Dissecting a low-budget movie...
Something that I like to do, as a kind of pass-time, is to analyse movies. Well, I call it "analysing", others might suggest "nit-picking". Either way, this is particularly enjoyable with low-budget science-fiction movies.
IMPORTANT! If you've not seen the movie, don't read this. Either it will contain spoilers, or some parts just won't make sense unless you have seen it...
So, let's dissect a low-budget science fiction movie!
In this case, the movie in question is "Y:2:K". It stars the lovely Sarah Chalke (on the right, remember her from "Roseanne"?) and Louis Gossett Jr.
Sadly, I think Sarah is the only person who did good acting in this movie, and as an aside, I think the darker hair colour really suited her.
The movie's tagline is: THE COUNTDOWN HAS BEGUN... 48 HOURS TO DOOMSDAY.
The description on the back of the video case says: At 12:01 on the first day of the new millennium tiny clocks in millions of computers will malfunction. Some will cancel your favourite TV show, others will cause headaches on Wall Street or power failures in hospitals. And one, operating a top secret missile silo in the Colombian jungles, will think it's 1969 and the United States has just suffered a nuclear attack.
With only 48 hours to go, a crack team of brains, brawn and bravery, is assembled and flown deep into the jungle which has its own dangers; hostile drug lords protecting their territories and other deadly obstacles but the most shocking discovery awaits them behind the silo doors...
Released on video by PM Entertainment Group, Inc. Written by Terry Cunningham and Nick Dalrymple. Directed by Richard Pepin. Running time 99 minutes. BBFC certification 18 (18? These days it'd pass as a PG-12!).
The basic premise is that the Y2K rollover is occurring. A number of nuclear silos suffer date-related glitches. One, in Colombia, decides to lock out everybody (except Coco Leo, the code name for Nixon (!), who evidently put the silo there way-back-when). Of course, thinking we've travelled back in time, it prepares to launch its missiles to Russia. Yes, the clock screws up so it sees this as a 'threat' rather than a malfunction. Perhaps this is a critique of the Nixon administration - in case of error, nuke somebody.
We're supposed to believe it is something really nasty (worse than a nuke), and somebody is going to have to go down there to shut it down.
So the assistant sent by the CIA (Ed O'Ross) accompanies our friendly hacker (Jaimz Woolett) and the last living of the three silo designers (Louis Gossett Jr) to Colombia where the 'away team' get blown to bits by an unknown guerilla army. The main characters obviously survive long enough to meet a Russian chick (Sarah Chalke, complete with pseudo-Russian accent). She was out in the jungle keeping an eye on the missiles. They were one of "The Mighty Few" (Dr. Strangelove, anybody?), a 'hidden' nuclear deterrent against a Soviet strike in the days of the cold war, only it turns out that the Russians knew where it was all along. So with the Russian girl's assistance, they make it to the silo, through a selection of defense systems. The last defense is a key card that dates from the sixties, and the computer might not want to accept it. So our intrepid hacker plugs into a socket on the combination keypad and gets his laptop to crack the combination. Then, they're in.
Once they get into the silo, CIA guy calls in a bunch of people who were waiting by. New orders, you see. The CIA guy and his men were exposed to the chemical in the Gulf and now they're slowly dying from it. This same chemical is what the missiles are loaded with. So they decide to re-target the bomb to detonate in the air over Washington DC which will infect millions with this chemical, and suddenly medical minds will pay attention. They figure a cure will arrive in a matter of weeks, if not sooner, when you're talking an entire population of a large city instead of a handful of Desert Vets.
About now people on a boat in the Pacific are getting worried. So they set a deadline before dispatching a nuke. Waste the entire area. Destroy the bombs that way. It apparently doesn't matter that they'll be blowing a hole in Colombia.
Now the attention switches to Louis Gossett Jr., who made an uneasy friendship with a coffee baron, who is finding life is better since he traded coffee beans for the usual Colombian drugs. He has to appeal to the man's sense of duty, sense of family, or maybe just the fact that in a little while he and his drug fields will be flash fried. Damn, not even enough time to take one good breath of the drug-hazed smoke. So he gets his guerrila army together. They had been contracted by the CIA man to take out the US army personnel (basically remove the resistance). Now they're after the CIA man and his accomplices.
So, it all goes well. Except the hacker gets stuck in the silo when the missiles explode, destroying the silo. But there is no chemical spill as Louis Gossett Jr. is holding the chemical cocktail. Actually, scrub that, the drug baron and his henchmen turn and swipe the chemical-filled tube. It is a useful 'insurance' against anybody trying to shut him down. Now he can be a major player in the world drug scene.
The hacker isn't dead. He calls for the nuke to be stopped. It malfunctions so fighter pilots are dispatched to blow it out of the sky. The hacker, meanwhile, comes to rescue Sarah as the drug baron is trying to drown her in quicksand. They fight the drug people, and all the drug people and the chemical tube go blub,blub,blub down to the bottom of the quicksand.
Cue happy ending.
All in all, it is not a bad film per-se. It has an interesting mix of all sorts of fears that people had about the Y2K issue; along with old-time Soviet issues, and also the controversy regarding this mystery illness that Gulf War troops were supposed to have had. I, personally, know a person who went to the Gulf and he came back very different. Was that the reality of war, or was his mind messed with some sort of biological weapon?
Somehow, though, the movie misses it's mark. There are too many things that are just beyond the suspension of belief. I found hard to swallow was the fighter planes going into Colombia, and also at the end there was supposed to be a tense moment as, hearing no word, a US navy ship launched a nuke to shut down the silo for good. Our heroes get the message through and the nuke is ordered destroyed at the very last second. Please! Colombia is a different country. Don't you think that having US planes fly around and launching nuclear weapons onto it's soil would be considered an immediate act of war? I think this might have played out better if there was no backup. If the missile launched, they'd have to evacuate millions of people in a matter of minutes. Not the "if it fails, we'll nuke it" which is a stupid safety net that did, for me, seriously detract from the ending.
Of course, this movie featured a drug baron. I think American movies have a long way to go before we can see one set in Colombia without making even a subtle reference to drugs. Besides, it is your standard movie cliché.
Well, that's the plot. Here we go with the snag-sheet...
Before we begin, though, I wish to point out that the movie was presented in 4:3 aspect (full screen on a normal TV). However the macrovision on the video tape confused my digitiser so the extreme top and about a quarter of the bottom have had to be removed... You can see this in the picture on the right, which is a full-frame grab.
For what it's worth, I tried making a copy. My Betamax recorded it so well, the copy messed up the digitiser too, but played okay! There's a deep sense of irony in that.
Also... if you are using MSIE, let your mouse pointer linger over the pictures for comments on the pictures.
- I think the very first question I ask is why on earth the valet didn't park the guy's car?
Good god, that man is the one hosting the party! You'd have thought his car would have had
a special 'reserved' parking space, not just leaving the car parked on the roadside next
to the box where all the keys hang! That sounds like something you'd expect to see on
It makes it so easy for the hacker to swipe the keys when he needs to make a quick
exit after making the host look like a fool at his New Year Party.
- Question: Could I leap out of a car going at that sort of speed, and still stand up?
Notice also that the driver sits on the left, yet he jumps out of the right. The
gearstick must have hurt!
It is nice to see a movie car crash that doesn't involve a big explosion and/or burning
wreck. This fancy car just smashes into the ground the way most cars would...
- So, they give the US defense dept. Y2K fix-up job to a hacker who plays pranks. He might
indeed be the best guy for the job, but with a country that's all paranoid with National
Security to keep their lies buried, d'you really think they'd even remotely
consider giving this kind of job (and security access) to the kind of person who
requisitions helicopters to go snow-boarding?
- On-screen, it says:
Moscow long 128 lat 42
If that is 128W, we're looking at a few hundred miles off the Oregon (USA) coastline. If
128E, then we're looking at Huesanjin in North Korea. This is assuming 42N. For 42S, there
is nothing but water in either direction.
Moscow is 37.37E, 55.45N. I could work that out, why couldn't the writer and/or the production team?
- While taking out the plane doing low-altitude recon., the computer switches itself on in
stages? If this silo is supposed to be unmanned, why does the computer switch on the
fluorescent lights? So, one plane is shot down. Why is the other not shot down also?
- Wouldn't USAF missiles say "USAF" and not "US AIR FORCE"?
- When the Colonel and Fairchild are in the briefing room, one of the telephone units (on
the desk, sometimes in the close-foreground of the shots) is not in its cradle. Is it
even hung up? Wouldn't basic security demand that everything capable of transmitting
outside is disabled prior to having a 'secret' discussion? For all we know, a tape
recorder belonging to the New York Times is hooked to the other end of that phone
- The colour of the ambient light changes noticably during the helicopter rope-slide. The
shots with the helicopter feature a strong-blue dawn. The touch-down shots are a much
lighter grey sky.
- The rope-slide across the river. When Vincent loses grip, the overhead shots look
amazingly fake, again due to horrible changes in the ambient colour.
Watch "Tomb Raider" to see how it is possible to match colours with vast spaces between
one place and another (the blessing of Lara scene; the director's commentary explains in
Was this because Vincent on the rope was really a stunt man? Hell, I'd do that for real.
It looks like fun. In fact, I know a thing or two about computers, so I'd have been happy
to play the entire role. It all looks like fun!
- "I'm running out of battery time here". So Vincent is this mega hacker who, like,
single-handedly took on the defense dept. Y2K problem; yet he goes out into jungle and
doesn't take like half a dozen spare battery packs? What a loser!
- The soldiers shot with enough force to flip them over in the air, well it'd be much more
convincing if the wire that flipped them wasn't so obvious!
- Morgan: "Miss, are you DEA?" Come on! The Russian accent wasn't a give-away?
- Mira aiming with the laser sight - wouldn't it have been better to mount it to the gun
tripod (we know she has one) instead of trying to point it at a panel maybe five
centimetres across and a hundred metres away by hand?
The human hand is shaky - anybody who has ever tried to star-gaze using hand-held
binoculars will know exactly how shaky a steady hand can be...
- Why take such steps to conceal the silo (fake trees, lake, etc) only to conceal it with a
visible laser grid?
- If the mines are that sensitive, wouldn't setting off one of them have caused a
- "I can run a couple of programs here, split the processor, double it up" ... to
take a complex calculation from 40-50 seconds down to 15... what kind of OS is this guy
What he should do is cut the crud. Kill the GUI and services, mask out all IRQs,
dump toss-back code into the FIQ/NMI vector to, effectively mask out the non-maskable
interrupts and then give the password breaker program EXCLUSIVE run of the processor.
If he's using a system with a stand-alone interrupt controller (like the PC's 8259) then
disable all unnecessary interrupts in hardware so the processor doesn't even get disturbed
- it the alternative is a chaingun in the gut, you really don't need the VSync
Anybody who knows anything will know that multitasking will ADD load to the system, hell,
even running the same program in multiple threads will add load due to context swaps and
the need to save/restore the processor state, as well as the overhead of the background
code determining "which context now?".
Also, scrolling numbers on-screen make for good TV, but any hacker worth his salt knows
that, essentially, VDU output for something like that is irrelevant. All you need to see
are the stars showing how much of the password has been figured out (which in itself is
kinda bogus); and not all the other CPU-cycle-eating stuff.
Sorry to geek out, but this is as bad as emails that have one-inch-high letters (care to
name a movie? I can think of three off of the top of my head!)...
- It looks like Vincent jacks in a network connector onto the silo entry-way. There just
happens to be a connector there, for somebody to plug a laptop into forty years
in the future? Why hasn't it gone rusty anyway?
Or, for that matter, why do we have prehistoric-looking computer equipment inside, all
connected to a pretty modern looking monitor (it looks like the square-back Samsung
And, to kick a dead rat, why is the display in colour? Am I supposed to believe that
that old stuff output a high-resolution colour display? Hell, many '80s
computers couldn't even manage that!
- Fairchild says to redirect the missile to 68 lat. 42 long. to target the missile. On the
test map later, it says the target is Washington DC.
Is this an intentional (anti-terrorist?) thing on behalf of the movie writer, or did
this person never bother to consult a map?
Washington DC is 77.01W, 38.53N. At least closer to reality than Moscow's coordinates!
Detonation 32,000 miles up? What's the point of blowing up a missile in far orbit? Maybe
it is 32 point zero zero zero? That's still stupidly high! If I let a bio-agent out
32 miles over Washington, d'you think it would land anywhere near? If you're lucky it
might reach Greenland...
Mira: You are going to regret sparing my life.
Fairchild: Oh, you're very scary! I'm gonna have to sleep
with the light on!
- The shot of Vincent's laptop screen after Mira says "Moving in?" looks like a
blank screen with only the Windows9x file system 'explorer' active.
- So, the drug lord's henchmen take out the guys in black with wire and knives and are
both quiet and efficient, then they blow up the truck... come again?
- Come to think of it, why did Morgan and Vincent need to go across the booby-trapped lake
to disarm the silo when the door was drive-uppable? Wasn't the silo supposed to be
surrounded by this lake?
Mira (looking at missile): I thought you'd be bigger.
- So the Antonio Banderas wannabe threw about four machetes and about twelve stiletto
knives; maybe once in a while we could have seen him retrieve a thrown knife, or maybe
he really did come along for the fight wearing all those knives!
Launch doors jammed...
Computer reports "99% probability of internal explosion",
yet it would still launch knowing it'll all blow up?
- After the explosion when the blast shields raise (if they took a blast that
powerful, wouldn't they be broken also?), we can see rather obvious reflections a window
that was previously blown out by the explosion.
- Quicksand is sandy, not wet like watery porridge. If you don't believe me, try walking
across the bay of Mont St. Michel (in northern France) without a guide and see how far
you get before the quicksand takes you.
- As the truck sinks into the 'quicksand' (with 'quicksand' that watery, the truck would
just slide in like a warm knife into vegetable margarine... (I could think of other
analogies, but they're not suitable for a PG-12 audience!)), watch while Vincent and Mira
escape out the back... mmmm, what's that bloody great rope doing tied to the back of the
truck? I wonder... :-)
So there's your 25-and-a-bit snags.
If we had to find holes in the plot, I'm sure there would be another 25; here are just a few:
I'll leave the remaining plot holes for you to discover. I've intentionally not mentioned quite a big one, as, well, this is much better as a shared interactive sort of experience. In other words, go find it yourself! :-)
- As mentioned, no matter how big an ego the Americans have, I'm quite sure they wouldn't
go dropping nukes on a foreign country without at least a tenuous excuse (such as
"This evil man might have Weapons Of Mass Destruction stashed in his pants")...
...even a really fake looking nuke!
- So, this silo went beserk and decided to want to bomb Russia; what about the other
related silos that suffered Y2K problems?
- I'm not a guru on weapons tech or biochemical dispersal, but is putting a cannister of the
nasty chemicals into a missile designed to explode at altitude really the best way
to do it? Wouldn't the fireball affect the chemical, or otherwise destroy most of it?
How about an unmanned plane fitted out with crop spraying equipment instead...?
- Sorry, but as much the the Colombian drug lord was too good a cliché to pass up,
was he really essential to the plot? His entire bit could have been cut out
without that much rework. The time could then be used to build a more taut thriller -
instead of the "if they fail, we'll just nuke it and it'll be okay" which possibly
was the one thing that killed all of the tension in the movie - it should
have been "if they fail, we're royally screwed", and there would be a lot more
going for it.
- Why do all American pilots in movies sound like the two that we see taking off near
the end? That could explain why they appear to have a problem with "friendly fire".
If you have any comments, suggestions, or snags I've missed, please email me.
I'd also like you to email me if you worked on this movie in any way - do you think I'm being fair or overly critical?
Finally, if you have the original draft script, I would really appreciate reading it. Something I've learned from the Internet is that in a number of times the draft script is very different to the final movie. Some times the changes made are for the better, but sometimes they're for the worse. It is interesting to see what the original writer envisioned the movie to be like. And, in this case, I'd like to know if this movie was written to be like we see it, or
if this movie was, originally, different in any way...
Well, it would be Goodbye from me, and goodbye from her
but she's kinda busy right now. You understand how these things are, right?
Return to Rick's World index
Alternatively, you might like to...
Check out info on the SkyDigibox or my FilmFour movie reviews or my Zone Horror movie reviews
Copyright © 2005-2007 Richard Murray; images digitised from the film © 1998 PM Entertainment Group, Inc.