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Ring of Fire (Blu-Ray)
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When an oil rig causes a volcanic eruption in a small town, it's just the first in a trigger effect called the Ring of Fire that stretches across the globe. If these cataclysmic series of eruptions cannot be stopped, the earth will be swallowed whole, leading to an extinction level event.
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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.
IT JUST PROVES THAT, GOOD ACTING AND A FAMOUS TITLE CANNOT OVERCOME POOR WRITING AND DIRECTION.
Let me first say that I have a serious weakness for disaster movies, and I have an incredibly high tolerance for cheesy special effects, lame characters, and ridiculous plot lines. I've got everything in my collection from Asylum movies, 80s made-for-tv movies, Sci-Fy channel flicks, and Hollywood blockbusters. I generally love them all (even the really bad ones).
That said, this was a tough one to like, mainly because the camera work was atrocious. I think they shot the entire 3-hour movie using a cheap hand-held camera, and the person holding the camera was *way* over their coffee quota for the day. I expect the camera to shake during earthquake sequences (and it did), but I don't see any reason for shakiness when two people are sitting on a couch talking (and there was). It just got worse as the movie went on, and by the end I was actually a little queasy.
However, the bad camera work aside, Ring of Fire was pretty standard fare as far as disaster movies go. It's a typical "unethical corporation" vs. "scientist trying to save the planet" scenario. In this case, it's an oil tycoon who illegally drills deeper than he's supposed to in a national reserve, and he accidently hits a large magma chamber. That sets off a chain reaction in the Ring of Fire, which will ultimately destroy the world if not stopped. The resident geologist, along with an environmental activist and a whistleblower, step in to save the day with a hokey, 'just-go-with-it' plan.
The special effects were good in some areas, lame in others. The digital effects of the volcano and ash clouds were really well done, but the pyrotechnics involved with the lava bombs and "shaky-cam" earthquake sequences were really lame. I'm pretty sure they were running through plastic trees at one point, lol. Overall, I'd give the special features a solid 3 stars, on par with other tv disaster movies.
The acting is also good in some characters, weak in others. Ring of Fire is worth seeing for Terry O'Quinn, especially if you're a fan of Lost, and Michael Vartan, if you're a fan of Alias. You'll probably recognize a few other faces as well: Ian Tracey (multiple tv shows, including Da Vinci's Inquest, Continuum, & Bates Motel), Agam Darshi (Sanctuary), and Brian Markinson (multiple tv & movie roles, Mad Men & Continuum). Personally, I wasn't wowed by Lauren Lee Smith - either her acting OR her character, but I've seen worse. Overall, I think there was a lot of talent on set, but they could only do so much with weak subplots and boring dialogue.
Speaking of which - you'll feel all three hours of this movie. It's slow to get going, mainly because they have so many character subplots to explain (the geologists' aneurism, the grieving parents who lost a child, the environmental activist who lost custody of her son...AND her estrangement from her father, etc.). Once the volcano pops, the pace picks up and it gets more interesting. However, the last 45 minutes were torturously slow, mainly because they had to wrap up all those subplots they introduced in the beginning AND save the world at the same time. I think this is one film that would have greatly benefited if a few of those minor storylines had been edited out.
Overall, I'd put this one at a solid 3-stars. If the camera work had been decent, I would have give it 4-stars. If I find it in the $5 bin at Walmart I'll probably buy it just to add to my collection, but otherwise it's worth seeing on Netflix and then forgetting.