TV Preview: ABC Miniseries 'Impact' Has Natasha Henstridge, David James Elliott

Even with disaster looming, Natasha Henstridge makes science . . . sexy.
Even with disaster looming, Natasha Henstridge makes science . . . sexy. (Copyright 2008 Impact Films)
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By Leslie Yazel
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, June 20, 2009

The best part of apocalyptic movies -- in this case, "Impact," an ABC miniseries that begins tomorrow -- should be that they make you imagine the what if. What if you had only a few days before Earth is destroyed? Do you gather with loved ones around the family photo album, munch popcorn and reminisce about that one time? With great-grandma? Ah, ha-ha-ha, the memories. Or cash in the 401(k) and hit Las Vegas, Ibiza or the Galapagos?

The problem with "Impact" is that it doesn't force that issue. Because the world isn't going to be destroyed for 39 days. Thirty-nine days. You could see all seven wonders of the world, throw a few parties, finally finish painting the dining room and then die contentedly when the fireball finally arrives, the month after next.

Actually, it's not a fireball but the moon that is going to hit Earth, we learn from Maddie Rhodes, played by the gorgeous Natasha Henstridge, who looks more like a spokesmodel for science than a scientist. When she says, "Jerry, give me a hundred dB aperture gain," she might be saying, "Really, everyone's hair should look this yummy."

The two-episode plot: The greatest, supposedly harmless, meteorite shower in 10,000 years goes all weird because a brown dwarf -- a dead star -- crashes into the moon. That leads to anomalies involving gravity and magnetic pull. Tides change, birds migrate in the wrong season, cars levitate (!), a Little League chain-link fence gives off an electrical charge. And worse: Cellphones stop working. But only here and there. Things get patchy. Like you've switched to the iPhone and now have to deal with AT&T.

And that's the other problem with "Impact." It's not that scary. When cars rise into the air like a big auto-seance and when a huge cargo ship takes flight, dumping its colorful cargo crates like so many airborne Chiclets, it's . . . neat. Wow. How'd they film that? Remember "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"? But it's not edge-of-your-seat intense. There isn't that hot fear.

What if cellphone communication really went down around the world? What if we had no electricity and no Internet? "Impact" doesn't go there.

There is light peril: As scientist Alex Kittner, played by David James Elliott, works with Maddie to save Earth, his school-age children end up on a potentially dangerous journey with grandpa (James Cromwell). And there's a transit accident. Some blood. Obviously, some life-and-death themes. If you thought "WALL E" and "Up" were a little dark for young viewers, you still may have something to blog about come Monday.

The show is heavy on science-speak (but of the sort the "Gilligan's Island" Professor used to utter -- easy to follow), which it successfully balances with various love stories and family dramas (depressed grandpa won't leave the house, scientist neglects his fiance, former lovers collide again).

"Impact" tries to hit the issues: science vs. faith, the military vs. civilian science, the good of one vs. the good of mankind. But it's all been covered before in theatrical films such as "Deep Impact" and "Independence Day." And for a global threat, it seems odd that the first episode mostly consists of just the United States and Europe trying to solve the problem; finally missiles are needed and then it's, hmm, Russia and China? But can we share our technologies with them? Generals shudder at the implications.

So what are we to make of a not-scary apocalyptic miniseries -- one in which the "villain" isn't an evil-looking craggy asteroid or meteorite but our own wheel o' cheese moon? "We have a gigantic magnet floating out there above us," says Benjamin Sadler as scientist Roland Emerson, a line supposedly written to freak us out. He's a rather sexy Berliner scientist, so the result is more: "Ooh, Roland, tell me more about this . . . magnet. What are you doing on Day 37? Beer garden?"

We like the sexy people in "Impact." We just miss the sexy plot.

Part 1 of Impact (two hours) premieres tomorrow night at 9 on ABC. Part 2 airs next Sunday at 9 p.m.

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