It’s always a nice feeling to watch a SyFy Channel original movie and realise halfway through that it’s actually pretty good. Even “average” is cause for celebration sometimes. We’ve got some strong lead actors and a pretty interesting plot to thank for that; but because SyFy doesn’t want to surprise us too much, we’ve got some comically bad dubbing and padding too.
“The Da Vinci Code” was released two years before this, and it’s safe to say its shadow looms large over “Lost City Raiders”; but with an environmental disaster twist. The ice caps have melted, and seismic activity has pushed all the water that was under the Earth’s crust up (I didn’t quite get this bit either), and all this has led to “The Rising” (surely the original title of this movie), where all water levels have gone up by 15 metres and billions of people have died.
There’s a really good comic called “The Massive” about something similar – environmental disasters wipe out much of the Earth’s population, the old systems try and cling to power as people start to build new societies. It’s exciting stuff, and would make a great TV show – “Raiders” sort of hints at what wider society is like now but only has 90 minutes.
The Kubiak family are divers, going into the world’s submerged cities to salvage precious items for rich folk. Led by James Brolin, who must have owed the producers a favour, most of the work is done by sons Thomas (Jamie Thomas King) and Jack (Ian Somerhalder, post-Lost and pre-Vampire Diaries). They’re hired by the Vatican to retrieve a book from LA, which has information about the location of the Sceptre of Sobek, which can apparently cause the water levels to recede. Also after the Sceptre is evil billionaire Nicholas Filiminov (Ben Cross, “Chariots Of Fire”, the first JJ Abrams “Star Trek” movie); he decides to hire Jack’s ex-girlfriend Giovanna (Bettina Zimmermann), who’s spent the time since they broke up becoming a super-genius geologist. Throw in a hot but clumsy mechanic Cara (Elodie Frenck) the brothers meet in a bar, a good guy Cardinal and an evil Vatican guy, and you’ve got yourself a movie.
Sorry, did I say “Vatican”? I meant “New Vatican”, which is helpfully located in “New Rome”. The problem is, it’s the same place as old Rome, and the Vatican hasn’t moved at all, so I’m not entirely sure why they’d be so quick to put the “New” in front of their name. It’s only been 40 years, you guys! Rome’s been there for over 2000 years!
There’s lots of diving footage which isn’t amazingly shot, as you’d expect from this budget, but if you ignore the CGI, it’s fine. Lots of ancient buildings and Templar graves, and while there’s a bit of filler in these segments (there are two different runs through old buildings that I could barely tell apart; the movie could have comfortably lost one and not suffered at all) it’s a lot of fun. I’m not entirely sure I buy that old buildings which have been entirely submerged for 40 years would still have working fire-based booby-trap systems, but if I’m going to start bringing logic and science into this…well, while I’m down this meaningless nerd rabbit hole, let’s talk polar ice caps. The big plan with the sceptre is to put all the extra water back down underneath the earth’s crust, or possibly to raise the tectonic plates and put it all under them. But the ice caps are still gone, and aren’t they sort of important in regulating temperature and providing an ecosystem and all that? I feel like “Raiders” could have brought this up, but the inevitable doom of a human race which has learned nothing isn’t really the wheelhouse of a light SyFy movie.
Somerhalder, while not the rangiest actor in the world, has a shtick which I enjoy, and if you’ve liked him in anything, you’ll like him in this. Ben Cross is too classy for OTT villainy, and his plan’s a bit silly (why does one person really want world domination? What would you do when you controlled everything?) but he’s fine too. Sadly, James Brolin appears to have either forgotten how to act or is just going “can’t believe I signed a contract to be in a SyFy movie”, and everyone else in the cast is a pretty abysmal actor too. Most of the smaller parts, played by German actors it seems, are dubbed, up to Cara, and given that there are plenty of other thick accents on display, dubbing makes no sense at all.
I was also annoyed by the Templars stuff, and the electromagnetic ley lines nonsense which led to the (admittedly, fairly decent) climax. If you only watched SyFy and the History Channel, you’d be convinced that the Templars and Freemasons were responsible for every big event ever, so if you’re in the mood for a bit of “what actually happened?” then go to www.jasoncolavito.com and read some of his excellent articles.
ISCFC sexism watch! There’s a scene in the bar where Cara is working, and there’s one shot which is the sleazy bar owner in the background, talking…while the entire foreground is taken up by a closeup of Cara’s boobs. Okay, they’re at least partly covered, but it’s so blatant and so out of place that it just made me angry. Ian Somerhalder, a man who must have plenty of straight female and gay male fans who’d be delighted to see more of him, never even takes his shirt off, yet some poor supporting actress has to be treated like that. Sexism is everywhere and we need to demand more from the producers of our entertainment – that the only dramatic scene they could find to give her, later, involves her fighting off a potential rape, is just the crap cherry on top of the misery cake.
I’ve been perhaps a little harsh on this, which was plenty of fun and had an interesting plot. It’s also a “pilot that crashed”, even though the villain died – all the heroes survived; the supporting cast all complemented each other; and there’s tons of world-building going on. I think it would’ve been interesting to see this go to series, although we’d have been deprived of Damon Salvatore in “The Vampire Diaries”.
Rating: thumbs in the middle