Thanks to the research of irritable scientist Dr. Craig Bakus (Anthony Lemke), the idea of space travel has completely changed. His invention, the scalar drive, collects loose solar energy floating through space in place of fuel. Without a finite amount of resources, Dr. Bakus' state-of-the-art spacecraft, the Roebling Clipper, can fly to the moon and back in just 7 hours. The ship's inaugural flight includes the First Lady (Jane Wheeler); a nervous civilian contest winner (Luis Oliva); a humanitarian aid worker (John Maclaren), whose wife (Julia Ormond) is still on the ground in Afghanistan; the president of Roebling (Bruce Dinsmore), the aerospace company that designed the rocket; and Dr. Bakus' sort-of girlfriend, Denise (Mylene Dinh-Robic). As the world watches, the jet blasts off with no problems, but a solar flare creates a catastrophic chain reaction that will wreak havoc on the planet.
Of all the "Doomsday Series" entries so far, "Exploding Sun" ends up being the strangest thanks to its unusual tone. The filmmakers seem want to do something different with this one, injecting a few twists and turns, but "Sun" jerks back and forth between odd twists and even older cliches, and the payoffs to the show's ambition go against the goofy entertainment vibe these kinds of productions go for. "Sun" may be slightly more tense than its predecessors, but it's bizarrely downbeat in addition to all the usual ham-and-cheese problems, which only seems likely to turn off the intended audience.
For starters, the primary character conflict makes both protagonists look bad. A large part of the film involves the presence of hero NASA astronaut Don Wincroft (David James Elliott), who also happens to be Craig's former best friend, and new husband to Craig's ex-wife Cheryl (Natalie Brown). When Don shows up at the launch, it sets off lingering tension between the two men that continues through the whole movie. Although Don is a bit irritating himself, constantly interrupting critical moments with questions for Craig, Craig gives him more than a normal cold shoulder, often ignoring reasonable suggestions and ideas in order to maintain his grudge. Their bitter rivalry leads up to one of the movie's first stunning moments, a surprisingly dark turn of events near the end of the first chapter. Stupid characters are a poison to entertaining dramatics, and it's hard to blame science for the ways their bitterness toward one another puts people's lives in danger.
Really, between Bakus and Wincroft (as well as Cheryl, who is sent in to get the two men to cooperate with each other), as well as the President and his daughter watching in terror, there's not much need for further characters, but "Exploding Sun" pads out its roster with some really strange threads. The strangest is Ormond's, trying to save 500 Afghan refugees on limited supplies. For the first hour, it's not even clear what her thread's even doing in the movie, but after storms start pummeling the planet, her thread takes an even crazier turn. With her food and shelter destroyed and many of the refugees dead, she turns to a local warlord for safety, hoping to return his runaway daughter in exchange for aid. The ultimatum he presents her with in return is jaw-dropping, and the outcome is even crazier. In principle, it's an interesting moral conundrum, but there's no way it belongs in "Exploding Sun."
Beyond these crazy moments, "Exploding Sun" almost gleefully dives into its cliches, including a member of the President's cabinet (Richard Jutras) desperate to have him labeled as emotionally compromised, the civilian passenger's wife (Cristina Rosato) and kid (Harley Chamandy) fighting through their terror to help the small town where they live, and the estranged son of the humanitarian (Robert Crooks), learning to do some humanitarianism of his own. On one hand, this is a movie where the climactic gambit involves flying a ship backwards when the heat shield doesn't go up, a moment of silliness that exists at a complete 180-degree angle from the dramatics that precede it. "Exploding Sun" is certainly memorable, but probably not for the right reasons.
Just like its predecessors, "Exploding Sun" follows the Doomsday Series template: gray border around a colorful promo image of sci-fi disaster. It's nothing new or special, but that gray border really does give the artwork a refined quality. The disc comes in a standard Viva Elite Blu-Ray case and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 1080p AVC, "Exploding Sun" looks the best out of all the Reelz disaster films to date, boasting a colorful, razor-sharp, well-defined image that is free of artifacts or banding. Blacks may crush a little, but it's an extremely minor complaint at best. A DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is a little less impressive than the picture, but it might still rattle viewers' windows in the second half, with rocket and storm sounds going off simultaneously. Some sequences fall a little flat, failing to find the right degree of substance to really pull the viewer in, but ultimately there are more pluses than negatives. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
A series of cast interviews with Lemke, Elliott, Brown, and Alex Weiner (3:38, 4:32, 3:28, 2:39) are included. Much like the ones on "Delete", these all ask the exact same generic questions and quickly become repetitive. Speaking of "Delete", a short trailer for it is also included.
Although the potential that "Exploding Sun" will dig itself into an even deeper, weirder hole is sort of compelling, it's not a particularly pleasant piece of genre fluff. Kudos to the filmmakers for attempting a little more gravitas, but they've gone way overboard with some of the plot points here. Skip it.
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