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This humble reviewer has a definite soft spot for End Of The World movies -- I was the kid who stayed up 'til 2am in 1967 to see This Is Not A Test. The Anchor Bay blurb for Doomsday Prophecy promised scenes of our planet falling to pieces like it was made of sponge cake, so who could resist? Had I been a follower of the Syfy channel I'd probably have known that the show had already made its premiere there in August of 2011. A product of the illustrious Cinetel company, Doomsday Prophecy is at least better than the Roger Corman-produced time wasters that give Syfy a bad name.
Gather all the doomsday prediction foolishness of the past twenty years, sauteé with a dose of Evil Government conspiracy theory hoo-haw, and you'll come up with Doomsday Prophecy, an overly ambitious and painfully underfunded Save-The-World adventure. Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, the reclusive prophet Rupert Crane (Matthew Walker) hides from the U.S. Government. Rupert accurately predicted 9-11, and the Feds want him to use his perfectly precise prognosticatory powers to help them avoid future threats. Suddenly, cracks open in the Earth. The entire Black Sea drains away! Rupert Crane summons three people to meet him in his cabin in the woods. A Manhattan publisher is told that he can have Crane's new book if the lowly proofreader Eric Fox (A.J. Buckley) Eric is dispatched to pick it up. Researcher Brooke Calvin (Jewel Staite of the Firefly TV series and movie), an expert on the doomsday philosophies of ancient cultures, is told that Crane needs her help. American Indian John (Gordon Tootoosis) and his granddaughter Raven (Roseanne Supernault) don't have to be summoned, exactly, as John's native intuition already tells him to head into the woods near Rupert Crane's cabin.
Eric and Brooke meet and discover that Rupert's power is sourced in a strange artifact, an iron rod that shocks whoever holds it with painful electrical visions of future events. Hunted by ruthless military agents dispatched to secure the rod at all costs, the proofreader and the researcher have only a few hours to save the planet. They must solve a riddle involving the rod, the alignment of the stars and ancient petroglyphs predicting doom in 2012, all the while outrunning and out-fighting a demented General's professional killers. Meanwhile, huge earthquakes around the world continue to devastate large cities and entire countries! Eric's boss is among hundreds of thousands killed when New York is shattered; the entire country of Italy sinks into the earth, as does a big chunk of China. And out in space, an enormous, sinister celestial object is cruising into our solar system, gobbling up planets as it proceeds. This is serious business, trust me.
Doomsday Prophecy plops these elements in the frying pan and sets up a twelve-hour deadline to add suspense. It plays as if it were written by a person who sets up Role Playing Games. The enigmatic Rupert Crane basically sends Eric and Brooke on a whirlwind scavenger hunt, complete with silly maps. Supplies and even vehicles are stashed where Crane predicts they'll be needed. Practically every minute introduces a new added wrinkle of jeopardy. Scenes are no longer than four or five minutes, and at the end of each one is another armed confrontation, a new leg of the race to run, or a new geological outrage. Radio and TV reports sound altogether too composed when they say things like, "...the entire nation of Italy has just disappeared. This is a serious tragedy affecting millions!"
Yes, the Mayan calendar is mentioned, but don't think for a minute that Doomsday Prophecy discourages irrational beliefs -- Rupert's discovery is that all ancient civilizations knew about the coming A Capella-Lips, which ties into those giant heads buried on Easter Island. Brooke discounts silly ancient prophecies in her first scene, and then spends the rest of the show interpreting them in complete detail. The other big bugaboo is the familiar millstone dragging down much of today's Science Fiction entertainment: the Government Black Ops Conspiracy. We get our cheap anti-Government paranoia and the requisite eagle-eyed assassins driving black vans and aiming laser beams from their telescopic sights onto unsuspecting targets. Of course, nobody who works for the Federal government can be trusted, not for a minute. Agent Garcia (Bruce Ramsay) is the exception to the rule, but only because time is running out in the screenplay. And hey, he has been betrayed by his own boss, the above-mentioned slimy general (Alan Dale).
Monogram Pictures, Sam Katzman and Edgar Ulmer had a good solution for depicting scenes way too expensive to visualize, even with miniatures -- let them happen off-screen! Modern cheapo Sci-Fi pictures now must show everything, so Doomsday Prophecy treats us to six or seven minutes of Computer Generated Animation. We get the bare minimum of what's necessary to show cracks opening in the earth, or rows of skyscrapers falling down. None of it even begins to look real; the same pattern of cracks is used, at different scales, to show various kinds of terrain crumbling into angular blocks before falling downward into vast chasms in the earth. Just why is our planet so hollow? Termites? I'm not faulting the effects company at all, as there is only so much that can be done for a few thousand dollars and no time or special resources. Frankly, the supposedly 'photo-real' similar effects in the recent turkey 2012 are just as insipid. Incidentally, Doomsday Prophecy shares with 2012 the new miracle of the screen, Nickotime™! Eric's cars are really good, as they can outrun giant cracks opening in the ground, and speed ahead of horrible clouds of fiery volcanic ash and gases. 1
This brings up an interesting thought about movie special effects. Forty years ago we stopped accepting obvious miniatures, painted backdrops and clumsy rear projection for our movie fantasies. Today, expensive movies with millions to spend on computer farms in India and Indonesia can produce some very impressive illusions if the design work is good. But low budget filmmaking often uses digital effects that are far less entertaining than old-school toy cars and miniature buildings. Viewers accept these cut-price efforts; most of what passes for Sci-fi is now an animated cartoon.
The lead actors are not at all bad. A.J. Buckley and Jewel Staite are into the spirit of the proceedings and deal with every awkward plot development with professional aplomb. The dialogue is rather well turned out, considering the absurd situations -- you try and figure out a reasonable way for actors to respond to a "brief news bite" broadcast saying that Italy no longer exists. Doomsday Prophecy certainly has fun within the narrow boundaries of what is considered commercially necessary for this strata of made-for-TV show. Despite all of the attendant nonsense, I'd have to call it diverting.
Anchor Bay's DVD of Doomsday Prophecy is a very good encoding. A Blu-ray is also available but I don't know how much better those special effects are going to look in hi-res. When the enormous Icky Space Wedgie comes-a-calling to swallow up the Earth (sort of a blend of Gorath and Star Trek: The Motion Picture) the animation of various planets being sucked into its black hole looks... pretty dicey.
Judging by on-set footage in the accompanying featurette The Stories are True, the live action for Doomsday Prophecy was filmed on 35mm. The featurette tasks the various actors with making positive EPK-style comments about the movie. One of them volunteers the double-edged remark, "I looked at the script and thought, boy this is ambitious!" 2
Perhaps the screenwriter's own opinion can be summed up in the dauntless hero Eric Fox's own statement at the end of the show: "It's one big cosmic can of worms." Right on, Eric.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Doomsday Prophecy rates:
1. When a volcano explodes, it takes only fifteen seconds or so for the gas cloud to cover a distance of twenty or thirty miles. But when the lethal cloud gets to the highway, Eric's car out-races it by accelerating from 45 to 60 mph! Ain't that great?
2. This reminds me of the evasive, grinning response my producer got from Russ Tamblyn, about the non-singer Natalie Wood recording some test songs for West Side Story and hoping that they would be used: "Boy, those are some really tough songs to sing, aren't they?"
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Also, don't forget the 2011 Savant Wish List.
T'was Ever Thus.