Just like the name of the fascinating documentary, when it comes to science, the two topics that have always hooked me the most are ones that take me “From the Earth to the Moon.” Although obviously, with degrees in film studies, liberal arts, and communication, I don't get much of an opportunity to explore the topics of geology or astronomy as much as I did when I pursued them in college courses.
Yet in retrospect, it does seems fitting that those two areas were the ones that struck the fancy of a film fan since, after all, unstable ground and unidentified flying objects are to disaster movies what cops and robbers are to crime films. Still, perhaps because of the recent tragedy in Haiti and the fact that with the constant threat of natural disasters all on their own, I've never been overly interested in disaster films because catastrophic events and screaming characters that take a backseat to special effects just aren't as inspiring to me as stories about engaging characters.
So with this in mind as well as the devastation of Haiti not far from my thoughts, it was with cautious reservation that I buckled myself in (translation: pen, tablet and remote control in hand) for Maverick Entertainment's new disaster DVD, Below the Earth's Surface.
Before the obligatory copy-protection services anti-piracy screener flipped permanently to black and white, which made judging the technical aspects of the film impossible, initially the movie reminded me of Steven Spielberg's Jaws as a young blonde couple run towards the water, strip down to their birthday suits, and then like a typical moral horror movie, get killed in a particularly brutal fashion.
Yet instead of a shark or '80s Crystal Lake hockey mask wearing murderer Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th, the couple literally fall off the face of the Earth by disproving Mr. Rogers' promise that you can “never go down the drain” as the water vanishes and they're swallowed up in a sinkhole.
Distracted by the odd opening along with the obviously gratuitous, senseless nudity (that no doubt helped get them financing and a DVD release), it wasn't until a few more minutes of actual dialogue kicked in that I realized I was watching a foreign film from Georgia that had been dubbed by actors with largely American sounding accents into English.
While in Hong Kong action fare, there is nothing more annoying than a dubbed movie, in Below the Earth's Surface, it was much easier to bear. And the dialogue decision was especially wise because the plot actually reveals itself to be quite complicated, once the idiotic opening is left behind us, along with a second predictable make-you-jump moment of “save the kid” wherein we meet the film's heroine in the form of geologist Nina.
Desperately trying to warn other geologists that another sinkhole could take the entire hospital under the ground, reluctantly, Nina, her father and a small group of other scientists head down into a mine to check it out. Sure enough, they get much more than they bargained for when one of the group members turns out to have ulterior and deadly motives and Nina's in for two additionally startling surprises.
The first finds Nina and her father gaining closure about the loss of her beloved brother who'd perished in a mine, trapped alongside her father who still suffers from the after-effects and post-traumatic stress that went along with it. While that's enough for a completely different film altogether, the second revelation hits not just Nina but the entire group in the final act's predictably cliched disaster movie conclusion that moves uneasily between melodrama to mayhem.
Overall, Below is an imperfect B-movie (literally as it begins with the letter B) but one that all the same, was surprisingly entertaining and fast paced fun. Likewise, it's ripe for an American remake, considering the refreshing fact that it isn't a catastrophic doomsday movie but a localized disaster scenario that also boasts a moving family mystery and likable characters.
Although I can't gauge the photography or much of the other technical aspects well considering the black and white lensing, which really hindered the appreciation of a special effects driven movie, much like another Maverick title from the same producer, Fast Track: No Limits, Below the Earth's Surface is a great Saturday afternoon matinee picture. Similarly it's one that I can only guess would look much better in color and on the biggest screen television you have access to within your circle of friends.
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