Welcome back to our SyFy Channel reviews, after a few weeks of odds and ends. This is classed as a mini-series in some places, but there are three parts, they all have different titles, they’re all feature length and it’s not like quality, lack of proper endings and so on, has ever stopped us reviewing stuff before!
There’s a moment, about 20 minutes in, where our hero Jack Hunter walks out of Damascus airport, and he’s dressed like he’s about to do some Indiana Jones cosplay, where I got a bit annoyed with SyFy Channel. Imagine you’re a fan of Dr Jones, and you see a picture of Ivan Sergei as Jack Hunter, with a title supposed to bring the more famous film series to light. The only possible response is “well, this’ll be a cheap ripoff, probably won’t bother watching it”! I’m prepared to admit there are other stories to be told about heroic male archaeologists / treasure hunters, but do they all have to wear the fedora / khaki gear combo? It’s one of the reasons I like the computer game “Uncharted” so much (which, by the way, would make a fantastic film series), that lead guy Nathan Drake doesn’t stick to the Indiana Jones dress code.
The most important word from that previous paragraph was “Damascus”, as the first of the Jack Hunter movies takes place in beautiful friendly Syria. It’s extremely weird, just 8 years on, to see pictures of President Assad everywhere and realise that, at the time, he was sort of okay in the West’s eyes. At times, it operates as a tourist information video for the country, as the beautiful rock formations in the North of the country are given prominence, with the characters staring open-mouthed in amazement at them; also, every local they meet is incredibly friendly. Now, this is fair enough – you could be forgiven for not realising how bad Syria was in 2008. But think about “The Interview”, the Seth Rogen / James Franco film where China is treated as paradise on Earth, despite everyone knowing just how poorly the regime treats its citizens, and how it’s a far greater threat to world peace than North Korea. Or “Red Dawn”, where the Chinese invasion force was digitally altered to be North Korean after filming had finished, because they didn’t want to upset the Chinese. “Jack Hunter and the Lost Treasure Of Ugarit” is very small beer in comparison.
The plot is entirely standard, in every other respect – a mysterious clue stolen from a museum, an evil gang of treasure hunters following our heroes every step of the way, dozens of red herrings about who’s really in on it, exotic locations, a special artefact, fights, colourful locals; you know the score.
ISCFC FAVOURITE THING: the exposition lecture! We’ve talked about this before, but if you ever see a college lecture in a movie, it’s guaranteed to be pitched at an embarrassingly easy level, and to give the viewers a background on what’s going to happen later. It’s not limited to low-budget movies, either, as it’s literally the only reason to have this sort of scene (minor qualifier: erotic thrillers where a student becomes obsessed with a teacher). Imagine being halfway through a random Archaeology degree and your professor starts talking about some dumb myth, saying “no-one knows if it’s true or not”. You’d riot!
SyFy Channel did well with the casting, though. Ivan Sergei is a solid leading man, but far better is Joanne Kelly (from “Warehouse 13”, among many others) as Nadia Ramadan, a representative of the Syrian government who thaws to Hunter very quickly. If you’re thinking that Joanne Kelly is Canadian, probably with Irish ancestry, and doesn’t exactly look like your mental image of a Middle Eastern woman, then you’re at the same spot as me. She doesn’t even bother doing the accent, saying she was brought up in the US, but there’s times when she’s talking to other Syrians and just speaks English – was she a last minute replacement? Anyway, Kelly is great, even if her range is a bit limited, as she’s basically the same character as she was in “Warehouse 13” – the combination of awkward physicality and a powerful sense of feminism. Or perhaps that’s just how she is and she doesn’t act at all. Who knows? Add in a fine scenery-chewing villain turn from Thure Reifenstein and you have a movie.
Well, you have part 1 of a 3-part miniseries. And you know what? Part 1 has me actually looking forward to 2 and 3, which is a great deal more than most, say, slasher film part 1s can manage. I’m not sure there’s three full reviews worth of things to say, but I’ll put this up and I might just edit any thoughts on the rest of the mini-series in later.
Rating: thumbs up