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Meteor – Mini-series or Harbinger of Future NBC Ratings?

July 21, 2009

NBC recently aired a mini-series about a cataclysmic meteor collision entitled, well, Meteor.  A meteor is headed toward earth — this sounds like science meets explosions.  How could I not enjoy this?  On top of that, it stars Christopher Lloyd and Jason Alexander.  Great cast.  Cool-enough premise.  I sat back ready to be awed, amazed and entertained.  Unfortunately, Meteor doesn’t exactly shower down entertainment.

In holding with DVDCorral-style reviews, I will try to avoid any spoilers while giving you as much information about the movie as possible.

Oh, there was plenty of awe.  I sat back in awe of what a colossal disaster Meteor was.  Amazement?  You bet — I’m amazed that something with a good cast could be such a terrible flop.  Alright, enough blasting Meteor.  Let’s discuss how it missed the mark so badly.

First, there is a premise in Scifi that some aspects of it must be believable.  This is why shows like Star Trek were able to hold viewers for decades and why we can’t even remember the names of movies that don’t make us believe.  One of my favorite examples of this was Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter of Mars book series (soon to be a movie).  The initial premise was that a man shows up on Mars and is able to breathe there.  After that, no more faith – just science.  John Carter has super-Martian abilities since he grew up in Earth’s (greater) gravity.  He can run faster, jump higher, etc.  You’ll have to take a leap on the first step, but after that everything not only makes logical sense, but is also believable.

This is the first premise where this movie fails.  In this one 3-hour mini-series, “the unlikely” merely becomes “the predictable”.  Meteor is not a world of SciFi/Action, it is a world where nothing but Murphy’s Law reigns supreme.  Once you realize that, all of the surprise is gone.  Every moment of possible suspense in this mini-series is as predictable as the death of each spurious red-shirted character on Star Trek — each of them fades away as quickly as they surfaced.

Next, imagine you’re watching the movie Armageddon and the creep from I Know What You Did Last Summer shows up.  It doesn’t really fit the plot (ok, sorry, that was an understatement — apparently I’m running out of hyperbole here).  It’s just strange, a little annoying, and definitely distracting.  At least it would be distracting if there were more of a plot to begin with.  Oh, thankfully they removed the hook so you can keep trying to figure out what movie this character has been extracted from.

Finally, we bring in the absolute worst element of Star Wars.  Let me clarify.  In the first episode of Star Wars, A New Hope, the rebels blow up the Death Star.  The Empire then does something very creative — they build another death star.  Every time we fix a problem, the exact same problem resurfaces with a new disguise.  I lost count of how many aborted count-downs there were.  Each time they are ready to blow up the meteor they come up with a new reason to wait at the last second.  Yawn.

Believe it or not, there were some redeeming qualities in a movie this bad.  There were some good actors who did exactly what we expect out of them.  Jason Alexander does a great job as an Astro-physicist and I never once thought I was watching Seinfeld.  Several of the lesser known actors also did a great job, so overall I was impressed with the acting.  The effects were also pretty good for a mini-series, though some scenes were a little dark watching it on Hulu.com.  It is possible that was just related to video quality, however, and not necessarily to production.

There is a human element that is sometimes forgotten in SciFi/Action movies, but it wasn’t lost here.  For each major event the fallout can be seen among people and their reactions.  In a real disaster, this is the magnifying effect that is really seen in people.  Those who are truly good people and think on their feet quickly become heroes.  There are always a few people who try to take advantage of the situation and cause a nightmare for everyone else.  Some even begin to react emotionally only to settle into their true selves as the need arises.  Meteor did a great job of adding this human element to an otherwise pending disaster reaching terminal velocity.

I often wonder how NBC’s ratings could be so bad.  They have good shows like Chuck… which got pushed out a year and a half.  NBC is certainly the late night leader with Jay Leno on the Tonight Sh– I’m sorry, I forgot they fired Jay and replaced him with Conan.  Now this?  Maybe Meteor is just another example of NBC’s ability to crater in the face of certain success.

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