December 4, 2005

Sci-Fi’s ‘Triangle’ a Wreck-Tangle

By Ray Richmond

LOS ANGELES -- With "The Triangle," the Bermuda Triangle claims yet another victim.

That notorious area of the world, long cloaked in mystery and tragedy for making planes and ships disappear without a trace, is the subject of this six-hour original Sci Fi Channel mini, which boasts a prestigious pedigree (Bryan Singer and Dean Devlin as exec producers) and a reasonably impressive cast (Eric Stoltz, Catherine Bell of "JAG" fame, Bruce Davison, Sam Neill and Lou Diamond Phillips).

But for all of its considerable ambition, the project loses its equilibrium somewhere over the Atlantic, tossing so many wild ideas and elements into the mix that it might be better titled "The Try Angle" (as in try this one . . . or this one . . . or . . .).

Creepily watchable almost in spite of itself through at least the first two nights, the miniseries embodies a veritable symphony of implausibility. It begins with an eccentric rich guy (Neill) rounding up your basic ragtag collection of headstrong misfits: a tabloid journalist (Stoltz), a deep sea resource engineer (Bell), an Aussie meteorologist/adventurer (Michael Rodgers) and a psychic (Davison). He offers them $5 million apiece to dump their lives and instantly set off on a seemingly suicidal mission in pursuit of an answer to why his ships keep vanishing -- and how it is that the Triangle has swallowed them. It's like, hey, no problem, we can unravel a puzzle that's befuddled mankind since the time of Columbus. Can you give us a couple of days?

While this is going on, we see first-hand the effects of a close encounter with the Triangle in the wiggy experiences of a guy named Meeno (Phillips), the lone survivor of a Greenpeace expedition disaster whose mind appears to have turned to scrambled eggs. Here is how sinister this Triangle is: It makes him forget he has a young son. Then it makes him forget he doesn't have one. As for the motley quartet, they immediately take the $5 million bait (it's all or nothing, meaning they unravel the Triangle or come away with zippo). It helps little that all five seem to have -- shall we say -- issues.

"The Triangle" begins to veer off course around the middle of Night 1, when our heroes meet a woman who is the lone survivor of a plane that crashed into the water -- and was only 6 years old when she boarded the jet. Now she's an old lady. The theory is that she went through the Triangle and, well, OK, it isn't really a theory so much as just something inexplicably weird. Soon, the bizarre stuff is happening to them, too. They go on an undersea excursion and discover long-missing planes and ships strewn across the bottom. Then they get captured and interrogated by scary feds working an undersea facility. Then they start hallucinating, imagining ex-wives in hot tubs, mothers they've never met and even their own obituary in the paper.

Heck, where's John Edward to tidily explain all of this away, you know?

As the mini moves from Night 2 to its final stanza, it seems there is some sort of electromagnetic thingie that the Navy is about to do and will doom all the planet, or something. What any of this has to do with the actual Bermuda Triangle itself isn't always clear, but it does lend itself to abundant special effects (only a few of which were complete for the review screener). Rockne S. O'Bannon's teleplay is long on far-fetched conjecture and a bit shorter on intriguing dramatic structure, while director Craig Baxley is found struggling to balance the piece's humanity with all of the surrealistic graphics and visual oddities -- though a horrific shower scene with Phillips' head case character in Part 2 proves memorable.

Where O'Bannon and the film itself seem to cop out is the transformation of the Bermuda Triangle's legendary ambiguity into simply another excuse to posit government conspiracy theory to the sci-fi crowd. Can't the disappearances be about something more complex, like, say, the gravitational pull of the Earth, a Satanic curse or an evil plot involving the Baldwin brothers?


Howard Thomas: Eric Stoltz

Emily Patterson: Catherine Bell

Stan Lathem: Bruce Davison

Bruce Geller: Michael Rodgers

Meeno Paloma: Lou Diamond Phillips

Eric Benirall: Sam Neill

Helen Paloma: Lisa Brenner

Aron Ackerson: John Sloan

Capt. Jay: Charles Martin Smith

Doug Weist: Barrie Ingham

Karl Sheedy: Marius Weyers

Sally: Shannon Esra

Executive producers: Bryan Singer, Dean Devlin, Rockne S. O'Bannon; Co-executive producers: Marc Roskin, Alex Garcia, Kearie Peak; Producers: Kelly Van Horn, Volker Engel, Marc Weigert; Co-producer (South Africa): Michael Murphey; Associate producer: Rachel Olschan; Director: Craig R. Baxley; Teleplay: Rockne S. O'Bannon; Story: Bryan Singer, Dean Devlin, Rockne S. O'Bannon; Director of photography: David Connell; Production designer: Tom Hannam; Costume designer: Moira Meyer; Art director: Christof Dalberg; Special effects coordinator: Roly Jansen; Editor: Sonny Baskin; Music: Joseph Loduca; Sound mixer: Conrad Kuhne; Casting: Janet Gilmore, Megan McConnell.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter