Some kind of quantum anomaly steers a comet off course and causes it to collide with Mars. This isn’t the real problem though because in 3 days time, the anomaly will strip all life off the planet Earth! Or something. Time for the US government to assemble a team of unlikely misfit string theorists to try and save the day. With nukes!
Obviously there is a lot of ridiculous made up science in this film but actually it does reference a lot of real things and gets much of what it talks about broadly right when it stays away from the ridiculous matter of the main plot. Much of the film revolves around a single family; that of the mayor of a small town somewhere in the US. His kids and his new wife and his autistic brother are the main characters for a lot of the film. The rest of the plot centres on NASA USSA and the “rockstar mathematicians” they bring in to resolve the issue.
The nice thing about this film for me was that for much of it the general public have no idea that they are in danger so while USSA and the mathematics posse are bricking it trying to work out how to save the planet, the rest of the characters are going about their daily lives at school and at work, worrying about girlfriends and bitching about their step-mom etc. Only towards the end of the film does the president reveal the potential destruction to the population at large when the effects of the anomaly become too obvious to ignore. Of course this has the unfortunate effect of having the main characters feel like supporting characters for about two thirds of the film despite having the majority of the screen time.
All through the film there are absurd statements and ideas about creating dark matter (or anti-matter, there doesn’t seem to be any difference between the two in the minds of the writers) to neutralise the anomaly (even though they have no way of knowing what the anomaly is or what caused it) and crackpot ideas about using nukes to move the planet out of harms way. Setting off an explosion big enough to move our planet far enough, in less than 3 days, to avoid the influence of something that can fling comets about on the other side of the solar system doesn’t sound like a good idea! Maybe it is though, I’m not a physicist after all…
It’s when the end is well and truly nigh though that any pretence at scientific plausibility goes out the window, along in fact with continuity. For example, somehow gravity is supposed to be reducing as we get closer to the anomaly and the characters use this to good effect at one point when they lift a crashed car off a trapped motorist (and then in a fit of high jinks hurl it at the very person they just saved from under it!) but after that the effect is seemingly forgotten. No one gets lighter or floats off into the air when they try to run. Notably when the inevitable breakdown of civilisation comes later in the plot, people firing guns completely fail to hurtle off into orbit from the recoil which would have been an excellent resolution to the inevitable confrontation between Mayor Jr and his girlfriend’s ex who of course is exactly the kind of psycho that these films are littered with. At least it would have livened up a slightly dull film.
Of course the autistic brother has some kind of special powers and claims to be able to “hear” the anomaly. He builds some crazy contraption which is actually only hinted at and never used and he demands to be driven to Houston (in the aftermath of a devastating storm and with social order breaking down left and right) so he can help USSA to save everyone.
The brothers arrive just in time to burst in and spout some unintelligible nonsense (I literally couldn’t hear what they were saying) and do something preposterous with an ancient PC which somehow had more power than the USSA super computers which allowed the final plan to work…after a fashion. The end is kind of a cliché but also interesting and throws light on some things that didn’t make sense earlier in the film.
Of course the final solution involves blasting the anomaly with a nuke, it has to be a fusion weapon not a fission one otherwise it won’t create any dark matter, duh! No time is dedicated to modifying the nuke or the delivery system in any way, apparently they just lob a standard multi-warhead fusion missile in the general direction of the problem and hope for the best. Interestingly, although you could call the mission a success, we are left not really knowing whether the world has ultimately been saved or not.
One of the fun parts of this film was spotting the actors we knew from other things. Most of them were in Sci-Fi series so it was interesting to identify them without make up. I won’t detail who they are in case you want to spot them but we noticed:
That Girl from Farscape
That Guy from Babylon 5
That Girl from Battlestar Galactica
Good fun to watch with a group of friends and a few (or more) beers but ultimately neither outrageously stupid enough to be a classic dumb apocalypse film nor dramatic enough to be a “serious” disaster movie.