sevendials: (ken - chibi)
laila ([personal profile] sevendials) wrote on April 29th, 2011 at 10:34 am
Notes on a Half-Seen SyFy Original
I was going to put something else here, but it's whiny and on cold reflection I decided I can't really be bothered to take the time to type it up. I'm going to be elaborating on this entry on the Plurk account I acquired to keep up with my canonmates at [livejournal.com profile] somarium instead.

For a kick-off, you'll need to be aware of one thing, and that is this: SyFy Originals are absolute bollocks. They're high-concept messes with absurd titles and even worse plots. The only thing more cookie-cutter than the storylines are the characters who inhabit them; the acting, even from people who've proved they're capable of acting perfectly decently in other things, is uniformly dreadful; and the special effects, which rely heavily on cheap CGI, are barely more convincing than a Deviantart photo-manip.

In short, SyFy originals suck. The only thing about them that exhibits any signs of even basic competence is their trailers, most of which are far more coherent and satisfying than the actual movies they advertise. It certainly doesn't hurt that the trailers cut out the deeply unsatisfying opening half-hour which attempts to present the terrible, cookie-cutter characters as likeable and interesting human beings before getting to the point and starting to gratuitously kill them all with bad CGI.

The average SyFy Original has a plot that runs as follows:

An [evil corporate executive/sadistic mad scientist] finds a [giant creature/mystical plot device] that will allow him to [gain obscene wealth/gain obscene power/gain obscene wealth and obscene power/make a scientific breakthrough via massively unethical tests]. Unfortunately in attempting to utilize the power of the [giant creature/mystical plot device] for his own ends, the [evil corporate executive/sadistic mad scientist] manages to [unseal an ancient monster/unseal a whole bunch of ancient monsters/create genetically modified monsters that break out of the labs and go on a killing spree/magically trigger a world-ending apocalypse].

It's now up to a Renegade Scientist whose offbeat theories were rejected by the mainstream and [a grizzled soldier trying to reunite with his estranged daughter/another scientist who starts out playing by the rules but comes to appreciate the hero's maverick ways] to save the world. Though their plans will initially be rejected by the [scientific establishment/military officers] overseeing the relief efforts, by the end of the movie our hero will win through by [blowing everything up/firing nukes into the atmosphere/inventing a magic Reset Button that restores the status quo through the power of Bullshit Science].

There are occasionally ones about extreme weather instead but they generally follow the exact same pattern, though the designated villain is replaced by implausible meteorological conditions and they're about 5,000 percent more likely to end with a clunky Green Aesop.

Tonight's offering went by the title of Stonehenge Apocalypse. Here's the poster. Here's the IMDB Page. This is a real movie, starring real actors.

I am not making this up, and if you've ever seen a SyFy Original you'll know I'm not. You'll also believe me when I say I've seen worse on SyFy. Specifically, something called Lost Colony and a film starring Michael Shanks which went by the name of Arctic Blast, which sounds more like a flavor of mouthwash than the title of a disaster movie. And, bad though Stonehenge Apocalypse is, at least you don't literally see the moment where the lead actor completely stopped trying and began reciting all his lines in a barely-engaged monotone - which happened to Michael Shanks halfway through a scene in which he was trying to reassure his whiny teenage daughter that divorcing his wife didn't mean he loved her any less.

So, what happens in Stonehenge Apocalypse, then?

Short Answer: The countdown to apocalypse is triggered by Dr. Sheldon Hawkes from CSI: NY and the mysteriously-rotating stones at a badly CGIed version of Stonehenge, and it's up to Castiel from Supernatural and Dr. Elizabeth Weir from Stargate: Atlantis to save the day, with no help at all from a member of the cast of the Highlander TV show.

Long Answer: Keep reading.


The plot of Stonehenge Apocalypse is kicked off when Hill Harper finds an old cocktail napkin covered in badly-drawn hieroglyphics and grade-school scribbles of henges and mountains with their tops coming off like jar lids, which leads him to a Mystical Occult Cave somewhere under a cornfield in Maine (in this movie, the part of Maine will be played by a field in British Columbia). Nobody's quite sure when the Egyptians got to Maine and why they built a Mystical Occult Cave there, but apparently they did. Anyway, Hill Harper has or finds a fake-looking plastic ankh which appears to have come from a Halloween costume, which allows him to win the Shape Sort Challenge. His prize is a Forbidden Room of Mystery which is also covered in badly-drawn hieroglyphics and grade-school scribbles of henges and mountains with their tops coming off like jar lids.

Hill Harper wastes no time in proving what he was hired for: to shine torches into small, dark rooms while talking complete nonsense, with a This R Hard Science I R Serious Researcher on his face. Just when the audience is starting to wonder where the body is and when Mac's going to show up, the film decides oh wait, I need to explain what this has to do with Stonehenge.

One jump cut later, STONEHENGE (the part of Stonehenge will be played by a bad CGI model) on Salisbury Plain (the part of Salisbury Plain will be played by a different part of the same field in British Columbia) and OH COME ON.

You'll have to forgive me for this, but: Stonehenge, in the real world, looks like this and this is how big the stones are compared to a collection of average adults. Meanwhile, this is what the producers of Stonehenge Apocalypse think Stonehenge looks like and how big they think the stones are proportionally to a human male. This is the relevant portion of Salisbury Plain and this is what passes for it in Stonehenge Apocalypse. Believe it or not, we're only due to get more inaccurate from here and that's before the mighty henge starts to revolve. If it's possible to find a more absurd cinematic depiction of Stonehenge this side of This is Spinal Tap, don't ask me how.

Anyway, a party of tourists walk up to the CGI Stonehenge in the way that tourists can't do just in time for the stones to start rotating, spitting lightning bolts and glowing like they're trying to communicate with the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Presumably this was triggered by Hill Harper's escapades in the Forbidden Room of Mystery. The rotating CGI Stonehenge, in its turn causes other ancient CGI monuments around the world to shed their tops like jam lids and explode in CGI fireballs, because Stonehenge Apocalypse, see? (Okay, so it's more like Bad CGI Apocalypse, but hey.)

This leaves the fate of the world in the hands of Misha Collins. Yes, that Misha Collins.

Misha Collins is Stonehenge Apocalypse's resident Renegade Scientist and a grade-A kook. He immediately flies to Salisbury Plain, Canada to go poke the rotating henge with an ammeter he's adapted to detect the presence of plot flange. When he's in the presence of a plot point, the needle shoots off the gauge. He discovers when he gets there, having hired a London cab to take him all the way to Salisbury goddamn Plain, that Stonehenge is off-limits to the public. It was sealed off by the army to prevent the nation becoming alarmed a beloved national heritage site had turned into bad CGI and started rotating and lighting up like a fairground ride. Misha eludes the army (consisting of three guys in fatigues manning an American 'Road Closed' sign of a kind totally unknown in England) and Does Science to the surprisingly accessible henge, discovering that a Mystical X-Shaped Plot Coupon is behind it by doing the thing with the frequencies and electrons and also there are waveforms and ley lines.

Then the army manages to scrounge up a few more guys and arrest Misha and take him to their top-secret Rotating Henge Headquarters, which for some reason is set up in an abandoned primary school and OH COME ON.

Army Training Estate Salisbury Plain (SPTA)

The MoD now own 150 square miles (390 km2) of land, making it the largest military training area in the United Kingdom. Of this, around 39 square miles (100 km2) are permanently closed to the public, and access is greatly restricted in other areas. As military use of the plain increased, new camps and barracks were constructed, including those at Larkhill, Bulford, Tidworth and Warminster. Several installations have been built and since removed, including a railway line and aerodrome that were constructed next to Stonehenge. In 1943 the village of Imber and the hamlet of Par Hinton were evacuated to allow training for Operation Overlord to be conducted. The village has remained closed, except for the annual church service and some bank holidays, ever since.

The Royal School of Artillery is based at Larkhill, and live firing is conducted on the plain for approximately 340 days of each year. Military personnel from the UK and around the world spend some 600,000 man days on the plain every year. The ATE SP is located close to other military facilities including the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down (much of whose work is secret), Boscombe Down airfield and Middle Wallop Army Air Corps Base, where pilots train on the Westland Apache.

Movie, are you seriously telling me that in an area that is lousy with military bases, one of which specifically deals with scientific military secrets, the absolute best place that the British army can find to study the Mysterious Rotating Henge from is an abandoned Canadian elementary school?

Okay, the Hengebusters are operating out of a primary school with badly Photoshopped signange whose original name can still be seen in some of the establishing shots, not one of the many, many military bases that can be found in this part of England. Misha is held captive in a corridor behind a mesh screen of the kind pulled over cafeteria counters when out of use, along with a group of random extras, all of whom seem surprisingly content to just stand there despite the complete lack of any kind of security, or even any real guards.

Misha, however, knows that there is a Stonehenge Apocalypse going on and only he can save the world! Somehow he talks his way into the Teachers' Lounge of Science where the Hengebusters have their nerve centre. There he is introduced to a man who looks vaguely like an extruded Simon Pegg but is much less expensive, Methos from Highlander, Captain Mustache, Glasses Lady and Tori Higginson. Most of these characters are largely irrelevant except for Tori Higginson, who is our resident no-nonsense female scientist and her job involves posing in front of various viewer friendly interfaces spouting pseudo-scientific gibberish. Presumably she was hired on the strength of being able to do this with a straight face.

Tori Higginson talks to Misha and he tells her that the rotating henge is a sign of the Stonehenge Apocalypse. She lets him have a go with the viewer friendly interfaces and he informs her the obligatory Random Doomsday Countdown has started in order to ratchet up the tension and also it's a SyFy Original so this always happens, and now they only have thirty hours left before the writers run out of ideas. He manages to locate the Mystical X-Shaped Plot Coupon on display in a museum in New York, thus winning Round Two of the Shape Sort Challenge.

Various complications happen for no reason other than to stall the plot a bit. Colonel Trautman's stunt double arrives in a humvee because in Stonehenge Apocalypse the British army is comprised of Captain Mustache, a few extras in fatigues, a commandeered Canadian grade school and an single American roadblock, and anything requiring actual kit is totally beyond them. Misha is put back behind High-Security Cafeteria Screen for no explicable reason despite having explained the entire plot and what they have to do to stop it to the Hengebusters. Tori Higginson then looks at the Random Doomsday Countdown again and she and Captain Mustache retrieve Misha from the high-security cafeteria screen.

One jump cut later, Misha and the Hengebusters arrive in New York (the part of New York will be played by a modern community center in British Columbia) to retrieve the Mystical X-Shaped Plot Coupon. They get there, find it immediately and Misha breaks the glass to steal it, but then some extras jump up and start shooting at them so he runs around corridors like an idiot for a few minutes while Tori Higginson hides behind a van. Alas for Captain Mustache, he is left to guard the Plot Coupon's broken display case for some reason, and the instant he's safely offscreen he is murdered. Misha runs around a bit more, completely forgetting to hold the Plot Coupon as if it weighs anything, then goes back to the gallery for some reason and finds the dead Captain Mustache because UNEXPECTED HILL HARPER IS UNEXPECTED.

Anyway, Hill Harper knocks out Misha and steals the Mystical X-Shaped Plot Coupon because this teleplay's going into five acts if it kills us.

Hill Harper wastes no time in proving that he has never seen Raiders of the Lost Ark by taking the Mystical X-Shaped Plot Coupon and putting it on the altar in the Forbidden Room of Mystery. The Mystical X-Shaped Plot Coupon turns into a Mystical Circular Golden X-Shaped Plot Coupon as CGI lightning shoots about the place while Hill Harper cackles maniacally because I Have The Power or something.

Meanwhile more CGI ancient temples magically lose their tops and explode into fireballs and kill people for no reason, all of which conveniently happens in poor second- and third-world countries without many white people living in them. This is illustrated using footage from genuine newscasts on natural disasters and the relief efforts, which is not only an incredibly brazen cost-cutting measure but a stupendously tacky one as well. How dare you, Stonehenge Apocalypse? How dare you use actual footage of real people's suffering to prop up your shitty fantasy diasterporn about rotating henges and the tops of the Great Pyramids hinging open to shoot lava everywhere? At the very best it's quite breathtakingly clueless. At worst, just plain callous. I presume you guys are Americans - well, how would you like it if footage from 9/11 was used in a crappy 'Alien invasion' movie to save the producers money?

Exactly. You heartless bastards.

Anyway. Misha comes round and he and Tori Higginson track Hill Harper down using the plot-flange-detecting ammeter, something he apparently manages by driving round and round that cornfield in Maine until the ammeter goes off. They could have achieved this without the ammeter, though, as Hill Harper's Mystical Occult Cave turns into a CGI ziggurat for no readily explicable reason, in which his doomsday cult are preparing for the upcoming apocalypse by laying in enough bottled water to keep the average office stocked for a day and a half. Misha discovers Hill Harper isn't there any more and has taken the Mystical Circular Golden X-Shaped Plot Coupon with him, so Misha and Tori Higginson leave again and wander around in the bushes looking for him.

Hill Harper shows up and shoots Tori Higginson in the arm; Misha responds by jumping on him and killing him while Tori Higgins hides behind a tree. Misha then retrieves the Mystical Circular Golden X-Shaped Plot Coupon. So the bad guy is dead, hooray for Misha, Stonehenge Apocalypse called off and day saved? Well, no actually, because there's still ten hours on the Random Doomsday Countdown and one more ad break left.

After the ad break, Misha Collins is back in Salisbury Plain, Canada and that ten-hour window has become just over an hour and the sole reason this countdown was so long was to give the cast the time to travel across the Atlantic and back. Well over two-thirds of the thirty-hour time limit are spent on planes. Anyway, Misha's back with an hour to put the plot coupon on the central altar and somehow save the world in the process.

Unfortunately for him, at some point in the interim the rest of the Hengebusters have decided to try and save the world in time-honored SyFy Original fashion - by firing a nuclear warhead at whatever's causing the problem and hoping it'll go away, never mind that if it does go away so will Stonehenge and the entire population of Salisbury and a vast chunk of the south of England will effectively be rendered uninhabitable for the next million years. This appears to be being overseen by Colonel Trautman's stunt double with Methos, Glasses Lady and Extruded Simon Pegg-Alike helping out. The scriptwriters realize that maybe killing Hill Harper with half an hour to go wasn't a brilliant idea, though, as now there's no villain so Extruded Simon Pegg-Alike pulls a sudden face heel turn, shooting Glasses Lady and Methos for no explicable reason then trying to shoot Misha as he arrives at the Primary School of Science.

Misha escapes with the Mystical Circular Golden X-Shaped Plot Coupon, but Extruded Simon Pegg-Alike follows, chasing him across the field to CGIhenge and shooting him in the leg and oh no, there's seconds to go before the end of the world and Colonel Trautman's stunt double has just dropped a nuke on it from a fighter plane that should be right in the blast zone when the bomb goes up! Tension! Will Misha manage to drag himself across the grass to the CGI central altar and return the Mystical Circular Golden X-Shaped Plot Coupon to its rightful spot before the Stonehenge Apocalypse destroys us all?

Yes, of course he will. More bad CGI happens, the nuke is magically disintegrated and Misha saves the day but is disintegrated himself. Only maybe not.

The end.


In summary, then: watch Top Gun.

Finally, SyFy Originals, when you have a grand total of two minority actors, casting them as the main villain and leader of a weird doomsday cult and his chief mook respectively might not be the smartest move. Then again these people also perpetrated Mongolian Death Worm, in which a bunch of white Americans pratted about trying to out-smug one another while the superstitious Asians living in tin shacks spent most of their time being berated by the white characters before getting eaten by CGI monsters one of the Americans had unleashed in the first place, so maybe I shouldn't be too surprised.
 
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