Ring of Fire
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Ring of Fire

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The fear of disasters in deeply instilled in the human psyche deeply ingrained in us. Stories concerning wide spread catastrophes have been found in every culture include a particularly serious run of seven plagues upon Egypt. Filmmakers just love to modernize that particular portion of Exodus for its rivers of blood hordes of insects and the selected deaths of the firstborns of every household. In more recent times meteors, earthquakes, tornados and other deadly storms of earth chattering magnitude have been the main focus due in large part to the recent concerns over major changes in the world’s climate. A few have brought other heated topics to the forefront, the energy crisis. Emulating the SyFy Channel Saturday night original movies the Reelz Channel has released the miniseries considered here; ‘Ring of Fire’. While SyFy has built respectable following of people that grew up on B flicks enabling the viewer to appreciate the campy nature of these movies. In keeping with the amplification of news headlines to extrapolated scientific ends ‘Ring of Fire’ take the usual ingredients; corporate greed, bleeding edge technology gone awry and the Sword of Damocles, ecological catastrophe. It also provides work for a number of familiar faces from the science fiction genre and a few others.

Oliver Booth (Terry O’Quinn) is the CEO of, Trans-Nova, a major petroleum conglomerate who is in the process of unveiling an industry changing new technology. He is not so much concerned with selling the idea to the Board of Directors; he had them at "massive profits". His worries are over the growing opposition to oil procurement readily mounting in the public. It isn’t that people bother them but their votes are necessary to keep in office the politicians the company uses for pesky things like land rights, permits and other paperwork required for doing business unimpeded. True to the disaster movie format there has to be a complicate web of conflicting personal interests. The first instance of this time honored plot devise is inserted into the film with a bright and energetic young woman, Emily (Lauren Lee Smith. She is a zealot member of an ecological watchdog group diametrical opposed to the actions of the oil company. The potential conflict is in a simple fact; Emily is the daughter of Oliver Booth.

The technology to be employed is science fiction but to my pleasant surprise the technology employed is not at as ridiculous as most films of this type utilize. In the vicinity of Oregon the company is planning to deploy a new ultra powerful laser drill far deeper and faster than previously imaginable. The device is self-powered by its own dedicated hydroelectric plant. For esthetic purposes and to make emergency shut down nearly impossible the entire facility is itself deep underground. At this juncture a scientist with knowledge of the project but working for a more eco-responsible rival company is required; Dr. Matthew Cooper (Michael Vartan). Beside the requisite role of the proclaimer of impending doom he also has his own internal biological time bomb ticking away, brain aneurysm. This did have the person effect of bolstering my assessment of the miniseries a bit. The countdown to the oncoming apocalypse is a given but the writer of this teleplay, Michael Vickerman, juxtaposing this mandatory aspect with a personal tragedy is a nice touch personalizing the archetypical renegade scientist. The audience has to wonder what will blow first the deep well or his brain.

That does bring us to the true star of the feature; the calamity. The well has gone down below the crust of the earth that it inadvertently taps into a massive ocean of magma. The primary danger and basis of the title is a scientifically well document tectonic fault line that circles the Pacific basin. Because of the exceptionally large number of volcanos that break through this weaken line on the planet’s crust it is commonly referred to the ‘Ring of Fire’. If the process initiated by the ultra-deep drilling is not halted and reversed a chunk of the globe could explode with a globe shattering result.

This film is considerably above the typical disaster flick and a lot of this observation is attributed to the director, Paul Shapiro. This man has helmed episodes of most of the major science fiction television series encompassing Smallville and ‘Tru Calling’ with extensions to ‘Las Vegas’, and ‘Criminal Minds’. This eclectic mixture of genres has provided Mr. Shapiro with a keen instinct as a story teller. Admittedly the miniseries is excessively lumbering at first but does pick up by the end for the first part. It must be noted that this is not at all uncommon for a miniseries. What comes off as plodding is necessary to build the foundation of the story, establishing the technical circumstances and most importantly initiate the interwoven interpersonal relationships. A disaster miniseries is dependent on the psychological and emotional involvements necessary to craft a bond of identification with the audience. Once these elements were firmly infused in the story then Shapiro had everything in place and was able to ramp up the pacing. The special effects were better than usual and nicely integrated into the action, something that many of the SyFy flicks are unable to master.

There must be a new AFTRA regulation that a certain number of television projects contain a part ideally suited to the enigmatic acting styling of Terry O'Quinn. If you want an actor who can play a character of ambiguous moral standings and do so with a perfect little smile you have to put O'Quinn into serious considerations. He has mastered parts like this by understanding the psychological profile and motivations of his role. You believe him in this role and accept him as somebody perfectly capable of putting the world at risk for the sake of corporate profits. This side theme, corporate greed and the world’s addiction to petroleum products is present here not kept adjacent to the main plot. This effectively avoided the film becoming overly preachy. Over all the acting holds together depicting a competent screenplay and solid direction making this one of the better produced offerings in this field.

Posted 06/24/2013

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