Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stonehenge Apocalypse: What's the disaster genre about?


There's something so captivating about the end of the world. Pretty much ever since someone thought "hey, who needs a plot when I have special effects?", the apocalyptic disaster has been a mainstay of the cinema world. It's pretty much the ultimate one-upmanship in cinematic disaster terms (speaking on a terrestrial level at least). Why blow up a car when you could blow up a house? Why blow up a house when you could blow up a whole street? Why blow up a whole street when you could... And so on and so forth until someone says: "Let's destroy the whole damn WORLD!". And everyone high-fives him/her for their brilliant idea and they all go down the pub to have a drink and to bask in how awesome they are.

At least that's how I imagine the boardroom discussions that precede a disaster movie.

From H.G.Wells' War of the Worlds through to last year's 2012, the disaster movie has a pedigree of at least 60 years. It's risen and fallen in popularity over that time but, for a genre in which special effects play at least as large a part as characterisation, plot or any of that "traditional" stuff, as special effects improve the genre will find new heights. Or... it'll find bigger and better explosions at the very least.

On the flip-side to this, though, is the fact that - as trashy low-content, low-brainpower movies, they fall squarely into the b-movie half of our (conceptual) cinematic Venn-diagram. As everyone know, B-movies and big-budgets do not exactly go hand in hand. This can spell awkward difficulties for the disaster movie, the very definition of a "the-more-cash-the-better(bigger)" genre.

So who will rise to the challenge and step up and create the low-budget disaster flick? Well... just about everyone in fact. There's heaps of them. Puzzlingly, for a type of film whose continued existence is only validated by special-effects improvements, everyone seems to take a gleeful pride in churning out disaster movies with craptastic effects. Perhaps they're confident that their obvious enthusiasm will override any technical issues. Perhaps even more surprisingly, this mostly seems to be true.

The film that sparked this post was the SyFy channel's very own Stonehenge Apocalypse. There are certain things you expect from a SyFy original: bad acting, crap CG effects, a silly idea and 90 minutes of good, solid FUN. Stonehenge Apocalypse takes these values very much to heart and delivers each in spadefuls.

The basic plot-line is that all the world's ancient monuments are connected by lay-lines (or something like that) and channel electro-magnetic fequencies all over the place. When Stonehenge moves and starts to vapourise people (yes!), the world begins to get worried; the British scientists want to study it, the British military want to nuke it and only the once-superstar-but-now-discredited physicist from Maine can offer an explanation. Except of course no-one listens to him because he's waving around a device that looks like a portable tv and babbling about undiscovered ancient civilisations.

This film has quite literally everything you could ask for: Agressive ancient monuments, over-zealous military, a cult, gunfights, a lone hero who sees things clearly. And they blow stuff up too! I shan't give away too much about which places get blown up (though would it really matter if I did?) except for the Pyramids (which I just HAD to include a picture of) and um,.. the ENTIRETY OF INDONESIA. We don't really see Indonesia explode, but it's passed off with a bit of a shrug; "oh yeah, Indonesia just exploded".

So thank you SyFy channel; thank you for reminding me that actually I was wrong. THe disaster movie is not about the quality of the effects, not at all. The disaster movie is about blowing stuff up and having a lot of fun. Stonehenge Apocalypse ticked both those boxes.

A few of my favourite shots now:


And a COmputer-Generated Plane! Wow!

Seriously, this film is brilliant. Go watch SYFY NOW! (Sky 129 in the UK)

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