I've been a science fiction fan (always eschewing the juvenile sounding "sci-fi") for as long as I can remember. The highlight of my week as a child was watching the Saturday Afternoon Creature Feature Show on the local UHF station. Old Universal horror movies and b-grade SF films would keep me glued to the set. Over the intervening years I've spent countless hours watch and reading science fiction, which is why I'm a little surprised that I don't spend more time tuned to the Sci-Fi Channel. Apart from the fact that a lot of fans take offense to the name, and that they spend their resources on stupid ideas (like announcing that they are going to sue the government to declassify UFO documents) the main problem with the channel is that much of what they show is terribly mediocre. On the plus side, some of their original programing has been pretty good. I enjoyed their Dune miniseries, so I had high hopes for their latest TV event, and five hour miniseries 5ive Days to Midnight. Unfortunately this series, which has just been released on DVD, falls into the mediocre category too.
Dr. J. T. Neumeyer is a physics professor at a research university and the single parent of a daughter, Jesse. His wife died ten years ago while giving birth to their child, making one of the most joyous days in his life also the saddest. While visiting his wife's grave with Jesse on her birthday, they discover a strange locked briefcase engraved "Professor J. T. Neumeyer." Taking it home he manages to figure out the combination and opens the case to reveal a police file. A police file on the investigation of Dr. Neumeyer's murder. In five days, at 3:55 am in a seedy strip club, J. T. Is going to be shot in the head and killed, a single unfired bullet the only clue to who killed him.
At first J. T. thinks that it is a hoax, albeit an elaborate one. There are newspaper clippings and crime scene photos along with an autopsy report and a list of suspects. But the more he looks at it, the more convinced he becomes that the file is real. He finally proves it to himself when the story on the back of one of the newspaper clippings comes true. That means he has to try and alter fate, and stop his own murder.
Parts of this show were interesting, but ultimately it didn't work for me. To start with, it really isn't a science fiction program. A more accurate description would be a mystery show that has a SF aspect to it, and as a mystery, it just didn't grab me. Half an hour into the first show, I could see the path that the plot would take. None of the twists and turns that occurred really surprised me. One thing that really disappointed me is how frequently the characters in the show would be two steps behind the viewer as far as what was going on. A good example is the combination to the briefcase. It is a six digit number, and it was found next to his wife's grave on his daughters birthday. Hmmm. But the show builds this up as a nearly impossible mystery to solve. This happens over and over again, with the viewer guessing many events before they happen. This take a lot of the suspense and fun out of the show.
I also found the directorial style of the show very irritating. The entire show was filled with slow motion shots and jerky camera movements. I understand that the director (Michael W. Watkins) was trying to play with time and use that as a theme for the program, but it got out of hand. There are only so many streaky slow motion pan shots one can take. These flourishes fancy camera tricks came at the expense of storytelling and really hurt the program.
The music that accompanies the show was very overdone and intrusive. There was pounding dramatic music at the most minor events in the show. When J. T. touches the briefcase or walks into a room it sounds like he's about to meet his doom. Instead of building tension and enhancing the show, the music became almost comical after a while. It was just too much.
The script itself was also padded a lot. It seemed like they had trouble filling up the time they were allotted. Many segments just lasted too long (especially the gripping Xerox scene where we watch J. T. copy the contents for the file for a full minute and a half) and a lot of parts could have been cut out altogether. After J. T. is convinced that the file is genuine, we still get to sit in on a meeting where we find out that the photos from the briefcase couldn't have been photo-shopped. Cutting an hour from the running time would have helped a lot.
There are also a few continuity errors that really bugged me. There were minor ones, like the fact that there are hurricane force winds and rain on one side of town while it's barely sprinkling on the other. Then there is a much bigger one too that takes place at the end of the show. *Spoiler Warning* After J. T. manages to avoid being killed, the file instantly transforms into the police file on another murder. But earlier in the program when J. T. saves a woman's life, the back of the newspaper clipping that told of her death doesn't change. This may sound minor, but it is this clipping that convinces Jesse to do some investigation on her own. If the clipping had changed, the story wouldn't have worked out the way it did. *End Spoiler*
While the first four episodes were mediocre, the last episode really took a turn for the worse. The ending was terribly contrived, with the writers trying to wrap up all the various dangling plot points at the same moment. It had people changing their personalities to suit the script, and others showing up at just the right place and time by mere coincidence. The show really ended as a fairly bad mess.
Though there were a lot of aspect of the show I didn't like, there were some positive things too. Timothy Hutton does a good job as Dr. Neumeyer. He is able to portray the doctor's fear of being killed without going over the top and being hammy. TI would have been easy to overact in this role, but his acting is very restrained, and that added a lot to the show.
The one actor who really stole the show was Gage Golightly as the daughter Jesse. She looks like a young Drew Barrymore, and acts better than a lot of adults. She really made her character come alive, and was able to make the things Jesse did seem normal. I found myself drawn to her every time she was on the screen. If she continues acting, she has a great career ahead of her.
This show comes with English audio tracks in both 5.1 and 2.0. I started viewing the show in 5.1, but switched over to stereo track about ½ hour in. There was an annoying hum in the background of one scene that was present in the 5.1 track but is absent in the 2.0. (It occurs about 36:20 into the show.) I spot checked the 5.1 mix through the rest of the show and didn't notice it again, but it could have been present in other scenes. As it was, the stereo soundtrack was pretty clean with some use made of the front soundstage. The storm scenes sounded dynamic and the overdone music that seemed omnipresent came through clearly.
The anamorphic widescreen image was pretty good overall. A lot of the show had a grainy look to it and the colors were a little muted, but I'm sure that was purposeful. There was some edge enhancement, but they weren't too heavy handed in the application of it. Digital defects were minimal. Overall the show looks pretty good.
The second DVD has a good number of extras included with it:
Formula for Design: a 13 minute featurette that talks about the props and sets of the film and how they helped make the film more realistic.
Fractures of Time: This eleven-minute feature discusses the way the film was shot and the look of the show.
Remixing Reality: A ten-minute short that talks about the special effects used in the show.
Proving Destiny: The Weatherby Oak Tree Stunt: A ten-minute look at how they created the Weatherby Oak and how the shot where it topples was created.
Audio Commentary by director Michael Watkins and DP Joel Ransom on episodes one and four: These are mediocre tracks. Both the director and the directory of photography are really impressed with the work that they did. There is a lot of mutual patting-on-the-back and mentioning how good various shots turned out, especially at the beginning. Since I didn't like the way the show looked, I didn't agree with a lot of these kudos that they were handing out.
While the acting was good in this mini-series, I didn't find the story very engrossing. It never really reached out and grabbed me. Part of the reason was the distracting style that the series was filmed in, and another was the overblown music track. But mostly it was the script. A lot of the plot points were easy to see in advance and there just wasn't that much suspense. 5ive Days to Midnight isn't horrible, it just doesn't have a lot to recommend it. There are a lot of good SF series available on DVD, and I think most people would spend their time and money more wisely by searching one of them out. Rent it.