Monday 21 December 2015

Absolute Zero

Rarely has the name of a film summed up the entertainment level of its own content.

Yup. In an unusually honest move, the producers of Absolute Zero (2005) come straight out and tell the viewer everything they need to know about their prospects of being even mildly diverted while sitting through this made-for-cable disaster movie.

Excitement? Drama? Intrigue? Staying awake even, during this derivative piece of tosh? Absolute Zero chance. Handily, the title also proves an uncanny barometer of the film’s rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Well, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

The plot

The Earth’s magnetic poles - those pesky things again! are about to suddenly switch and plunge half the world into an ice age. (Note: Aficionados of this genre will be well aware that, in disaster movies, the magnetic poles, critical to continued life on Earth, are as dependable as a second-hand Amstrad computer).

Realising that chilly catastrophe is imminent, one lone scientist (Jeff Fahey) desperately tries to alert the world. But unfortunately the authorities do not believe his doomsday prophecies.

Can our heroic boffin change their stubborn minds? Are millions of innocent people fated to perish? Is the world going to survive this looming icy disaster? Will all of the above be of absolute zero interest to the viewer? (In all probability, yes. But let's bang on regardless).

Who’s in this?

An early warning of the film’s less than august quality is the presence of Jeff Fahey. He plays Dr Kotzman, a climatologist who must warn the world that it is imperilled.

Once an actor found in decent-ish films (Silverado, The Lawnmower Man, Wyatt Earp), Fahey now works almost exclusively in the DTV and made-for-cable world. He's the guy you call when even Eric Roberts decides a script doesn't quite meet his own quality threshold. Things are that bad.

Jeff Fahey: the best thing in a bad movie
But in fairness to our Jeff, while he has become synonymous with awful movies, he is usually the best thing in them. And to his credit he does another good job here. As Christopher Lee once observed, the trick to surviving a terrible film is never to be terrible in them.

Fahey’s co-star is former Baywatch babe and Penthouse playmate, Erika Eleniak although watchers may struggle to recognise the buxom blonde with her clothes on. And that's understandable.

After all, during her Baywatch heyday, the Eleniak nellies took on much of the acting burden. Their sheer range - up and down, side to side, bursting through wet bathing suits - was phenomenal. If only she had been able to to string whole sentences together, the sky would have been the limit.

Sadly, for Exploding Helicopter there was no repeat of her cake-bursting cameo in Under Siege.

Just how cheap is this?

The film’s penury is ably demonstrated in an early scene which purports to take place in the Arctic. Location filming was clearly beyond the film’s budget. So how did the cash-strapped director create a convincing frozen wasteland?

The answer owes something to the Blue Peter school of improvisation (in which, the philosophy held, there was nothing that couldn't be constructed out of old toilet rolls and sticky back plastic). The cold Arctic tundra is magically achieved by projecting an unconvincing wintery vista on the studio wall while instant 'snow' is created by emptying the contents of a paper shredder on the floor. At least the awful script eventually proved useful.

Exploding helicopter action

Erika Eleniak: sadly no repeat of
her Under Siege 'entrance'
After a gruelling 80 minutes Exploding Helicopter finally arrived at a scene which managed to command our interest: the chopper fireball.

Our heroes are holed up in a laboratory complex to avoid the plummeting temperature. A helicopter flies in to collect the embattled survivors from the roof. But as it comes in to land, the whirlybird is buffeted by icy winds and sent crashing into the top of the office block.

Artistic merit

Exploding Helicopter is going to be blunt: this was an awful chopper fireball. The scene is shot from street-level, so the sight of the chopper’s crash is obscured by the camera angle. We don’t get to see it impact on the roof or any wreckage. All we see is a brief fireball illuminate the top of the building.

You only need two ingredients for a successful helicopter explosion: a helicopter and an explosion. Absolute Zero gives us neither. Outrageous.

Exploding helicopter innovation

You remember what we said about the title of this film describing everything in it?

Favourite line

Jeff Fahey is given a handy catchphrase to shut-down any questions about the pseudo-scientific guff he spouts throughout the film. Whenever anyone doubts the logic of what the good Doctor says his reply is majestic: “Science,” he tells us, “is never wrong.”

Review by: Jafo

Listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on Absolute Zero on iTunes, Podomatic, Stitcher or YourListen.

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