Thursday, January 30, 2014

Review: Arctic Blast

As this week's incident in Atlanta demonstrates, a region unaccustomed to severe winter conditions is much more likely to experience disaster-scale problems than more northerly regions, where everybody's used to it. Thus, it's at least partly forgivable when mistakes are made under unexpectedly wintry conditions in the former case.

What's not so forgivable is when you make a movie about a flash-freezing weather phenomenon and you obviously lack understanding of what being in harsh winter conditions is actually like. I hypothesize the director and/or screenwriter must've been natives of Tasmania—the setting of the cheap disaster movie Arctic Blast, which I only assume was on SyFy—where it doesn't go below zero (Fahrenheit). There's a special kind of sadness in a movie with such scientific pretensions and yet such obvious scientific failures.

Most of the "action" in Arctic Blast takes place in rooms full of computers—which is at least the right feel for a movie like this—but when it's not staring at screens, it gets a lot of mileage out of its main flash-freezing visual effect, which is obviously cheap but not terrible. Yet the antagonist—the titular "arctic blast"—never seems to fall below -120° F for the whole movie. Dangerously cold, yes; infrastructure-challengingly cold, yes; but end-of-the-world cold? Flash-freezing cold? So cold that you can't even see your breath?

I kid their production values, but their chosen disaster MacGuffin is sort of a fatal flaw. And from the genuineness of its presentation, one gets the sense that the screenwriter wanted to be a weatherman, but didn't make it past Chroma Wall Gesturing 101—or maybe it was the dreaded Intro to Birthday Announcing—and opted instead to make a meteorologically suspect movie. I'd love to watch Arctic Blast with a bunch of Siberians some time.

Even if one is willing to suspend disbelief—and they do go to great lengths to make everything SEEM scientific, via lots of not-overly-stupid computer charts and radar imaging—the clunky story still seems intent on losing viewers.

Consider the scenes immediately preceding the climax. The fate of the world rests on protagonist Jack (Michael Shanks) completing a calculation and sending its results to his obstinate boss Winslaw (Bruce Davison), before it's too late. Multiple characters urgently insist that "we need that data NOW." Just then, Jack's colleague and possible post-divorce-rebound Zoe goes into a well-telegraphed but narratively-pointless diabetic coma.

Rather than stick around and save the world, Jack elects to drive into town, mid-Snowpocalypse, to get her some insulin—despite the very real risk that fifty-below temperatures might prevent his car from getting him there and back. (It does; it's a Toyota, and the movie seems suspiciously fond of them.) Meanwhile, Jack's daughter (who he rescued from an absurd surfing scene) is called upon to send the data to Winslaw, which seems like a good setup for a tense moment, since she's a high-school kid with no idea what to do—and then the generator fails, immediately spoiling said moment.

This pattern—going to great lengths to set up a possibly dramatic moment which is then completely whizzed down the leg—recurs a few times in Arctic Blast, from the waitress's death scene (which seems to cry out for a handgun) to the cruise ship thing (why'd they even bother?) to the wife's parents' house (yes movie, grind to more of a halt, please). The effect of all this—and of all those melodramatic early character-establishing scenes—is the impossibility of viewer engagement. I doubt even weather nerds would be into it.

That's especially problematic because, as you may have inferred, this is one of those SyFy cheapies that takes itself seriously. Its environmental message is only a little more subtle than that of the fourth Star Trek movie. I feel like I need to watch Sharknado just to purge my psyche. (And yes, I will watch that, one of these days.)

What little Arctic Blast has going for it is its two name actors. I never watched Stargate and therefore was unfamiliar with Shanks; he's pretty good in this, bringing a level of gravity and verisimilitude (and stubble) that wouldn't have looked out of place on BSG. As for Davison, I've never seen him in anything quite this low-budget before, and while he has his moments of obvious idon'tgiveashittitude, he's kind of engaging even then.

Though it's got some good riffing opportunities—I especially loved the terrible driving scene rear-projections and the ingenious way they got around having to continue using them—Arctic Blast isn't recommended. While it's not quite head-smackingly stupid, there are plenty of similar movies that are more fun to watch. The most exciting thing about it is its title.

Star Score: 1 out of 5

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