Note to Earth: If/when a meteor ever does happen to come tumbling toward the planet, threatening to wipe out all life as we know it, make sure we have more than three scientists on the case. Just a heads up there.
Yes, "Meteor" - the two-part NBC miniseries that rivaled ABC's "Impact" this summer for disaster dumbassery - goes above and beyond with the improbability, to the point we stop giggling over ridiculous bits of faulty science and start howling over massive logic holes, lazy cliché, and just plain awful storytelling. Here is a movie that tells us there is a top government research facility dedicated entirely to tracking extraterrestrial objects that could slam into the planet, but everyone who works there needs to be told what a meteor is.
The man doing the telling is Dr. Chetwyn, played with sweaty insanity by Jason Alexander. Chetwyn's role in the story is to teach all these military types (led by Ernie Hudson!) all about the big rocks floating around in space, including the one that's just been detected to be on a collision course with Earth. Oh, and Chetwyn is set up to be the only guy available who can do the math and figure out trajectories and orbits and estimated times until impact; looks like the planet's entire scientific community picked the wrong week to go to Cabo.
There are two other scientists on call who can also do the math: Dr. Lehman (Christoher Lloyd) and his grad student assistant, Imogene (Marla Sokoloff). Lehman's the one who discovered the meteor, and the two must make the frantic rush from their observatory in Mexico to Chetwyn's military headquarters on the outskirts of Los Angeles. But in a string of bad luck that would make for a marvelous drinking game (take a shot every time Imogene is around someone who's killed), their journey is packed with obstacles, from hit-and-run drivers to greasy drug dealers to Border Patrol agents.
Oh, and it turns out Chetwyn is a terrible scientist, good only for standing around with a panicked look on his face, his bald head shimmering with perspiration. It's Imogene who's the Only One Who Can Save Us, and only Lehman's laptop can possibly handle the elaborate computations, perhaps because it contains a beta version of Windows 7 while Ernie Hudson's stuck with Vista.
While all of this is going on, we get two subplots, one just kinda dumb, the other glorious in its dimbulbery. The first, less awful one: one of the bonus meteorites crashes into a rural California hospital (oh, there's talk of the rest of the world, but the only stuff that matters all takes place in a hundred mile radius of Los Angeles), and an emergency room doctor (Erin Cottrell) must fight her way through the debris to find her son, who's trapped inside. It's straight out of Irwin Allen, although the script (by Alex Greenfield, a former head writer for WWE - yes, really) tosses us some howlers, like the twist that the doctor's son is stuck in a room with the two school bullies who constantly harass him on the bus, but now they're friends, see, because that's what death by meteor does to kids. (Oh, and because this miniseries has no sense of scope, it's the doctor's family that first encounters an early meteorite, which crashes near their home. It all ties together!)
Subplot number two, aka Never Mind the Apocalypse, Here's the Serial Killer: Jack (Bill Campbell) is an ace cop whose partner, Calvin Stark (Michael Rooker), recently went sour. Jack wanted to turn Calvin over to Internal Affairs, but Calvin struck first, killing his (Calvin's) wife, then escaping into the night, but not before promising to kidnap and kill Jack's teen daughter. Neither guy decides to put this feud on hold once the sky starts falling, so we're left with delirious chase across southern California, resulting in numerous murders (which don't matter since, hey, they're not main characters or anything, so who cares?) and a showdown outside the very radio tower needed to transmit the proper instructions to the nukes headed into space!
It's all as pointless as it sounds, and we haven't even mentioned Jack's country sheriff dad, played by Stacy Keach, who seems to be the only performer who realizes he's in a big ol' pile of lousy and hams it up to compensate. Keach is great fun to watch, the grizzled old timer beating the crap out of anyone who crosses him - even though he's left watching over sub-subplots like the one where the gun-crazy redneck gets a good talking to, which gets him to stop shooting people and start handing out blankets to old ladies at the fallout shelter. (Oh, Keach's sheriff works in the small town where the wrecked hospital is, because, yup, it all ties together!!!)
The rest of this saga is filled with countless fake-out climaxes (we blew up the rock! Oops, no we didn't!), melodrama of the hammiest kind, and, best of all, footage of military types shooting down meteorites with rocket launchers, which isn't so much "scientifically feasible" as it is "stupid yet awesome thing Michael Bay wishes he thought up." Um, yay?
Genius Entertainment and RHI collect both halves of the miniseries (188 minutes total) onto a single disc.
Video & Audio
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is much grainier than I'd have expected; night shots come riddled with the stuff. The rest of the series has a clear (if not perfectly crisp) made-for-TV look, with decent colors and detail.
The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, on the other hand, goes all out with the swishing and swooping of the rear speakers every chance it gets. No sound in space? Don't tell that to the mixers, who pound us with some rather sweet surround noises every time the meteor chunks pass (accompanied by a solid amount of bass). Effects throughout are nicely blended, while never getting in the way of the dialogue.
None, unless you count the handful of trailers that play as the disc loads.
If you're a certain type who, like me, gets a kick out of something that fails this much, you'll certainly want to give "Meteor" a rent. Those of you who want your entertainment to actually be kinda, you know, good, well, you should just Skip It.