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Saturday, July 10, 2004

The Day Before The Day After Tomorrow

Several weeks ago, Sci Fi presented us with another specimen collected from the mephitic tarpits of the UFO swamp (employers of blogger jkrank), and this one was so...not bad.

It was Post Impact, a poor man's Day After Tomorrow, made in collaboration (er) with some German TV producers. (Not to be confused with Deep Impact, a much more expensive movie that concerns itself with events pre-post impact, as it were.)

There'll be some spoilers along the way, but there's a rather large spoiler at the end which I'll try not to reveal.

Quick summary: In 2010, a comet strikes central Europe, plunging the northern hemisphere into darkness and cold. Three years later, a satellite thought destroyed comes to life. This can only mean that someone's alive at its control center in frozen Berlin. A team is dispatched to check it out, and discover the intentions of the controllers.

Plot: Capt. Tom Parker (not Col. Tom Parker, Elvis's manager---don't be confused as I was) is our hunky hero, in charge of security at the American Embassy in Berlin. As the movie opens he's working security at an embassy gathering; among the guests are Dr. Starndorf and his assistant/daughter, Anna. They're watching a comet (which I believe Starndorf helped discover) when Starndorf gets a call on his cell phone, and they have to rush off.

Oh no! The comet has taken a sudden detour, by virtue of an asteroid collision, and it's going to strike central Europe in 48 hours! Starndorf's institute has built a microwave satellite, which has the ostensible purpose of collecting peaceful, sustainable solar power and beaming it gently down to an energy-hungry world; but they also built in a death-beam mode. They try the death beam on the comet, but to no avail. This scene exists primarily to show us the barking, unpleasant Col. Waters (Nigel Bennet from Phantom Force), and mewling, puking, pants-wetting scientist Hensa, another one of Starndorf's assistants.

Well, since that didn't work, they begin a surprisingly orderly evacuation of Europe. Parker brings his wife and tiny daughter to the airport. Also showing up at that moment is Anna Starndorf, who has to be dragged kicking and screaming onto the plane (she doesn't want to leave her father). Parker does such a good job of calming her that Waters orders him onto the plane to calm down the others. He intends to leave before the plane takes off, but of course for no adequately explained reason they're in an almighty hurry, and the plane begins to leave. Parker does a great deal of kicking and screaming himself, but it does him no good, and his family is left behind to catch the "next" plane.

Three years pass, and everyone assumes that Central Europe is a frozen lifeless wasteland. But some radio signals or sumpin from Berlin prompt the New United Northern States (N.U.N.S., with its capital in Tangiers) to send a plane full of minority soldiers to go check it out. The Death Beam satellite wakes up and zaps their plane, cooking them slowly until the plane explodes.

Standing, um, somewhere not very specific are Tom Parker (now extra-hunky due to the magic of scruffy facial hair) and his trusty Husky, Sasquatch. Parker sees the plane explode, and knows immediately that the microwave/Death Beam satellite has something to do with it. They head to Tangiers to see if they can get in on the action. See, all these years Parker has been trying to get back to Berlin to look for his family. He's tried eight times without success ('cause it's damn cold, as we will see).

Meanwhile, the destruction of the mission has Madame President (of NUNS) pissed off, and here we see one of the movie's fine eccentric performances (all of them from secondary characters). Col. Waters explains to her that the whole peaceful energy thingy didn't get enough funding, hence the military chipped in some bucks in return for a weapon. "A weapon!" she spits in derision, as if she's never heard of an excuse so lame. She sounds very much like the school marm in Blazing Saddles. I loved her.

About this time Anna Starndorf---summoned by Col. Waters---wanders in, trailing Parker and the dog in her wake. Parker introduces himself and begs to be allowed to go along. This scene has been in thousands of movies and books over the yers, but usually the hero is about ten. Waters is against the idea, but the President agrees, as you knew she would.

Waters assembles a team consisting of himself, Parker, Starndorf, and one other woman. She's "a former British SAS member, trained to kill", according to the IMDB's plot summary. She's got an accent that makes you want to slap her silly. I shall refer to her as Skanky Spice. There's a brief scene where Parker and Skanky, both de-briefed, are in the showers together. She tries to get into his non-pants by giving him the who -- er, hoary -- old "we may not return from this dangerous mission" come-on. Parker -- the man who has spent the last three years trying ceaselessly to return to his wife -- falls for it instantly. I suspect this scene was a lot less brief on German TV.

Our four team members begin their trek toward Berlin, taking along a half dozen redshirts, all of whom managed to get themselves killed by the end. (Is this a spoiler? No, it is not.) They're under the gun because they have determined somehow that the death-beam satellite is going to fry Tangiers in a few days' time. So they begin in a plane, and, of course, after a while the satellite sees them and starts toasting the plane.

In the very nick of time, heart-pounding seconds before the plane explodes, Parker and Starndorf -- sit down and have a nice heart-to-heart chat about why they're on the mission, how Parker wants to find his family, and Starndorf wants to find her father, etc. Somehow, though, they manage to get out of the plane by escaping in cute little tanks that are dropped from the plane and parachute to earth. This should be a ride when there's a UFO Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.

The middle of the movie is taken up by a long slog through frozen central Europe, which allows you time to get a sandwich or go to the bathroom. If you want to stick around to watch, your best entertainment value is counting how many times the laws of physics are ruthlessly violated and left for dead (see below). A couple of the redshirts are left for dead, too.

When they reach Berlin, Parker and Starndorf go off to do a little recon in just the cutest little sled -- it looks like a piglet on runners. Parker notes a hill that he does not remember, and they go up to check it out and nearly run off the cliff. It turns out that they're on top of the Brandenburg Gate. I'm sure that if you're German, this will make your hair stand on end, but we just said, "Huh? Where is that?" And then we decided it was the Reichstag.

At this time our team comes under fire. Naturally, this comes as a bit of a shock to them, since they sort of thought Berlin was deserted. They find a convenient manhole and scurry down it as quickly as the jelly in a frozen Berliner. They do some wandering in a trademarked UFO sub-basement so Parker and Starndorf can do some trademarked UFO heart-to-heart chatting, and then they find they are being watched by a giant newt.

No, it's just a little girl, and her name's not Newt (that we know of); Newt was the name of the little girl found in similar circumstances in Aliens. After being bribed with some candy, Not-Newt leads the team to a group of survivors.

And here follows one of the most awkward scenes in bad movie history. Our well-fed, well-armed heroes come upon a rag-tag band of pale survivors. Now, what should happen is that the survivors stare dazedly for a few seconds, then throw themselves at our heroes' feet, kissing them amid glad cries of "Hallelujah! We're saved!" and so forth. Then the team will lie and tell them they're just the advance men, here to scope out the situation, and that the rescuers will come later, but it was really tough to get to Berlin, and they should be patient.

Instead the two groups just stare at each other nervously. The team members look as if they're afraid the survivors are going to say, "You're not here to rescue us, are you?", and the survivors look as if they're afraid to hear the team answer, "No". The survivors do tell the team that they've been able to survive thanks in part to "the Doctor", who's been good to them.

Little Not-Newt leads them to the Doctor, who is living inside the giant greenhouse that was (for real this time) (I think) the Reichstag. (Isn't that cool? Here's a picture of the hall where the Bundestag meets. Be sure not to sit under the giant pointy thing.)

The Doctor, of course, turns out to be Prof. Starndorf. The poor doctor is now blind, but this goes completely unexplained, so we don't know why this is nor why it matters. Starndorf does explain that he hopes to use the satellite death beam's "defrost" setting to gently warm central Europe and perhaps nudge the climate back to normal.

There's also a touching reunion scene between Anna and her father, all the more touching for being really brief. Our heroes have not been there but about five minutes when they're attacked. This is the doctor's own security squad, of course, but they're really working for someone else. Our last two remaining redshirts purchase some agricultural property, and Prof. Starndorf is ventilated in the crossfire.

The good news is that all the attackers (including the eccentric leader, whom I liked, he vas efil in ze gut old tradition uf efil Chermans) are also killed.

Our mission, you remember, was to get to the satellite control center before Tangiers is toasted. Somehow the team finds its way there with little difficulty and discovers the dithering pants-wetter, Hensa, at the controls. He's ticked off at having been left behind to freeze, and in his rage plans to fry what's left of civilization, starting with Tangiers.

Here, folks, is one of bad moviedom's truly riveting performances. Hensa (the actor's name does not show up in the IMDB listing) terrified us. He's pale and hollow-eyed and launches into a funny/psychotic schtick like Robin Williams on speed. In fact, he reminds one very much of Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam, since the control booth he's sitting in looks like a radio station booth.

Well, after some rigamarole, our heroes defeat him -- AND THEN COMES A PLOT TWIST. I can't say that I didn't wonder if something fishy was going on with one of the characters, but I didn't exactly expect what was coming either. Well done!

I won't reveal the denouement, except to say that it was not happy endings all 'round.

Analysis: The science in this movie was not all it should have been. Just off the top of my head:

1) When the comet strikes the earth it instantly starts snowing in Berlin. Supposedly, dust (well, dirt, trees, rocks, cities) thrown up by the comet (as well as smoke from fires the comet will set) will blot out the sunlight and cool the earth. But that should take weeks.

Though our characters would be dead by then. This nifty page calculates the effects of a bolide impact on the Earth. I used a "typical" comet impact velocity of 51 km/s, with ice for the projectile material, and dense rock for the target. I chose a distance of 1000 km for the distance from the impact (i.e., the distance of Berlin from the impact), and an impact angle of 75 degrees (the comet seemed to be coming at an angle). Eight km was used for the comet diameter (comets are typically 1-10 km in diameter).

Some effects:

The Earth is not strongly disturbed by the impact and remains intact.
The impact does not make a noticeable change in the Earth's rotation period or the tilt of its axis.
The impact does not shift the Earth's orbit noticeably.

Whew! So that's good.

Energy: 3.49 x 1023 Joules = 8.33 x 107 MegaTons TNT

Say with me now, 83 mmmillion mmmmegatons. That's about 1.7 million of the largest H-bombs ever built.

Final Crater Diameter: 108.37 km = 67.30 miles
Visible fireball radius: 62.4 km = 38.8 miles
The fireball appears 14.2 times larger than the sun
Duration of Irradiation: 183 seconds
Radiant flux (relative to the sun): 30.0
Effects of Thermal Radiation -- Much of the body suffers second degree burns
Deciduous trees ignite

That is, at a distance of 1000 km from the impact point.

Seismic effects: The major seismic shaking will arrive at approximately 200.0 seconds.
Richter Scale Magnitude: 9.9 (This is greater than any earthquake in recorded history)
Ejecta: The ejecta will arrive approximately 494.4 seconds after the impact.
Average Ejecta Thickness: 16.3 cm = 6.41 inches
Mean Fragment Diameter: 1.6 mm = 0.0648 inches

Unfortunately, this is all it says about dust. Berlin will be 6.5 inches deep in dust starting at 500 seconds after the impact, but it doesn't say how long it will take to achieve this depth. There's nothing about nuclear winters. I thought the fragments would be a lot bigger than that---whole buildings or trees or whatnot. But they get pulverized.

The air blast will arrive at approximately 3333.3 seconds.

That's about an hour.

Max wind velocity: 162.5 m/s = 363.6 mph

In Berlin. 360 mph winds in Berlin, which results in:

Multistory wall-bearing buildings will collapse.
Wood frame buildings will almost completely collapse.
Highway truss bridges will collapse.
Glass windows will shatter.
Up to 90 percent of trees blown down; remainder stripped of branches and leaves.

Oh, and also:

Sound Intensity: 100 dB (May cause ear pain)

Always wear ear protection in comet impacts. And always read the fine print:

Earth Impact Effects Program Copyright 2004, Robert Marcus, H.J. Melosh, and G.S. Collins
These results come with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY

(Thanks to Jay Manifold for pointing to this page, in the course of noting that the world had failed to end (again).)

2) And about that comet. Kudos to the writers for not just lobbing it onto the Earth without explanation, but the whole asteroid-comet collision thing is a bit ripe. The chances of a comet striking an asteroid near the orbit of the Earth -- where asteroids are kind of scarce -- are, er, astronomical. But, OK, OK, if we didn't have that we wouldn't have our movie. But an asteroid that close to the Earth, large enough to deflect the comet, would have probably been known and have its orbit plotted before this. The collision would've been expected.

3) I also don't believe that microwaving the plane would've cooked the people inside, but I'm too lazy to look that up.

4) When the team is crawling across central Europe in their little tanks, they mention that the temperature is something like -57 Celsius. Then Parker and Starndorf go outside for a breath of fresh air, dressed in ordinary parkas sufficient for a stroll through a Chicago winter. I don't think so. This is near the average winter temperature at the South Pole!

5) At one point, the team wants to cross a river, but Parker tells them it's too risky, because the ice can sometimes give way (or something). So instead they cross a bridge, which is made of steel which has been hanging in the open wind in mind-boggling temperatures. I mean, it's not like metal ever becomes brittle and fails at low temperatures, right?

Well, that's enough beating up on the science. Aside from the many times when the action comes to a crashing halt for a heart-to-heart talk -- and the fact that the people handed unhappy endings in the end don't seem unhappy enough about them -- this wasn't that bad a movie. I haven't seen The Day After Tomorrow to compare the two, but at least Post Impact can proudly hold up its head and say that it was not based on a book by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber.

Of course, it could've been a lot better with a heaping helping of jkrank.