BluRay/DVD Reviews

EXPLODING SUN

By • Dec 30th, 2013 •

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This is a two-parter, destined, I imagine, for the SciFi Channel, and better than almost anything I’ve seen on that channel. In fact the screenplay for the first half is exemplary multi-drama writing, with completely surprising relationship turns, a few of them impressively downbeat, and without happy reversals for their wrap-ups.

This is touted on the BluRay box as an ‘extended version’, and so contains footage not shown on TV. Considering the wild and fanciful nature of the film’s premise, the extra footage is probably helpful, except when feeding an unnecessary subplot or two.

The second half isn’t as successful as the first. The ongoing stories seem forced, there isn’t as much sympathy for the characters, and transitions from one plot-line to the next aren’t as smooth as they were in Part One. In the first half, you were always where you wanted to be, and never left a story segment before you’d gotten what you needed out of it. The editing was remarkably smooth in that regard, partnering with director Robison’s skill at blocking drama, Jeff Schecter’s terrific script, and Michel St. Martin’s effectively dramatic lighting and camera positions. So what am I suggesting…that you should bail after part one? Funny idea. But the last third of part two regains its quality, effectively ties up some loose ends, and so it’s worth staying the course.

Peter Roebling (Bruce Dinsmore – modeled after businessman/adventurer Richard Branson), has devised an air-liner/space-craft which is about to take its first commercial flight into outer space, circle the moon, and return to earth. A few people have won the opportunity to experience the voyage by lottery. U.S. President Mathany’s wife (Jane Wheeler) is on board as well. And so is Denise Balaban (Mylene Dinh-Robic), one of the flight’s senior technicians, who is madly in love with Craig Bakus (Anthony Lemke), the chief engineer and designer of the ship. Intruding into the mix, and making it a heated drama even before the crisis arrives, is former astronaut Don Wincroft (David James Elliott), who is seriously not welcome in the control room by Bakus because of some past personal antipathy between them.

It would be spoiler-time to reveal much more, since there is a mega-turning point during the first half which shuffles everything, including the relative importance of certain characters. The film’s title suggests a critical development, which I won’t elaborate on. What I will say is that a few of the characters whose arcs are complete before part two are more sympathetic than some of those who dominate the second half, and that’s a problem. One I’ll single out is Ms. Dinh-Robic, who is replaced in terms of focus by Natalie Brown as a Presidential aide. Ms. Dinh-Robic is a Canadian-born actress who has mainly distinguished herself in TV series and TV features since 2003, and deserves much bigger and more important breakout roles. Not to say that Ms. Brown isn’t a good actor and compelling. She just isn’t as emotionally compelling as Ms. Dinh-Robic, whose underplayed facial expressions are near-encyclopedic in their ability to communicate.

The two leads end up being Elliot and Lemke, and they spar with each other believably, even to the point of compromising the mission through hubris and anger, never quite realizing it – but we do, which is a great script maneuver. Their dialogue is sharp, whether it’s dramatic or technical, and we end up liking both of them despite their shortcomings.

A few of the stories are either less satisfying, or almost entirely extraneous, as if they were written in to bring the running time of the film up to the requisite length. One such story concerns the neglected son (Robert Crooks) of two peace workers. Throughout part one he is alone in a gorgeous apartment, alternately smarting over his parents lack of attention, and watching the destruction being visited on the earth outside of his picture windows. We don’t know how he got to live in such splendor considering his fixation on being abandoned, and Mr. Crooks is a feral-looking performer who isn’t a pleasure to spend time with. His story wraps up on an upbeat note…kind of, but we know very little about him and the film would have been better with his part either eliminated or re-written. By the way I’m not saying he’s a bad actor. I’m saying he wasn’t served well by the script.

The least satisfying major sub-plot concerns the President, his daughter, and his paranoid right-hand man. The cast of this through-line, including Frank Schorpion as the President, Charlotte Legault as his daughter, and Richard Jutras as his emotionally-disintegrating aide, feel slightly over-the-top as directed, moreso than the others in the cast, and since they’re all in one room, the effect is exacerbated.

Julia Ormond is also in the cast. Earlier in her career she was carefully coiffed into romantic lead roles, but that obviously was of less importance to her than it was to her agent. She plays Joan Elias, a peace worker in a Middle Eastern country trying to help refugees, and cannot realistically look glamorous, and doesn’t, and she seems very satisfied about it. Her desert scenes, with small groups of indigenous people, are shot to look like there are far more of them, and it is a wise sub-plot because it makes the whole narrative seem quite a bit more expansive and expensive than it probably was.

This is a good disaster film, and it’s core emotional power makes it worth a re-visit.

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