Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Nasty space aliens plan to convert Earth's population into a fast-food resource in this derivative but not totally undistinguished cable miniseries. A diverse group of citizens comes together when threatened by a conspiracy that seems to have infected all of city hall and the police force. Before one can say "Quatermass" three times very fast, the show gives a nod to every invasion cliché from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Alien. A pleasant cast and good direction smooth out the dull passages, and every so often a rather good scene surfaces to give Final Days of Planet Earth an unexpected thrill or two.
Strange disappearances and cover-ups proliferate in a Northern waterfront town, and reporter Jake Roth (John Cassini) shares information with cynical archaeologist Lloyd Walker (Gil Bellows) after his dig site is ruled off limits by city official Korshaft (Serge Houde). Lloyd discovers strange mounds of organic material in an underground chamber near city hall, and finds a friend in ex-astronaut Liz Quinlan (Daryl Hannah), an attractive city troubleshooter who also suggests that they pool resources. Lloyd instead falls in with an odd group of ordinary citizens. Feisty bug exterminator Marianne (Sue Mathew aka Suleka Mathew) is invited to inquire about getting the City Hall contract for her services and aged combat veteran Oliver (Beau Starr) is concerned that all the birds have fled from a local park. Brother and sister Hungarian refugees Nick and Bella (Tygh Runyan and Tina MIlo Milivojevic) are trying to get some word about her missing husband. Along with desperate entrepreneur Spence (Patrick Gilmore), they're eventually all directed to report to a special basement room at City Hall ... the rather mysterious Room 86.
The characters of Final Days of Planet Earth are not particularly deep but the actors are likeable and the long-form format allows us time to warm up to them. If the assembled Sci-Fi motifs hadn't been in constant replay mode for the past 50 years, we'd be kinder toward their reappearance in this handsomely produced three-hour miniseries. Genre fans will feel right at home in the teaser opening, set on a space probe interrupted by odd Quatermass Xperiment- like phenomena. By the time people are being sucked underground and grottoes of suspicious growths are discovered, it would seem time to call in the Marines. But the telephone system has already been taken over, along with the cops. Our heroes take a refreshingly non-paranoid attitude, considering enough conspiracy clues are present to put Oliver Stone off his feed.
Yes, City Hall has been infiltrated by aliens wearing human costumes, shed-skin disguises they can doff whenever it's time to strike with an insectoid appendage. The invaders are a definite Queen Bee society, with a number of bureaucratic drones that argue among themselves (shades of Buckaroo Banzai, without the laughs) but shake in their exoskeletons when upbraided by their mean-mother female leader. Naturally, the intrepid group of neighborhood commandoes can avoid capture by hanging out in a homeless shelter (They Live ...?) They learn some of the secrets of the invaders by walking right into City Hall and snooping through doorways!
The cover art gives away the big secret with Ms. Hannah, who this time around is not a loveable mermaid. For the first-half cliffhanger her insectoid self is revealed in a glass reflection, an image similar to that of I Married A Monster from Outer Space when the aliens momentarily let their guards down.
The production is not bad, and the city setting is convincing, if small-scale. Although not exactly the pinnacle of tension, the miniseries manages some good moments before it devolves into gunfights and chases. The best scene occurs when several dissenters, petitioners and other nosy individuals meet in Room 86, the kind of dingy waiting room dreaded by all. An officious clerk refuses to give out information and insists that the people wait to pass through an inner door one by one. The setup is the Department of Motor Vehicles answer to the 'Facility Tour' scene in Quatermass 2 ... stop asking questions and follow instructions. Lloyd Walker notices that the corridor behind Room 86 is an awful lot like the famous Roach Motel: Guests check in, but nobody checks out.
The final half of the second show becomes a regular monster rally, with insects killing insects, luckless victims fed Puppet Master-like larvae and battles in a disgusting abattoir. The final CGI-laden confrontation with praying mantis monsters in the giant egg chamber is less exciting but is given okay computer animation effects. Before 1980 or so, the monsters would be a revelation. As it is, the CGI revolution has added a big ho-hum factor to this sort of thing when not in the service of a crackerjack story.
Darryl Hannah has some fun with her role as the nasty Den Mother from Hell, and the other actors, especially Suleka Mathew, are pleasant companions for an action miniseries. Final Days of Planet Earth is a reasonable thriller but is unlikely to stay rooted in the memory.
Platinum's DVD of Final Days of Planet Earth is an iffy enhanced transfer with generally good encoding. All 170 minutes of show and the extras are on one side of one disc, resulting in periodic bouts of a weaker imaging. Nevertheless, color and densities remain solid. The 5.1 mix is a plus as well.
The one extra is a roundabout selection of responses to the question Do You Believe in Aliens? as put to the cast, producer and director. None of the answers are in the least bit interesting, and the feature mainly allows us to see the cast members out of character.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Final Days of Planet Earth rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Good -
Supplements: Question featurette: Do You Believe in Aliens?
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 2, 2006
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson