This might, just might, be the first Sci-Fi Channel original movie. The channel started in 1992 (fun fact: Isaac Asimov and Gene Roddenberry were on its advisory board, although both died before it launched officially) but for its early years it was a repository for old TV shows and movies. The official start of their movie division was 2001, but they’d funded a few before then, and I can find no earlier example than this, although admittedly I haven’t looked very hard. So join me to enjoy the early days of our favourite TV channel!
Now, when you read the synopsis to this, you’ll have one word on your mind: “Armageddon”. A group of miners in space drilling into a large earth-bound object to stop it from hitting us, so SyFy’s first movie was a mockbuster, right? Wrong. This, and I’m still not sure if I’m being fooled by IMDB, predates Willis, Affleck and co’s classic by two years! Was there a lot of asteroid panic in the mid 90s I’m unaware of? I wonder if SyFy considered suing?
This has an extra twist that, for some reason, “Armageddon” chose not to follow. Right at the beginning, we’re introduced to the planet Trillium, 2 million years ago. Something is being sealed in a large cube and blasted off into space, and that cube, after gathering a load of rock about it, snowball-style, is by 2019 a “renegade moon” named Galileo’s Child.
ASIDE: we’re coming into the era when all the stuff that was supposed to happen in the distant future in 80s and 90s sci-fi movies has started happening. Recently, “Back To The Future 2” has happened, and a few weeks ago we got Roy Batty’s incept date from “Blade Runner”. If anyone wants to set up a website with a bunch of countdown clocks to events from old sci-fi movies, I reckon we could make some serious cash. I’ll just take 75% for having the actual idea.
So, there’s a feud about what to do with Galileo’s Child, between the army (who want to blow it up) and the scientists (who want to send some space-miners there to drill into it and set off some charges, altering its course so it misses the Earth completely. The scientists win that feud, and that’s the movie. Caroline Barclay is the main scientist, Dr Dana Shaw; the great Xander Berkeley is Ryan, the mining crew chief; and Bradford Tatum and Brian Krause are the Harrison brothers, each of whom runs one of the mining shifts. There’s a few other fun minor parts, such as Duane “the bloke from the gimp scene in Pulp Fiction” Whitaker as Ryan’s sidekick Potter, and Barbara Patrick as Samantha “Nuke Em” Rogers, the team’s explosives expert, but that’s pretty much it. So, these people mine, and eventually they come across the cube, encased in platinum and with all manner of alien markings on it.
Now let’s pause for a moment and ponder this. As far as we’re aware, this is First Contact, which even for a group of miners would presumably be a very big thing. Aliens! But no, they’re solely interested in the platinum that’s thickly casing the cube and how much money they can make for it back home. Platinum that’s covered in alien script, you understand. At least Dana is moderately interested in it, although even she’s a bit underwhelmed by what would be the most important discovery in the history of humanity. I guess they’ve got a planet to save? I like how the miners are operating like it’s any normal dig (griping about wages, trying to make money on the side) as if they’re not on a renegade moon hurtling towards Earth, though.
The actual exciting whoops-not-“Alien”-honest bit of the movie doesn’t even kick off til the halfway point, with the creature escaping from the cube and going after the crew. You may notice I’m quite a way into this review and I’ve only just mentioned it, well, that’s because the alien is pretty damn dull. Completely indestructible, just pops up and starts killing, there’s nothing to it at all. We get a bit of backstory (it’s the last survivor of a race of killers, well, if they’re that hard how come there’s only one left?) but not enough actual stuff happens.
It’s nice that SyFy had a template in place long before they started making original movies on a regular basis. Fun idea for a story, low budget, make sure not quite enough happens to keep people properly interested, the end. I mean, wouldn’t they just have an automated drill system that worked 24 hours a day if the future of the entire planet was at stake? Sorry. It looks okay for such a low budget, the acting is fine, but it’s let down by a horribly wooden central performance from Barclay and a lack of incident.
Rating: thumbs down