Once derisively referred to as the “Shark Channel,” Discovery has traded in its fins for bigger and more destructive threats, as demonstrated by its recently acquired fascination with rambunctious volcanoes. First, there was the heavily reenacted “Pompeii” documentary, and now this heavily researched movie, being promoted as a “true story” that “just hasn’t happened yet.” Discovery’s desperation would appear to be happening right now, but as disaster pics that make you want to play hooky from work go, “Supervolcano” has its unsettling moments.
The biggest problem, actually, is that there’s no action to be taken in response to this “What if Yellowstone National Park goes kablooey?” threat, except perhaps to get the hell out of North America. Nor does it help that those within the movie caution each other, as one character puts it, “not to create a mass panic over a potential scenario just to sell a book.” So … mass panic to sell a movie is perfectly fine?
The docudrama itself, which will be followed by a “scientific epilogue” hosted by Tom Brokaw, can’t entirely make up its mind as to what it wants to be, using direct-to-camera “interviews” with characters, as well as glimpses of actual disasters, to create a sense of authenticity. Either that or they’re being cheap.
At the center is a U.S. Geological Survey team headed by Rick Lieberman (Michael Riley), reacting to unusual activity at Yellowstone. The park apparently sits atop a huge underground magma chamber capable of producing an enormous eruption that would destroy everything within a 60-mile radius and leave most of the hemisphere up to its ass in ash.
As evidence mounts that the tremors signal something sinister, Lieberman faces increased political pressure not to alarm the public, as well as skepticism from his staff that a cataclysmic event — akin to what transpired 600,000 years ago — is truly near.
Inevitably, the big bang has to come, or this would be called “Moderate Volcano,” which doesn’t sound as good. So in the tradition of the earthquake disaster telepic “10.5” and feature “The Day After Tomorrow,” the eruption proves every bit as monumental as promised, with a reasonably impressive package of special effects bringing it to life and an earnest cast looking gravely concerned.
That said, there’s still something a trifle disturbing about transferring standard disaster-movie trappings, however meticulously researched, onto a channel best known for documentary programming. Combined with sister net Animal Planet’s computer-imaged “Dragons” spec, one wonders how far Discovery intends to go with the use of drama (or in that case, mythology) to sex itself up for the science impaired.
All this would be more palatable, in fact, if the network didn’t feel so compelled cloak its ratings bid in “News you can use” poppycock, complete with a Harris Interactive poll about the public’s supervolcanic knowledge.
OK, we get it, a lot of really bad things can happen on this angry planet we inhabit, and we’ve seen harrowing demonstrations of Mother Nature’s astounding fury. That’s still no reason to miss “Desperate Housewives.”