Created by David Seltzer
Teleplay by Mark Kruger
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, Lili Fini Zanuck, and David Semel
Starring Bill Pullman, Natascha McElhone, John Rhys-Davies, Michael Massee, Mark Rendall, Christopher Biggins
- Behind-the-scenes featurette
Released by: Universal.
My Advice: Watch it if you can be neutral about religion and not merely pro or con (try really hard).
The tagline for the mini-series is “Omnium Finis Imminet,” which basically tells you what’s going on here: the end of the world is nigh. When he accidentally awakens a comatose girl, skeptical scientist (aren’t they all in Hollywood?) Richard Massey (played by the lovable Bill Pullman) finds himself involved in the investigations Sister Josepha Montefiore (McElhone) who is in search of the truth behind certain signs that seem to portend the Biblical “End of Days.”
You must watch the show very carefully, as the plot threads are scattered and often very subtle indeed. The show was created by David Seltzer of The Omen fame, and draws upon some similar thematic and symbolic threads. If you snooze at all, the show will quickly cease making any sense whatever. There is a guiding intelligence here (no Intelligent Design pun intended), but the clues are half-buried, and red herrings are everywhere. I guess befitting the confusion of the End of the World, the situation is never what it seemsâ€¦ except when it is, and you assume it’s not. It’s too bad that the beginning doesn’t quite represent the real potential of the show, leaving viewers ready to give up too early.
The biggest shame here is that the usually rather fine actors are not given enough to do here, particularly Rhys-Davies, who is essentially thrown away. The dialogue doesn’t seem to be the problem, and the plot, while unnecessarily over-complicated without being actually meaty, at least has complexity and depth to it, so it must be the direction to blame. Pullman just falls flat, and Sister Josepha is made to sound more annoying and tiresome than faithful and devout. Perhaps Hollywood should spend some time with actual nuns and talk to them before they ever put one on the screen again. When the irreverent, but joyous, fake nun of Whoopi Goldberg rang truer in Sister Act, you know you’re in trouble.
Another problem is that it seems as if it’s supposed to be horror (the Devil being afoot and all that), but it’s just not all that scary. Even Fundamentalists who live in constant mortal terror of the End of the World, or who spend millions trying to bring it about, won’t be all that, well, moved by a lot of what we’re shown. The show isn’t bad, there’s just a great deal of frustrating, unfulfilled promise (plot, character development, and acting), and that’s a real shame.
What is impressive, however, is that the series was made at all. The show doesn’t dodge certain real-world controversial elements, such as the Catholic sect who takes in the comatose girl in the early scenes of the series, which is in reality not supported by the Vatican. Also, this is not a good time in world events for a TV network to attempt a religious theme; Fundies will hate everything and claim it’s not “devout” enough, and atheists will resent anything that even mentions God, even if the mention is done well. You can’t win, and religion is a touchy subject at the best of times, without all the suicide bombings, American Taliban, dying Popes, and so forth. NBC didn’t flinch, however, and the result is, while flawed, interesting enough, considering what they were up against. It’s devout enough to please open-minded Christians, and “fiction” enough to please open-minded non-Christians. The series did cause controversy on all sides of the fence, but frankly, if no one is happy, that’s probably because the show is pretty balanced between the various sects of Christianity, between churched and unchurched life, and so forth. If no one’s happy, maybe it’s because no single agenda is being pushed.
Another impressive detail is that the show may start with a clichÃ©, a scientist who has lost his entire faith because he suffers a tragedy, and then turns that on its ear when the agents of science and the agents of religion have to work together, and learn that science and religion are different, but not necessarily opposed. This is a vital message for our divided and divisive culture; there’s absolutely no rational reason for Science and Religion to always be at each other’s throats. In the show, the snide scientists are not revealed to be blind idiots or something, but neither are the faithful. No one has all the truth about something so huge as the Apocalypse.
No expense was spared with the special effects, even given the television origins of the show. The film looks great and the various light effects, Signs of Evil, etc. look believable and subtle. The only special feature here is a behind-the-scenes featurette that includes interviews with the major leads and Seltzer, the writer/producer. This is fairly interesting, but doesn’t tackle some of the meatier issues you might have liked, like what Seltzer was trying to do here to begin with.