Reviewbr> “When Mt. Vesuvius erupted, the people of Pompeii stayed in their homes. How do we know that, Ken?” – Rick Lieberman
Rick Lieberman leads a USGS team who are tasked with monitoring the supervolcano lurking under Yellowstone National Park. Actually if you have ever been to a geothermal park then you have probably been standing in an active supervolcano, and hello to the folks back home in NZ, yes Lake Taupo is also a “restless” caldera.
Warning signs like earthquake swarms, geothermal eruptions, trees dying, and animals getting out of Dodge point to the possibility of Yellowstone erupting. The new you beaut software simulation also points to an eruption from the scale of Mt St Helens to a dinosaur killing super eruption. The last one that happened, Lake Toba Sumatra 74k years ago, almost wiped out the human race, so Washington is worried, the American people are worried, and the bison are heading south for the winter. With an eruption imminent, Rick and his team are left with one final piece of the puzzle to fit: just how big will the eruption be? Ready to go check out the pyrotechnics?
The BBC sort of tossed the keys to Tony Mitchell to go ahead with his two-episode worse case dramatisation of an eruption of the Yellowstone volcano. Mitchell delivered two one hour shows, managed to up the ante on special effects, and threw in enough drama for the arts crowd to get down and grooving with. Like most other people I just wanted to see the volcano go bang, and I certainly got more than I bargained for with Yellowstone unzipping completely over the course of an hour or so. Guess we should put on the asbestos undies and head on in to the heat to see what Mitchell devised for our viewing pleasure.
Clearly a lot of research went into this television event before anything was committed to film, or even to paper script-wise. From what I can gather the science is pretty solid, with most scenarios covered to some degree or other. Clearly Mitchell went with a worse case situation here – hey, who wants to see a minor eruption? – but lip service is paid to various best case eruptions as well. If you ever wanted to find out about supervolcanoes then this is the show to catch up with.
Perhaps one of the most feared natural disasters waiting to happen, this is horror, and it's real kids!
Director Mitchell takes time out of his busy schedule to setup the events leading to the actual eruption, and has a swipe at both U.S. Government agencies and the news media, both of whom are at fault here for completely separate reasons. The agencies are working at downgrading any publically released risk assessment, indirectly leading to millions of deaths through bad advice and a “we don’t want to panic” approach. The news media, in the person of Maggie Chin, are simply after a sensational story and being first to air with news of an impending eruption, thus panicking the populace and making FEMA, USGS, et al look like complete dicks. In the midst of this, Rick Lieberman is the fall guy. Okay admittedly you wouldn’t want this dude to be manning a corner store, he simply gets it wrong time after time, but the character is forced to realise something is about to happen at the park and it’s not going to be good. Just how many warning signs did he need anyway? – hell the bison were getting out of Dodge at a rapid rate.
The actual eruption itself is pretty impressive. A lot of computer work went into getting that exactly right and conveying the sheer massive scale of a supervolcanic event. Post production they have slipped in not only some actual footage but also some fairly impressive CGI rendering, remembering this is a telemovie. You are going to be able to tell the actual from the CGI, no one is going to get that close to a dinosaur killer of this magnitude for starters, but it won’t distract from your overall enjoyment of what you are seeing. Let’s face facts here, about ninety percent of folks tuning into the show are doing so to see the big bang take place on their screens, you won’t be disappointed, kids.
Immediately after Yellowstone goes bang we see various State and Federal agencies scrambling to come to terms with what has happened, and also to devise a relief effort for the literally millions of people left stranded under the ash clouds. The U.S. Government is shown as completely unprepared to deal with a natural disaster on this scale – and to be honest which government wouldn’t be? – with further loss of life due to inaction in the face of what is to quickly become a global disaster of biblical proportions.
We finish with a pretty perfunctory look at the effects world wide; a new ice age due to volcanic winter affecting both equators, the monsoon not happening leading to crop failure and mass starvation in South East Asia, and although not stated I fear the cancellation of a number of rugby union tests. Yes, it’s become that dire! Now a few Reviewers have attacked Supervolcano for a U.S. centric outlook, but hey this show was made by the BBC and to be honest is about events around Yellowstone erupting not global climatic concerns. If you have an issue with this then by all means contact the BBC with plans to do the sequel covering the fallout after the conclusion of festivities at Yellowstone.
Michael Riley (Rick Lieberman) takes the lead over the two hour running time and delivers us a pretty believable scientist. He made a call in his past that is now coming back to haunt him, and Riley nails that aspect of the character. Gary Lewis (Jock) was simply my favourite character. Lewis plays the gruff Glaswegian who doesn’t have time to deal with fools to perfection. For those people claiming the accent is false get your arse out of Nebraska and go visit the rest of the world shmucks! And Shaun Johnston (Matt) actually nailed it as the park ranger who can feel something is coming.
In terms of T&A, guess it left Yellowstone along with the bison before things heated up.
Ty Unwin lays down a pretty dramatic score that worked for me. It fits in well with the visuals and really captures the mood of the two hour movie we are sitting through.
Well I thoroughly enjoyed Supervolcano from first frame to last frame. Once again the BBC delivered a highly professional outing that was well researched, well written, and totally believable. Okay they are taking the worst case scenario of a supervolcanic eruption in the U.S. hinterland which is apparently not likely to happen in our lifetimes, but it does give you food for thought. On the bright side of the text book I learnt a whole bunch of things I didn’t know, not the least of which was the actual existence of supervolcanoes!
Supervolcano played over two nights in most markets to resounding ratings success. I completely missed the broadcast in Australia so reviewed off the R4 DVD release from the ABC, our equivalent of the BBC. For those thinking about a purchase you also get the two part documentary Supervolcano: The Truth About Yellowstone thrown into the one disc bundle. That’s got to be value for money in anyone’s language. The DVD is still available from www.abc.net.au if you hunt around the site a bit.
Okay so volcanoes, super or otherwise, aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I would urge you to have a look at this dramatisation. There are seriously good production values going down and if you ever wanted a glimpse into hell then this is your chance, all from the comfort of Mr Sofa. Pop this one on during a normal slow night and I can guarantee your night will go off with a bang!