STARRING: David Keith, Ryan O'Neal, Stephanie Niznik, Brian Thompson, Craig Wasson, James Hong, James Avery

2001, 97 Minutes, Directed by: Matt Codd

Description: The world is rocked by an increasing amount of earthquakes. A nuclear weapons expert joins the team working for the President of the U.S., to investigate the strange activity over the Himalayas. . .

Epoch isn’t too bad as far as made for the Sci-Fi Channel movies are concerned. In fact, unlike a lot of the fare on this channel, it has a solid hard sci-fi premise, which will seem familiar to regular Arthur C. Clarke readers, instead of the usual SF/horror Alien rip-offs (such as the recent Creature).

An enormous alien artifact resembling an upside-down mountain floating in the air (see the poster art on this page) which has been buried beneath the Earth for billions of years suddenly reappears again in Bhutan. In case you’re wondering (like me) where on Earth Bhutan is, the movie helpfully provides a map: it is neatly tucked in between India and Tibet. (My dictionary supplies the following info on this obscure country: a kingdom in the Himalayas, NE of India, foreign affairs under Indian jurisdiction. 1,100,000; ab. 19,300 square miles.)

Tibet of course has been invaded by mainland China in the 1950s (what? you haven’t been paying attention to what Richard Gere and Lisa Simpson recently had to say?) and thus they believe Bhutan to be in their “sphere of influence” as they would say in international politics. Of course the sudden appearance of the alien object has the Chinese spooked, especially when an American scientific delegation (consisting of a whole three members!) shows up to investigate it. The problem is, you see, they are accompanied by American troops . . .

Against this backdrop of international brinkmanship reminiscent of the Cold War, the scientific team played by Stephanie Niznik (Spiders II: Breeding Ground) and David Keith (Sabretooth) not only have a limited period of time to figure out what the deal is with the alien object, but also have to cope with a trigger-happy U.S. military who obviously hasn’t seen The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Despite this intriguing premise, Epoch doesn’t quite resolve its plot issues satisfactorily. Without wanting to spoil anything, the ending comes as a slight disappointment. Also, the movie is flawed in that it is too ambitious for its own good. Made on small budget, it could have down with better special effects and a bigger cast. A longer running time would also have been to its advantage so as to better develop its various subplots and characters. While the cast is generally okay, there are some exceptions, most notably Ryan O’Neal who after an eternity in the business still can’t act.

Still, I enjoyed Epoch more than I thought I would. It is definitely better than some critics made it out to be and, if your tastes run to the hard SF variety, it is worth catching on late night TV one night. Not much of it would come as a surprise to anyone who has read 2010, Rendezvous with Rama and the like, but after suffering through the likes of Dragon Storm recently it was nice to see an actual sci-fi movie on the Sci-Fi Channel . . .


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