haven’t evacuated yet. Mama informs him that they’ve decided not to leave their home, even in the face of imminent disaster. "We are staying," she explains. "Our lives, our memories, are here." By the way, she calls her son Miguelito, and it turns out he has sisters named Carmen and Theresa. Also, Mama wears a cross on a necklace that she fingers when feeling stressed, and she mentions God a lot. Man, whoever wrote this script really did a lot of research into Hispanic-American Culture.

    Brad and Will, meanwhile, are exploring the Atlas looking for Laura (with Will presumably not yet knowing she’s pregnant). Oh, and if they have time, the will also look for the guy they were sent by the President of the United States to find. The brothers, by the way, are wearing tracking units so as to allow for ludicrously advanced computer graphics as Natalie marks their progress back at the Incident Center.

    Team Hill is then seen entering the hotel ballroom, a large area not at all reminiscent of the ballroom from which the survivors began their journey in The Poseidon Adventure. Alas, the staircase has collapsed, so they can’t reach the next floor landing. Luckily, a large piece of signage has earlier crashed to the floor. This is constructed of metal scaffolding that could be used as a ladder if they can somehow laboriously move it into proper place.

    This is entirely different, I should add, from the ballroom’s artificial Christmas tree in The Poseidon Adventure, whose interior metal scaffolding was used as a ladder after the survivors laboriously moved it into proper place. (In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess. Well, nobody can say that it was illegitimate for the scriptwriters to declare their Poseidon Adventure movie rental as a business expense.)

    The question is, obviously, how to shift the huge piece of scaffolding into position. Luckily, Earl is a scientist, and so is conversant with all scientific and engineering disciplines, as all movie scientists tend to be. He first examines the triangular scaffolding. "One inch tubular aluminum, welded at 45º angles," he muses. "Yeah, nice and solid."

    Sweaty Guy, however, declares that the ‘use the scaffolding as a ladder’ thing is suicide. (??) And, he also asks, how would they even get the scaffolding into place? Leverage, Earl answers. "A lever has three points of interest, a fulcrum, the load and the effort." Since they only have so much ‘effort’ at hand—although actually, nine healthy and mostly young people should be more than enough—the fulcrum will need be substantial. The answer lies with one of the casino’s huge pipe-metal ‘worlds’ (such as would rest on Altas’ back). One of these is fortuitously already positioned in almost exactly the right spot.

    [In The Poseidon Adventure, by the way—not that there are any similarities between that movie and this one—they need to use the giant Christmas tree because the door they are trying to reach is like thirty feet up. Here the distance to the landing seems more like twelve to fifteen feet, tops, although I think they attempt to fudge this with camera angles and such. In any case, I’d either try climbing up one of the many loose bundles of wiring hanging from the ceiling or just stack up some debris before attempting to anchor the ‘ladder’ on a large ball.]

    A little noodling and the end of the scaffolding is propped up right where they want it. In fact, it seems like it should be entirely stable, although I assume this won’t be the case. Cut to commercial.

    Back to the movie. There’s intercutting throughout to various of the characters, including Brad and Will as they work their way through the upper floors of the hotel as ongoing tremors threaten to pancake the building, etc. We also check in with Sam, who predicts that the growing rift fault will completely bisect the nation in eighteen hours. (!!)

    However, the main action right now is still in the ballroom. We cut back to find that Earl, Sweaty Guy, SG’s Girl, One Showgirl and Jackson have all reached the upper landing. That leaves Red Shirt Guy, Other Showgirl and Pregnant Laura to go. Other Showgirl is the group’s designated Panicky One. They always get kacked, and so do people who try to help them. So perhaps Red Shirt’s demise is imminent too.

    Other Showgirl’s fate is sealed when Laura says she’ll go first to show it’s safe. (Uhm, haven’t like six other people, including First Showgirl, already done that?) Then, in a shocking twist, Pregnant Laura just reaches safety before the ladder shifts during a tremor, throwing Other Showgirl to the death she so feared. Oh, and Red Shirt Guy indeed dies trying to help her. In a nice piece of bad continuity, Red Shirt Guy clearly swivels away from the falling scaffolding, yet his body is shown to be pinned beneath it in the next shot. Cue another commercial break, after less than five minutes of movie.

    Brad and Will continue to search as the tremors intensify. However, they find that the interior staircase (there’s only one?) has collapsed on a lower floor. They look for another route. More stuff with Team Earl. Meanwhile, Sam and her guys have flown out to Kansas to position some seismic tracking devices, since the previously stable Midwest hasn’t been seeded with them.

    Really? The head of research and her top staffers for this whole thing have to fly out themselves to go this grunt work? That’s weird. Of course, maybe Sam wants to be on scene so that she can feel something in her bones, rather than just staring at machines. Still, they started from Denver and flew to Kansas in a helicopter to lay the trackers. How long would the flight and task take, and then to get back, at a juncture in which the country has eighteen hours before it largely ceases to exist?

    In any case, as Ian and Roberts (who’s like in his ‘60s and somewhat portly, so I’m sure he’s enjoying all the hill climbing) place the trackers, Sam and Gina walk around as Our Heroine deploys her gut. She quickly notes "a hint" of sulfur dioxide in the air. Meanwhile, Roberts, returning to the helicopter, finds that bubbling pools of steaming water have emerged from the ground. Then back to Sam, who is following her nose. That’s quite of array of tools she has: her gut, nose and bones.

    She and Gina come across a small campsite. It sports a parked SUV with a tire that has melted (I guess) in a pool similar to the ones Roberts just found. "It’s volcanic acid," Sam deduces, "seeping up from under the ground." She runs to a nearby tent and finds two parboiled campers inside. (??) Cut to the third commercial break in the last fifteen minutes.

    Back to the movie, and ‘Lost’ Vegas. (Ha! I made a funny!) As the search continues, Brad gets increasing impatient. "This is a waste of time!" he snarls. Hey, dude, tell me about it! Meanwhile, Team Earl is down another member when Sweaty Guy freaks out and gets himself kacked. I mean, c’mon, when one of the movie’s heroes tells you, "You always lose when you panic," you’ve got to listen to him.

    Back at Self-Esteem Camp, er, the Refugee Center, as we check in with Amy and Handsome Hispanic Dr. Miguel Garcia in the midst of a surgical procedure. There’s a small glitch when Amy turns out not to know medical jargon. To be fair, though, who could have possibly predicted that this sort of thing would prove a problem? Amy finally does manage to roll over the shock paddles he wanted, but the patient dies anyway. Oh, no! Will this minor incident tragically derail Amy’s Odyssey of Self-Fulfillment?! Let’s hope not!

    Don’t worry. Despite the thousands of other patients requiring emergency care, Doctor Dreamboat pauses to chase after the sobbing Amy. Good thing, too, as she is the verge of giving up and going back home to her parents (lucky them). He catches up and gives her a "stand tall, Sunshine!" speech. Under his supportive coddling, she turns around and heads back to the tent. Whew! There’s one potential disaster averted! And you know, I think Amy is even stronger (we keep hearing how strong she is, despite all the contrary evidence) for having gone through this brief period of doubt. (CATASTROPHIES PROVIDE MYRIAD OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERSONAL GROWTH.)

    More stuff as we intercut between our various pods of characters. Brad and Will finally come to brotherly blows and grappling over the former’s rule-breaking ways (good grief, what a pair of idiots). Things are resolves when a further tremor dislodges an elevator car that would have crushed Brad had Will let him repel down the shaft as he had insisted. Meanwhile, Team Earl sheds First Showgirl in a stairwell collapse, and Laura is trapped under some wreckage.

    Meanwhile, Sam and the others are back at HQ, where she is extrapolating the remaining path of the rift fissure. Since splitting the country in half isn’t quite apocalyptic enough, they now explain that this route will bring the rift straight through the country’s largest nuclear power plant. (Nuclear power! Booo!) This will unleash untold of destruction. Past what we’ve already seen, that is. This is followed by another CGI sequence following the developing rift, as it tears through and swallows up a farm. Again, this is right out of Crack in the World.

    Back from commercial, they spell out the possible nuclear holocaust scenario. The entire Southwest will be made into a radioactive No Man’s Land, and "We could lose as many as seventy-five million people!" (!!) Yeah, that sounds like a completely realistic estimate to me. Meanwhile, if that’s the result of one meltdown (albeit at the country’s biggest nuclear facility), why isn’t this happening all over the place?

    The reason is particular site is so dangerous, Warner explains, is because of the tons of spent nuclear fuel stored there. This is, she continues, because "no permanent waste facility has been opened in the United States." True. Billions have been spent to build one, but lawsuits have kept it from being used so far. Thanks, NIMBYs and ‘environmentalists’!*

    [*Of course, that’s not where the filmmakers meant to affix blame. However, at least this power plant idea affords them a way to pin part of the potential disaster on Man’s Hubris, since otherwise it’s hard to blame us much for what’s been happening here.]

    Since there’s no feasible way to move the facility’s radioactive waste in time, Hollister opines that, "We have to stop that fault from reaching those reactors!" Yes, halting the rampaging tectonic plates of the Earth itself sounds much easier. Therefore, the search for Earl Hill, who surely can suggest a way this can be accomplished in the few hours remaining to them, remains a priority.

    Back at the Atlas, Will and Brad hear Team Earl’s shouts from the floor below them, as the latter attempts to dig Pregnant Laura out. The two groups use the "beating on walls with crap" method to alerting the each other of their presence. Brad and Will cut through the floor, and find Earl, Jackson and Sweaty Guy’s Girl. Since Jackson is black and SGG is Asian, this means a heartwarming percentage of the survivors are members of discrete, insular minorities. Whew!

    Meanwhile, out of the "hundreds of thousands" of people buried alive in the city, Will and Brad are now but a floor or two (admittedly, a largely collapsed floor or two) from Laura. Plus they found the exact guy they were sent to find. So I’d say they’re having a pretty successful day of it. Oh, and it’s from Hill that Will learns that Laura is now, in fact, Pregnant Laura. He should be glad, really. However unlikely it was the writers would kill off Ordinary Laura; Pregnant Laura is pretty much completely invulnerable. (Brad, on the other hand…) As things turn out, even First Showgirl, last seen tumbling down some stairs, is still alive. In fact, she’s digging Pregnant Laura out from under some stuff.

    Meanwhile, Hill is flown by ‘copter to USGS HQ to meet up with Sam. In fact, he arrives there with but seven hours to go before the rift swallows up the Red Plaines reactor. Still, there are more important issues right now, like the opportunity for Sam to once more bond with her father. (CATASTROPHIES PROVIDE MYRIAD OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERSONAL GROWTH.) In any case, things are now looking up. "Let’s see what we can do about this little problem of ours, shall we?" Hill says.

    Back from commercial, Hollister is beating himself up because he can’t do more to HELP THE PEOPLE during this crisis. Wow, what a humanizing scene! I sure care more about him now. Luckily, he gets some reaffirmation from his wife, and we see how much they love each other. I have to say, Melissa Sue Anderson must have just needed a paycheck. She certainly didn’t come out of retirement because this was such a rich, juicy role.

    Meanwhile, Amy is providing Handsome Hispanic Dr. Manuel Garcia with a similar buck-up speech, after he explains about his apparently doomed parents. This gives her a chance to support him as he has her, as if I gave a rodent’s butt.

    Back in at HQ, Earl has taken over Sam’s office (was this his old workspace there?), and Sam sits back and basks in his praise over her recent efforts. Then they pause to have a heart to heart, because, hey, it’s not like they have anything better to do. Long story short, he loves hers. And thus is Sam’s Inner Child healed, even after the death of her lover, Whatshisname. Well, no cloud without a silver lining, eh?

    Back at the Atlas, a larger team is trying to dig out Laura and First Showgirl. However, they are stymied by how fragile the building is. With time short, they are provided with an alternate route from Natalie’s end. Following this, Will prepares to head down the indicated airshaft that should take him to the correct floor.

    Back at GS, Earl is briefing the team. Since the rift fault is too powerful to stop directly, Earl hopes to turn it against itself, which somehow will cause it to veer off its present path. This is a load of crap, of course, but then so is the entire movie, so you can’t really complain on that front.

    Earl’s scheme involves a huge natural gas field which is luckily right near the twin Red Plaines reactors. (Really? They built this dangerous facility that close to a gigantic natural gas reserve?) They will blow up the natural gas field just before the fissure hits. This will in theory create a bisecting rift that should offer a new path of least resistance for the main rift fissure, and Red Plains will be saved. Well, that sounds foolproof. (Since they used nuclear bombs in the last movie, so they can’t just use them again, because that would be lame. Hence the introduction of this fortuitous oil field.)

    Sam flubs her line here by noting, "It just might work!" Surely in the script that must have read, "That’s so crazy that it just might work!" Nice job, Delaney.

    Sam and Earl fly out to Red Plaines to set the explosives. At this point the fissure is but 90 minutes away. Meanwhile, Will is still trying to save Pregnant Laura and, if things work out that way, First Showgirl, as the increased tremors all but tear the Atlas apart. We largely cut back and forth between these two plots for the final twenty minutes or so (actually the final half hour, but interrupted by several lengthy commercial breaks), however let’s just deal with them one at a time.

    On Will’s end, he reaches Pregnant Laura and First Showgirl. However, their route back is now itself blocked. He calls in to the Incident Center for further instructions as the building continues to fall apart around them. This provides the occasion for Natalie to redeem herself. She does by, yes, going with her gut, against the advice of others and feeding Will an unlikely alternative route. (CATASTROPHIES PROVIDE MYRIAD OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERSONAL GROWTH.)

    Even so, the threesome end up trapped until Brad comes smashing through the wall to aid them. The newly exposed hole leads into the escape shaft. However, one of the two winches to the top malfunctions as the building continues to come apart. That leaves one remaining winch, but it can only carry three people at a time. So Brad sends up Pregnant Laura, Will and First Showgirl.

    Three guesses what happens then.

    Anyway, the survivors are flown to safety just seconds before the building disintegrates. And hey, no more arguments about Will’s obnoxious brother.

    Meanwhile, at Red Plaines, the oil field charges are set by army guys. Sam gets the trigger, because she’s the series heroine. They apparently saved a bit more of the effects budget for the last hurrah. This allows for a slightly better grade of CGI effects to represent the molten lava-laden fissure approaching the plant, followed by the explosion and the formation of the new rift that saves the nuclear reactors by all of a city block or so. Indeed, even better, the new rift seems to have completely halted the old one.

    Back at the Las Vegas Incident/Refugee camp, none other than Handsome Hispanic Dr. Manuel Garcia is performing field surgery (in a wall-less tent open to all the dust!) on the injured Pregnant Laura, as the not technically medically trained Amy hands him his surgical instruments and even works right there in the incision with him (!!). Needless to say, in the end both Laura and the baby are fine.

    Back to Red Plaines. Looking upon the huge fissure, Sam whispers in awe, "It’s like the Earth has a mind of its own." "It always did, baby." Her father replies. "If I taught you anything, I taught you that." Wow, what a complete load of crap. Tectonic plate movements are not instigated by a ‘mind,’ you idiots. Spare me your New Age babble.

    Given that five minutes of running time remain at this point, we’re relatively unsurprised when the fissure suddenly kicks back up into operation and continues along its new path. This takes it straight through Houston (goodbye, Miguel’s parents), and on to the Gulf of Mexico, opening up that gigantic mid-continent waterway they promised for a big boffo finish. And everybody a’cry. Cue Hollister’s last hambone inspirational speech: "While we are divided geographically, we will not be divided spiritually…" Yada, yada.

    The hilarious thing here is that we see the present fissure widening greatly as the continent now splits completely asunder. We actually see from above the new waterway cutting up the country, and it’s huge. Apparently they hoped we would just forget that the fissure just narrowly missed swallowing up the Red Plaines reactors, and that means without a doubt that the reactors were destroyed anyway.

    Well, guess what? We didn’t. Morons.

    And so things end. Or do they? For who knows when further catastrophes will be augured by huge, spiking numbers…on the Nielson Rating Charts?*

    [*Actually, for whatever reason—the opening chapter being up against Desperate Housewives, perhaps?—although the first and at least equally dumb 10.5 scored astoundingly large ratings, the follow-up drew a much more meager viewership. Sunday night’s opening half came in third for NBC, behind ABC and CBS.]




    -by Ken Begg