Adventures in Streaming: The 33

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

The 33 tells the true story of thirty-three Chilean miners trapped underground for sixty-nine days.

The story, especially knowing it’s based on true events, is very compelling: we want to know that they get out okay, we want to understand what they went through, we look with a suspicious eye on the higher-ups who all too often in our world don’t seem to show up as diligently as we would like in such situations.

The politics attached to the Chilean President’s response are presented in a straightforward manner – it’s clear that politics are a consideration, but the President isn’t depicted as any kind of heartless or thoughtless person, only as a person who has to balance varying demands on his actions. The families of the miners express their doubt in the government’s intentions and abilities, but other than this nod to the frustrations of bureaucracy, all the players are on the same side.

The rescue effort focuses more on the waiting families and on the engineers’ search for solutions than on the problems they face. The value of the miners is never in question, except perhaps in the mine’s owner being lackadaisical about safety maintenance … but even this corner-cutting reality takes second place in the narrative to the global efforts to get the men out of the ground.

Halfway through the film, the miners have run out of food and water, yet it’s only day 17; my heart sank, since the blurb for the film said “69 days” – how on earth are they supposed to survive another 52 days when they’re already dying? I was instantly struck by the impossibility of it all, by the apparent inevitability of their deaths hundreds of feet below the surface, their families never knowing if they survived the initial cave-in, their goodbyes never heard. I was uncomfortably aware, in the comfort of my living room, of the certainty of death.

As the film moves toward the ultimate rescue, we see the trapped men work through their conflicts, deciding actively to pull together as brothers and never to give up hope. Surrounded by gadgets and electronics, expensive shoes and potential book deals, the men hunger for the one thing we all take for granted: to see the sky again, to breathe the air, to hold their families.

Without ever stating it explicitly, The 33 shows us exactly what is really important. It showed the logistical and financial problems that plague such rescues without painting anyone as a bad guy. It showed the generosity and concern of the world who watched events unfold on the news, and it showed the determination and compassion of the Chilean authorities, their willingness to do anything to save the men, and their commitment of resources to an endeavour that seemed more than once to be a hopeless matter.

If you want to feel good about humanity, this is an excellent movie to watch. If you want to remind yourself about what’s important in your own life, this movie will do that very nicely. If you want to be vaguely afraid of going into caves, tunnels, or elevators, then this movie will help you out. And if you want to find yourself questioning the real value of gold, this movie – without saying a word – will deliver.

 10 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming: Oceans Rising

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

I’m someone who really, really loves disaster films. I wrote my Master’s thesis on disaster films – the conventions, the deeper meanings, the value. I’m pretty forgiving of unrealistic reasons for the disaster in question, especially if it’s a made-for-TV movie. I’ve watched hundreds of eighties films, so I’m pretty forgiving of made-for-TV lackluster special effects. Basically, I’m fairly easy to please with this genre.

But …

Oceans Rising did not quite make the cut.

Some of my friends are sensitive to children’s acting – if a kid is in a film, they’re kind of on edge, waiting for the film to become cringe-inducing. I do understand where they’re coming from; I have a high tolerance for children’s acting, but, particularly if the child is very little, a single iota of poor direction can really ruin the scene. But they’re kids, you know? None of my friends or myself, no matter how much we’re cringing, blames the kid, because they’re just a kid.

That said, the kid in Oceans Rising delivers possibly the best performance in the film. He’s a good actor, actually … but it wouldn’t have mattered if he was a cardboard cutout, because almost any level of good acting would make you the best actor in this film.

The disaster premise starts out fairly believably with the melting of the polar ice caps. The melting shifts all the tectonic plates – I guess that could be a thing, maybe? – and then the magnetic core of the Earth weakens. Well, I’ve actually seen the magnetic-core premise in a different sci-fi movie, so … okay. I’m in. How do we fix this? By creating tiny black holes at the CERN institute. Okay – CERN makes black holes. It was in the news. You know, the news about scientists. Scientists who are actually really smart and spend all day thinking about theoretical and practical science and doing all kinds of smart scientist-y things … but who, for some reason, are utterly clueless about all the things our main character somehow figured out in his hidey-hole in the US. In fact, although the news indicated that CERN works in conjunction with scientists around the globe, our main character is the only one in the world who can rally support between national leaders and CERN for the building of the two black holes.

… okay … I guess? Maybe national leaders stole CERN’s boyfriend?

The disbelieved scientist is a major convention in disaster films, but typically that scientist has stumbled upon something in keeping with his or her expert research, and it’s something unusual, and it’s more a matter of presenting his or her findings in time to do something about it. But Oceans Rising’s main character is apparently the only person on Earth with a truly functioning brain, and he only needs to convince CERN and national leaders to help him because he only has two hands and can’t build two black holes by himself!

He can sail across the Atlantic Ocean in the equivalent of a dinghy … did I mention solar flares knocked out communications satellites? No phones. I wonder how science accomplished things before phones? Probably in a poorly maintained dinghy. “We’re in a HURRY! TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE BEFORE WE’RE ALL KILLED BY SOLAR FLARES! …let’s row to Switzerland in this dinghy – it’s actually a motorboat, so it has a motor, so this is completely believable!”

You know, even all that could have been fine – it really could have.

But …

The kid (who’s young enough this film hopefully won’t affect his career) is the only one who’s demonstrating genuine emotions. The actors “emote” – sort of – but their delivery is staccato at best and their relationships feel contrived and cliché, as though they all just got the script this morning, but the light was good, so let’s make a movie! There’s very little transition between scenes, the exposition sounds like the writer took the info from a CERN brochure, the effects are only so-so, the action is either abrupt or plodding … I guess the camera angles were acceptable? The recording levels were consistent. … I did care marginally for the kid and what happened to him and his family, which was almost the only reason I finished watching.

The other reason is because you can’t look away from a train-wreck until the last car finally comes to a stop amidst the twisted burning rubble; only then can you try to blink away the images and ask yourself in horror, “What did I just see? Did this really just happen?”

Unfortunately, Oceans Rising happened, and I did in fact see it.

The kid did a good job, though … so go out and watch some other things with him in it. Watch the heck out of them, to make the kid feel better. And if he’s reading this? Well, kid, my actor friends tell me that it’s better to be a good actor in a bad film than a bad actor in any film; you were truly the only bright spot in this actual disaster, and I sincerely hope you go places.

popcorn icon  1 (for the kid) out of 10