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Epoch

An ancient alien edifice threatens to destroy planet Earth

*Epoch
*Starring David Keith, Stephanie Niznik, Ryan O'Neal and Brian Thompson
*Directed by Matt Codd
*Written by Jonathan Raymond and Phillip Roth
*Unified Film Organization
*PG-13
*93 minutes
*SCI FI Channel
*Premieres Saturday, Nov. 24, at 9 p.m. (ET)

By John Sullivan

F our billion years ago, in a clever visual nod to Kubrick's 2001, a wandering cosmic object approaches Earth and slams into the barren young planet. Fast-forward to present-day Bhutan, in Central Asia. An enormous stone construct, a half-mile tall and a quarter-mile around, suddenly erupts from the landscape and simply hangs there, suspended just above the ground. As if that weren't impressive enough, it gets everyone's attention by resurrecting a dead child and briefly disrupting power around the world.

Our Pick: B-

The U.S. government sends a team to investigate the object, which, in a fit of geometric confusion, has been designated "Torus." Led by K.C. Czaban (Niznik), the team includes technology expert Mason Rand (Keith) and a squad of soldiers under the command of tough-as-nails Capt. Tower (Thompson). Rand discovers a way inside the Torus, where the team finds a bizarre tunnelscape patrolled by writhing energy beings.

Meanwhile, the Torus' appearance is creating global jitters, with the Chinese government demanding access to the site. When a pair of Chinese MiGs try to destroy the object, and pay the price, the mystery turns into an international crisis. K.C.'s boss, Allen Lysander (O'Neal), at first content to run the show from Washington, is soon on a plane to Bhutan himself with some even more sinister military types and an ominous-looking box. Before long, U.S. and Chinese soldiers are facing off in the object's shadow and the world slides perilously close to war.

But it's the Torus that intends to have the final say. It begins covering the Earth's surface with a thick cloud layer, threatening the survival of all life. Rand concludes that it has "re-terraformed" the Earth several times in the past, wiping out species so new ones can take over.

As the world starts to panic, the president orders the Torus destroyed with a tactical nuclear weapon, even though all previous acts of aggression near it have been disastrous. Rand and K.C. make their way back inside the Torus in a desperate effort to stop the bomb and save humanity.

Necessity is the mother of B movies

Epoch premieres on the SCI FI Channel Nov. 24 as a channel "Original Production." However the creative team behind the wheel is UFO, which produces low-budget B movies, mainly for the direct-to-video market. (For example, Python, previously reviewed here.) UFO's movies often give the distinct impression that they're built from the bottom up—instead of starting with an idea and figuring out how to film it, the filmmakers look at what they have to work with and then say, "OK, what kind of movie can we make out of this stuff?"

They excel at turning that budgetary necessity into a virtue, however, and that's very true of Epoch. At the shot- and scene-level, it's really pretty good. Epoch's CGI work is surprisingly impressive. Similarly, the production design looks much more expensive than it probably was. And the script keeps things moving while offering comic relief and some fun bits for the cast to play with between all the special effects.

That said, Epoch sure doesn't waste any effort putting sheet metal over the machinery. Entire characters exist solely to give someone else a foil for a big scene. KC and Lysander really should have been combined into one character, but that would have meant losing either the romantic interest or their biggest star, so the movie has two characters doing the same job and getting in each others' way. The movie is full of things like this, where the filmmakers spotted a problem and duct taped something on to solve it.

Sadly what this means is that, despite all the good things about Epoch, the overall result is a mess. The story is staggeringly cliched, drawing on themes that were hackneyed when they showed up in old Outer Limits episodes. Worse, viewers have seen this exact story arc played out in several major SF epics (The Abyss, The Fifth Element, etc.) that had much more to work with.

Aside from the paint-by-numbers story, Epoch's continuity gets pretty ragged. Rand and KC routinely make enormous unsupported leaps of logic about the Torus's purpose. And entire scenes appear to have been simply left out.

All this makes Epoch pretty tough to grade. If viewers can dial down their attention spans there's a lot to like about the movie. But watching the whole thing is an exercise in missed potential.

Epoch is a perfect demonstration of both the strengths and weaknesses of UFO's approach to moviemaking. It makes a lot of genre projects possible that otherwise wouldn't get made at all, and I have to admire them for that. Now if they could just focus a little more on the forest instead of just the trees.... — John

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Also in this issue: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Black Knight and Star Trek: The Motion Picture DVD




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