For the small Oregon town of Paxton, the arrival of the Trans Nova oil company is cause for controversy. On one hand, CEO Oliver Booth (Terry O'Quinn) appears committed to environmentally friendly initiatives, and drilling means jobs for locals. On the other hand, mysterious bursts of CO2 have been popping up all over the area, killing everything from fish to horses. Dr. Matthew Cooper (Michael Vartan) believes the company is environmentally kosher, but the repeated efforts of eco-activist Emily Booth (Lauren Lee Smith) -- also Oliver's estranged daughter -- and potential whistleblower driller Hector Janen (Ian Tracey) lead to the discovery that not only is Trans Nova illegally drilling 5,000 feet beneath the depth they claim they're drilling at, but they're actually drilling into a reservoir of magma, the release of which will set off an "extinction-level" chain reaction across the world's "Ring of Fire" volcano strip.
"Ring of Fire" is a two-part, three-hour miniseries "movie." Although the cover art and plot synopsis may make this sound like an over-the-top sci-fi goof a few steps away from aliens or monsters, this is more of a thriller in line with Dante's Peak than Volcano. Despite a number of flaws, the film basically decent in terms of acting, directing, and production values. It's easy to criticize "Ring of Fire" for avoiding chances to add a little complexity to the proceedings, but this slickly-produced genre piece is also reasonably engaging, registering as above-average for a production designed as a snap-judgment channel-surfing pick.
At first, Emily's determination to bring down Trans Nova is pretty obnoxious. Others question whether Emily's out to protect the environment or hurt her father, but director Paul Shapiro and screenwriters Steven Berman and Michael Vickerman dodge the question, and, of course, kinda side with her by default when the drilling causes a volcanic eruption. Terry O'Quinn's performance is excellent, and it's refreshing that his failure to act is not spun into a redemption story (a dramatic note saved for Brendan Fletcher as Hector's brother), but the father-daughter friction would be more interesting if Oliver wasn't a common corporate stooge putting profits ahead of public safety. As the film moves into the second half, both Emily and Oliver soften. Emily's abrasiveness is toned down, but the film gives her less to do, saddling her with worry over her young son's whereabouts. Throughout, Michael Vartan makes for a strong everyman, injecting Dr. Cooper with just enough personality to avoid disappearing.
Although "Ring of Fire" doesn't feel overlong, it could easily be a film instead of a miniseries, with the additional hour serving as padding. A thread involving a random protester and a Trans Nova gate guard is completely separated from the central story, and the second part of the miniseries introduces more characters without the time to really introduce them. Luckily, editor Alison Grace does a good job of jumping between multiple story threads, never lingering too long on stories the audience isn't that invested in. There are more threads here than are necessary, and at least a couple could be lopped right out of the movie, but returning to them isn't necessarily a chore.
Action-wise, Shapiro is an okay choice. Scenes of Vartan and Smith speeding away from volcanic eruptions are accentuated with silly shaky-cam, but Shapiro finds a balance between cropping the shot to hide the budgetary limitations and staying wide enough that the sequence isn't obnoxious (the shaky-cam after the car action is much more annoying). On the other hand, he seems completely blind to at least a couple of obvious dramatic moments. One sequence, as written, is intended to build up a character as crucial, then throw a curve-ball by revealing someone else as the real focal point. The entrance of the other character is so flat and matter-of-fact that many viewers probably won't even notice. Later, he tries to jam in a moment of naive playfulness between two scenes of public panic, just so the second sequence can have more impact.
Although there are only a few cliches that really harp on the nerves (no cell phone service / dead battery), most of the second part feels very by-the-book. Dr. Cooper volunteers to man a craft into the volcano in the hopes of opening a fissure. Fletcher's character becomes determined to help Hector, who is trapped inside the mine. Apologies are made, relationships are repaired. Shapiro cuts from people wearing headsets to computer screens showing percentages and gauges. It's not a drag, but it is perfunctory, which sums up "Ring of Fire" in a nutshell.
Vivendi adds a bit of class to run-of-the-mill PhotoShoppy artwork for "Ring of Fire" by branding it with a steely gray "Doomsday Series" frame that makes this feel like more than a direct-to-video sci-fi flick. A standard eco-friendly Viva Elite Blu-Ray case is packed inside a cardboard slipcover with identical artwork, and there is no insert inside the case.
The Video and Audio
Vivendi's 1.78:1 1080p AVC presentation of "Ring of Fire" is pretty top-notch. The photography has a pleasing film-like softness, bringing fine detail down from "razor-sharp" to "very strong," but only in a manner that appears intentional. Colors look accurate and vibrant, without any of the boring de-saturation, tweaking, or intentional blow-out of the major blockbusters. Throughout the entire three hour film, I did not notice any instances of banding or artifacting. It might not be a "demo disc," but this appears to be as faithful as a Blu-Ray can get.
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 picks up when the action does. When the volcanos start shaking things up, the mix rattles the subwoofer. The scene inside the mine is thunderous and immersive, with showers of sparks, moaning drill machinery, and ground-rattling tremors. Above ground, fireballs fly out of the screen, landing within a few feet of the central characters, accompanied by screeching car tires and showers of gravel. Shortly thereafter, a shockwave practically roars toward the screen like a lion. Unsurprisingly, regular dialogue sounds just fine as well. All too often, mixes for TV shows and direct-to-video features are weightless and insubstantial, but Ring of Fire delivers on the level of a good big-screen feature. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
No extras focusing on "Ring of Fire" are included, but there is a reasonably lengthy promo (10:31, HD) for "Eve of Destruction", the next entry in Reelz "Doomsday Series." Trailers for Neverland, Treasure Island, and "Delete" play before the main menu.
Anyone who finds the trailer interesting and is in the mood for standard spectacle rather than inspiration or invention will probably enjoy this as a rental.
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