Human beings have blind spots and movies are a result of the work of human beings, so it’s probably not terribly surprising that they have blind spots as well. We should expect them, but perhaps not forgive them. They are but one facet of a larger work; the question must be asked about the size of the facet.
Take for example, the film “Skyfire,” which is out next week and centers around a volcanic eruption on a small island. This particular island is home to a luxury hotel built for the purpose of bringing folks up to the volcano via an aerial tram and showing them the place. It is a John Hammond-size bit of hubris being offered by Jason Isaac’s Jack Harris and Leslie Ma’s Qianwei Wang, Harris’s wife and partner. As fire from the volcano rains down on the hotel, Wentao Li (Xueqi Wang), a professor who has lived through a volcanic eruption on the same island years earlier, physically forces Qianwei to look at the destruction from above, explaining to her that it is not a natural disaster but a manmade one.
Director Simon West is building a comparison here to “Jurassic Park.” We have scientists, including the film’s lead character and daughter of Wentao, Xiaomeng Li (Hannah Quinlivan), warning Harris that he’s courting disaster. We have the insistence by Harris that it’s all perfectly safe and the immediate sense that a comeuppance is in the offing. The similarities are even present down to Jack Harris sharing John Hammond’s initials (they also share the same blind spot).
Consequently, it makes some sense that there’s an argument that the disaster is not a natural one but a manmade one, that the deaths were easily avoidable by not trying to control mother nature for profit. It’s actually really smart (even if not original) until one takes into account the fact that there are thousands of villagers who live on the island who have absolutely nothing to do with Harris and his hotel. The addition of these people certainly increases the film’s stakes over those of “Jurassic Park,” but they muddy the waters.
This is the aforementioned blind spot. For the villagers, the disaster is in fact a natural one, and while there may be less money at stake should their homes be destroyed, the death toll would be far greater. It would also be less spectacular, which may be why the movie spends more time at the luxury resort and less with the villagers. This
Of course, none of that is truly the heart of the movie. That is found in the relationship troubles between Xiaomeng and Wentao. Xiaomeng was with her mother on the island when the previous eruption occurred and although Wentao was as well, he wasn’t in the same spot on the island as them. Xiaomeng hasn’t forgiven him for that, seeing it as the start of a pattern of absence. For his part, Wentao would have his daughter observe volcano’s from afar rather than being lowered into them to plant sensors – he knows the dangers first hand.
There is little new or different in the relationship, but playing out as it does, with the two on the run alongside Qianwei, other members of the research team, and a hotel employee, allows the estranged relationship storyline to work well enough. After all, even if that’s the heart of the movie, this is a disaster flick and the audience is there to see destruction wrought on a massive scale. The relationships, including the love between scientist Zhengnan Xiao (Shawn Dou) and hotel worker Jiahui Dong (An Bai), are just the Maguffin.
There are definitely multiple moments of less than stellar CGI, but there’s something in the debris’ ability to target the exact right spot (or wrong, depending on your point of view) at the exact right moment (or, again, exact wrong one) that keeps one invested. One particularly great sequence features an escape from the rim of the volcano back down to the hotel as rock starts to fall.
Carrying the whole thing on her shoulders is Quinlivan, who definitely delivers as an action star. She finds just the right mix of anger and fear and intelligence as Xiaomeng continually helps push the other members of her party forward. They stay a step ahead of the lava (and stones and smoke and general volcanic horror) in no small part because Xiaomeng wills it to happen and it’s great to watch.
“Skyfire” is formulaic to be sure, but it manages to swim with that current rather than just being carried along by it. And that blind spot? Yes, it detracts from the movie, but not in a fatal manner. The unsuccessful comparison (and middling CG work) hampers the ride, but on the whole it’s still one worth taking from the safety of your living room.
photo credit: Rain Zheng Courtesy of Screen Media