Like porn and horror, there is something intensely addictive about inadvertently bad movies. No, not the one's made on purpose. Exercises in nostalgia like Lost Skeleton of Cadavra or It Came From Somewhere Else usually don't work, since they tend to show off their ironic sense of familiarity instead of simply being funny. No, when one stumbles across a truly terrible bit of well intentioned cinema - usually while surfing past a certain USA Network owned genre channel late at night - the feeling of goofy gratification is incomparable. Call it the choice cheese factor, or the discovery of a heretofore unknown magnificent catastrophe, but the result is usually the same - you are entertained, and embarrassed at the same time. Earthstorm is that kind of shame inducing experience. It wants to be an apocalyptic vision of the kind of cosmic calamity awaiting our tiny planet. It ends up being a daffy disaster film with enough of its own awkward qualities to keep your humiliation at bay.
When a enormous meteor strikes the moon, it causes a massive seismic fault in the lunar surface. This fissure forces the planet's orbit out of alignment, and messes with Earth's tidal schedule. This, in turn, screws with the weather worldwide, causing massive hurricanes and the beginnings of a new ice age. As huge chunks of the satellite strike major cosmopolitan areas like Baltimore and Mexico City, the US Space Agency is struggling with a solution. While Dr. Lara Gale wants to follow her late father's findings and use magnetism to close the growing chasm, her government rival, Victor Stevens, wants to nuke the opening. In order to accomplish either task, they need a real explosives expert. Enter John Redding, a famed demolitions whiz well known for his precise building implosions. The Agency hopes he can guide the shuttle crew as to how to arm and discharge their eventual solution. But an approaching storm moves up the mission, and Redding must take a seat onboard the space ship. It's just a matter of time before the moon cracks in half, sending an extinction level event hurtling toward our world. If they can't fix the problem, it will cause an Earthstorm that no one will survive.
Super serious, super silly, and super cheesy, Earthstorm is the action movie equivalent of orthopedic shoes. It looks like your typical Armageddon/Day After Tomorrow/ Apollo 13 rip-off, but beneath its shoddy CGI, pseudo-science speak script, and incredibly mannered performances, is a crooked filmic foot that just can't manage on its own. Thanks to the efforts of journeyman junk director Terry Cunningham (Global Effect, Con Express) and tech-twang of writer Michael Konyves (Solar Strike, Caved In) what should be nothing more than Sci-Fi Channel level schlock ends up transcending its grade-Z goofiness to become a perfectly mindless entertainment. Indeed, it's the kind of movie you can watch without worrying about plot logic, interpersonal character dynamics, rational real world explanations, and visually arresting eye candy. Like the cinematic equivalent of corn nuts, one can just sit back and inhale this sucker, partaking of its particular pleasures while doing nothing adverse outside of piling on the cinematic calories. If you're looking for a speculative doomsday dynamic that feels like it could play out in the plausible future, a narrative that mixes truth with considered conjecture, you won't be finding it here. But if you simply need a way to misuse 90 minutes of otherwise overbooked itinerary, this is the time waster for you.
The competition for most laughable aspect of this well intentioned idiocy is too close to call. The acting is really mannered, the primary offender being a certain Mr. Stephen Baldwin. A recently born again Christian, the former D-list party boy is now a wholly dedicated thespian, his frozen frame posing supposedly substituting for internal grit and determination. You can tell that his demolition expert character is really concerned about something when Steve slightly arches one eyebrow and glowers like Larry King just asked him about his brother Alec's custody battle. Such ill-advised machismo is one of several off kilter personality turns in Earthstorm. Amy Price-Francis, a longtime TV fixture, is all tear ducts and wounded pride as angry astrophysicist Lara Gale. Taking every opportunity the plot allows to stand up for her dead Daddy (who predicted the moon would split like a spoilt grape if hit by a meteor), she is stoicism trapped in stasis. As the government bad guy who made Dr. Gale's life a living Hell in the past, old school Battlestar Galactica/A-Team stud Dirk Benedict puts on the slightest Southern accent, the better to belittle the Red State reality of his administration. Toss in a few more 'swinging for the rafters' re-actors and dialogue that dismisses anything remotely reasonable and you've got the makings of some major cult crap.
But then Cunningham adds the final fault to this already flaw filled fiesta. From a totally in-computer building demolition, to shots of the marred moon rendered in what appears to be 1968 era NASA animation, the Commodore 64 nature of the F/X is like stumbling upon an early ad for Apple's Lisa. All that's missing are a few vector diagrams and dot matrix text across the bottom of the screen. The visualizations are truly laughable - humdrum, dimensionless, and straight out of Space 1999. The lunar surface itself resembles a bad Bob Ross painting, while the various action set piece (asteroids rocking Baltimore and Mexico City) play out in Sega Dreamcast style spectacle. Earthstorm is definitely a movie that wants to manage the large scale on the low end of budgetary abilities, and frankly, the viewer couldn't have gotten a better deal. Had this movie featured epic vistas, jaw dropping moments of mindblowing optical pizzazz, all the other flaws would flash away like unavoidable warning lights. Try as we might to avoid their distorting glare, we'd be faced with the fact that a really well done movie - technically - was being constantly undermined by other piss poor production elements (right, Michael Bay?). Here, however, the Pascal level pictures nicely co-exist with the other half-backed elements, delivering an easily enjoyed level of all around lameness. Thanks to its desire to never reach beyond the mediocre, Earthstorm ends up being just that - and bad film fans couldn't be happier.
Thanks to First Look Home Entertainment, this made in Canada crapshoot looks pretty good on DVD. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is clean and crisp, with clearly defined details and readily balanced colors. There is still an overall flatness to the image, and the effects really look dull blown up to home theater specs, but overall, this is a professional product - at least from a visual standpoint.
On the aural side of things, there is nothing very impressive about the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix. Sure, when big bad rocks tumble into city streets and building facades, the speakers go spastic. Otherwise, there is very little reliance on the multichannel set up to provide mood or spatial atmosphere. Indeed, this is basic upfront film sound, nothing more or less.
Unless you count the collection of previews as viable added content, First Look delivers the very definition of a bare bones disc. No interviews. No Making-Of featurette. No Commentary track.
While this critic runs the risk of ruining his already tenuous reputation by suggesting this cinematic stumble doesn't suck outright, imagine the beating his status will sustain when he goes out on a limb and actually offers up a rating of Recommended. Indeed, sometimes, a little motion picture mediocrity is just what the overworked aesthetic needs. Like Drain-O for your personal artistic dynamic, Earthstorm will cleanse your perception pipes and give you a whole new outlook on the celluloid medium. Granted, it will grate on your nerves once in a while, and the plot holes will probably misalign your already shaky b-movie tolerances, but if you go in expecting very little, you'll come out feeling satisfied and slightly self-righteous. A film like this has the ability to amplify your sense of cinematic superiority. It taps directly into your primal need for survival and rewards you with ridiculous random camp. Like any guilty pleasure, you'll feel incredibly culpable for the amount of fun you'll have. What more can one ask for?