Who doesn’t love a good disaster flick? What with the advent of some really high-brow special effects, disaster pictures have grown into a cottage industry. Whether the world meets its inevitable demise by alien invasion, by some five-mile-wide meteor blasting in from distant stars, or by a plague of flesh-eating insects, Heaven knows it’ll all look great up on the silver screen or even on the small screen because it’ll be heavy on effects. RING OF FIRE – for all of its fits and starts – really wanted to show us one possible future for our planet. So far as this reviewer is concerned, if someone had held the camera still long enough for us to see what it would look like, then it might’ve been something.
Doesn’t anyone look at dailies any more?
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come’, then read on …)
Paxton, Oregon used to be a sleepy little town. Oh, it had its share of ups and downs as the residents of this TV miniseries will tell you as they recount past deaths that led to split families and even a few divorces. But when a sinister oil baron (played by TV regular Terry O’Quinn) and his laser drill technology threatens to rip open the very fabric of the Earth, only super-scientist Dr. Matthew Cooper (Michael Vartan) with a pending brain aneurism (???) can save the day using some top-secret space capsule NASA designed to send the first man to Venus!
Still with me?
As is often the case in the world of telepictures, there isn’t an awful lot here that makes perfect sense. Brushing the science aside, these characters are all troubled by their pasts – and only rising up together in the face of an extinction-level-event can they discover the courage to carry on with their lives, to look past their differences, and to make the planet healthy again. There’s even a soliloquy delivered early in the piece – the story is by William Gray, Steven H. Berman, & Michael Vickerman with a teleplay from Berman & Vickerman – wherein our comely heroine, Emily Booth (Lauren Lee Smith) likens her experiences as a tree-hugging protester to putting the schoolyard bully in his place once and for all to her son whose grasping to understand what mommy’s day job is.
Plus, it used to be that just regular old oil companies were destined to be carbon copy villains, but RING OF FIRE stakes out somewhat new territory by making their evil corporation a new-fangled oil company with its emphasis on green energy. (Go figure!)
To make matters worse, director Paul Shapiro made the curious decision to shoot the entire motion picture with a hand- or shoulder-held shaky-cam. Mind you, that works wonders for sequences fraught with tectonic peril (the series felt like one tremor after another); but doing so in endless close-ups only forces your viewing audience to quickly look away and reach for the Dramamine … which would’ve been a great use of product placement.
Let me be the first to proudly say, “Bad choice, Mr. Shapiro.”
RING OF FIRE is produced by Reunion Pictures. DVD distribution is being handled by Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment. As for the technical specifications? Well, what I could watch without suffering motion sickness looked and sounded just fine. Perhaps the smartest decision attributed to this package is that there are no special features to speak of, except for a ‘sneak peek’ at another disaster flick dubiously titled EVE OF DESTRUCTION.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. Look, I love an end-of-the-world flick as much as the next person, but I have to be able to see it – to sit through it – in order to fully appreciate just how grim that end could be. RING OF FIRE has some of the worst shaky-cam cinematography I’ve ever seen, not to mention the fact that the story relies heavily on (as best as I’ve ever read) unproven science. As disasters go, the performances are just fine; it’s the sheer predictability of the story that made it all feel so horribly half-baked.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Gaiam Vivendi provided with me a DVD copy of RING OF FIRE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.