It's a little unfair to ridicule "Impact" for getting its science wrong when it doesn't even know how time zones work. If the script thinks it's midnight in New Mexico when it's also midnight in Germany, what chance does it have at dealing with psychics and calculus?
Besides, when we come to dopey disaster fare like this, accurate science is a nice surprise, not a mandatory ingredient. We've been trained to roll our eyes silently whenever, say, characters try to outrun antigravity (don't ask), at least as long as the drama holds. While I'll never deny that all those exciting shots of buildings crumbling and tidal waves crashing are a definite draw, the ultimate hook isn't how the world ends, but how we as humans respond to it ending.
More often than not, however, the drama just ain't there. Like in "Impact," the two-part TV miniseries that premiered on ABC earlier this year, in which a meteor collides with the moon, knocking it on a collision course with Earth. There's not a character backstory we haven't heard before, not a piece of cliché that goes unused as the story progresses, not a well-worn subplot not worn unwell, not a line of dialogue that can't be mangled to include some awful chunk of exposition.
Consider an opening scene between ace scientist Roland Emerson (Benjamin Sadler) and fiancée Martina (Florentine Lahme): here we have what's supposed to be one of the world's smartest men, and the screenplay (by TV schlock vet Michael Vickerman) opts to push him through that tired old bit about how he's too stupid to realize she's announcing a pregnancy because he's so wrapped up in his work, blah blah blah.
Meanwhile, ace scientist Alex Kittner (David James Elliott) is still mourning the months-earlier death of his wife; his father-in-law (James Cromwell) has turned into an agoraphobe, refusing to leave his house - and complaining repeatedly about new-fangled technology. And yet the mountains of foreshadowing about how his old car isn't affected by computer crashes and such go nowhere; new, computer-dependent cars never become the useless machines the entire first hour sets them up to become. Hmm.
Meanwhile again, ace scientist Maddie Rhodes (Natasha Henstridge) - Alex's old colleague - is divorced from a sleazy reporter (Colin Cunningham), who's desperate for an exclusive interview, and to hell with professional integrity. It should be noted that there's an entire scene devoted to discussing the downfall of the modern American newspaper, which Vickerman's script blames not on new media and a radical shift in information delivery, but on television. People don't want to read the news, a grizzled editor explains, they want to watch it. Yes, television, that burgeoning technology of tomorrow, will be the downfall of print media. Better keep an eye on that! And that Uncle Miltie is hilarious!
There's also a plotline involving the President (Steven Culp), who, when not giving speeches that strain to sound like they came from "Independence Day," must decide between the ace scientists' surefire plan or the paranoid ramblings of an Army general (Michael Kopsa) whose dialogue comes airlifted directly from the Cold War: he grumbles about how he doesn't want Yankee missile technology to land in the hands of those dirty Russkies.
Oh, and for no reason beyond pandering to the Bible Belt, Maddie's assistant (Yee Jee Tso) finds the bulk of his non-expository dialogue dealing with debates on religion vs. science. He's shocked - shocked! - to discover Maddie is an atheist, and he rails about how there's only so much science can explain before you give over to faith. Curiously, since he's the series' only representative on matters of religion, it's he who's stuck having a clichéd crisis of faith midway through - a crisis that starts and resolves within a single scene, that is, because who has time for character development?
Science gets a bad rap throughout the series, despite science actually, you know, saving the day repeatedly. (The screenplay never gets a proper grip on its own outlook - some scenes rally against science as the only answer, while others use science to make everybody look so smart n' stuff.) Our paranoid general mocks the ace scientists and their "theories" with a tone that suggests nobody making the movie understands what a scientific theory is: oh, that gravity, it's just a theory! The finale manages to avoid such preachy heavyhandedness that plagued the George Pal disaster flicks of the 1950s, but it's still suggested that Maddie abandons her heartless atheism for good ol' American faith. The problem is that the character arc doesn't even approach organic, and the whole thing plays as an afterthought.
The most amusing afterthought - call it a complete non-thought, in fact - in "Impact" is the storyline involving Alex and his kids. He's called off to Washington, you see, and soon grandpa and the kids decide to make a cross country trek to find him. First we get some delirious time compression that has Alex training to fly to the moon - training which takes over a week - intercut with scenes of the kids holed up in a diner, a scene which covers maybe a handful of hours. Better still, once the kids show up (after dad's already blasted off, by the way), Alex's reaction to their arrival is priceless: oh, yeah, I have kids and probably should've called them or something.
Ah, but who has time for such thoughtfulness when we're dealing with a miniseries designed entirely around a limp collection of effects set pieces and melodramatic dimwittery? One imagines the writing process involved creating a long string of ideas - here's where the kids cry, here's where we see a train fly into the air, here's where the astronauts argue over not leaving anyone behind - and the rest was a quickie patch job, using moldy ideas and plot points from other disaster movies to fill in the gaps.
And most of those set pieces, well, they're just plain stupid. The moon's shrinking distance to us (enhanced, we're told, by a fragment of an ultra-dense, ultra-gravity-makin' brown dwarf star, because, yeah, sure, that sounds science-y enough) is causing a random assortment of phenomena, ranging from wild static electricity to a complete lack of gravity to German people who prefer to speak in English, even though their newscasts come in German. Aided by chintzy CGI (the antigravity, that is, not the German-English stuff), these scenes, with boats and trains and Parisians on scooters, are meant to be the money shots, but they wind up earning only giggles.
The whole thing leads to what's meant to be a touching bit of optimism on humanity's kinder, gentler side (even if it blatantly contradicts all the rioting, looting, and villainy of previous scenes). In a late montage, we're shown the world at peace with itself as it awaits the outcome of the final save-the-planet mission. And it all involves characters we've never seen before: a businessman enjoys a round of golf, Brits have a picnic, a teenager kisses the girl he's always wanted to ask out. We'll forgive that we've never met these people before - as a snapshot of life on Earth, it's cute enough that we get the filmmakers' intent - but the whole thing sort of deflates the tension. It's as if nobody on the planet cares if the moon hits or not, so why bother with the final ten minutes of the series?
But bother they do. And "Impact" will go over well with fans of the disaster genre - myself among them - but for all the wrong reasons. This is the sort of lamebrained TV concoction that you laugh at, not with. And for all its unrelenting cheese, faulty logic, and terrible writing, you'll be laughing at it for a very long time.
Sony has released the complete two-part, three-hour "Impact" on a single disc.
Video & Audio
"Impact" looks mostly wonderful in this 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, as one would expect from a modern television production intended for hi-def. There's some minor grain that pokes through in some of the darker scenes, but that's minimal; the rest shines with crisp detail and rich colors.
The Dolby 5.1 mix is also impressive, with plenty of use made of the rear speakers. Dialogue is clean, and effects have a solid depth to them. Optional English subtitles are included.
"Making of Impact" (24:51; 1.78:1 anamorphic) takes a while to get going - its first ten minutes are cluttered with the usual cast interviews in which they recap the story and their characters' traits - but it eventually picks up to a fine, detailed look at the filming process, with plenty of focus on the effects and sets.
"Creating Zero Gravity" (11:41) puts more focus on two key effects sequences: the train and the Parisian street, both experiencing antigravity. There's very little fluff here, the focus being on staying informative and interesting.
Three deleted scenes (3:54 total) round out the disc. These scenes are so short, they don't have time to add much to the story - it's little character moments with Alex, Martina, and the kids, respectively. All three are so badly written (Alex and Lloyd's arguments become redundant; Martina abruptly delivers an out-of-nowhere inspirational speech to fellow train passengers; the kids awkwardly follow up on some "man in the moon" dialogue from earlier) that their absence in the final product is a plus.
Fans of disaster fare will find enough silliness on display in "Impact" to make for a fun laugh-at-it rental, but the majority of you will do just fine to completely Skip It.