The SyFy channel has been giving an earnest attempt to provide some original programming in the wasteland that Saturday evening has become, this night has been largely abandoned by the major networks relegating it to prime time reruns. The material SyFy uses for this purpose are movies typically budgeted around $5 million featuring familiar faces for fans of the Sci-Fi and fantasy genres. Often derided as a notch below the traditional ‘B’ flicks but for those of us that developed our infatuation with movies made on the quick and cheap they are highly reminiscent of those afternoon matinees. The one examined here, ‘Super Eruption’, offers an example of movie that are plagued by shortcomings but are none the less fun to watch as a popcorn flick. This Saturday night special also offers a sample of what appears to be a new trend SyFy is testing out. This is the second disaster movie infused with a significant dose of traditional science fiction tropes that I received for review within a month. The first was’ Seattle Superstorm’ that took the familiar apocalyptic weather with a hint of extraterrestrials and bio-terrorism. With ‘Super Eruption’ the formula consisted of your standard earth in upheaval motif with a quirky time loop plot device. Although the movie has the usual number of technical mishaps that have been associated with these films I have to give credit where credit was earned. The attempt might not have fully succeeded but it did exhibit a degree of imagination.
The first indication that the filmmaker here is trying to break out of the traditional disaster movie formula is present right from the start. Rather than the expected buildup with the backstory of the characters and foundation of the looming disaster this story starts in Medias res. Park ranger Charlie Young (Richard Burgi) is using a parasail to jump into a blazing inferno of smoke and lava in what was just a day or so ago was Yellowstone National park. He makes his way to the site of a plane crash only to find his daughter, Claire (MyAnna Buring), trapped inside. Before he can extricate the ruins of the craft are overwhelmed with molten lava as the young woman scream in an agonizing death. The scene then turns to a title card announcing we are moving back in time a few days.
If you are a regular viewer of the History and Science channels then you probably know that beneath Yellowstone Park lies the globe’s largest super volcano. About every 135,000 years or so it erupts with catastrophic ecological consequences on a global scale; the next event is overdue. If the Yellowstone caldera explodes it will result in mass extinctions and the end of our civilization. The frightening reality of this situation is the volcano is far from fully dormant, there is a considerable amount of seismic activity seething beneath the thousands of tourist unaware that the Old Faithful Geyser is fueled by the churning magma. Because of this a favorite vacation destination is also the site of very intense scientific research. This permits the natural introduction to the other primary lead of this teleplay, Volcanologist Dr. Kate Brooks (Juliet Aubrey). She is stationed there to research the super volcano tracking the smallest detectable changes. In the last few days the reading has been off from normal indicating a potentially significant change is imminent. Her working relationship with Charlie is somewhat adversarial with strong flirtatious undercurrents. One aspect of the typical disaster flick that survived intact here is the pair of co-workers that can barely stand each other are certain to wind up together.
Charlie has been working in Yellowstone for twenty years and has come to recent the research scientist waiting for that beautiful park to end the world. The story establishes the eminent danger in the standard fashion with the younger ranger Josh (Alex Wyndham) warning a young couple hanging out in one of the park’s famous hot springs. Reluctantly the move to chilly waters only to experience a sudden increase in temperature that soon parboils the couple. Add a small eruption of hot water and the stage is set for a major escalation in volcanic activity to major proportions. At this juncture things are going pretty much according to the playbook but that is soon to change. Kate notifies the DMA, Disaster Management administration, the successor to FEMA, that they are on the verge of a catastrophe but the director (Emma Davies) is initially reluctant to believe her; that is until it’s too late. For some reason Kate calling for the immediate evacuation of four states is difficult for a professional bureaucrat to wrap her mind around.
The aforementioned time warp is introduced when Kate receives a video chat from herself. It turns out that Kate from the future is calling present day Kate in order to warn her big eruption is about to happen and most of the world is dead or dying. Future Kate has a way to avoid it and change the time line but present Kate has to follow instructions to the letter. Adding to present Kate’s confusion her future self appears to be quite impressed with Charlie. Trans temporal Skyping take a lot of power so future Kate can only make brief calls at pivotal moments. Okay, this is definitely a plot contrivance of epic proportions but in a strange way consistent with the old school Sci-Fi flicks and does make for an enjoyable twist in a familiar story. Burgi has been in enough projects in a variety of genres that he can bring his character to life despite the traditional one dimensional motif associated with this sort of movie. There is enough action to satisfy the typical genre fan with special effects a slight notch above what we have come to expect from a made for SyFy original flick. The physics is typically impossible which part of this type of film is. No disaster movie holds up to reality which is part of the fun. Supposedly the magnitude of the eruption was so intense that it disrupted the time space continuum permitting the vital communication. As far as going far beyond any scientific plausibility this one is certainly up there with the most outrageous I’ve ever seen. Overall make some popcorn, forget trying to make sense of anything in the flick and have a little fun.