Directed by: Kevin Fair
Starring: Matthew Modine, Maxim Roy, Ted Whittall, Kate Drummond, Kalinka Petrie, Spiro Malandrakis, Trevor Hayes.
There is a rating system in place, apparently, that grades various threats to the planet. A category 5 threat will have global economic impact, category 6 means the breakdown of society’s infrastructure, a 7 is the destruction of the human race, and category 8 means nothing less than the destruction of the planet itself. So, you see, it’s not just any ordinary little disaster the heroes of CAT. 8 have to deal with, but the end of the world itself. Luckily, Matthew Modine is at hand to sort things out.
Modine plays the mandatory disgraced/rogue scientist, this time his name is Dr. Michael Ranger, who tinkers away in his rural lab after being fired from a government project. His ex-colleague Dr. Jane Whitlow (Roy) is still going with the program, though, and as the show begins she is presenting a new defense system that will use solar energy to shoot any approaching threat out of the sky.
Unfortunately, there is an accident that causes the sun to release a massive solar flare that not only affects electricity and telecommunications but is forceful enough to cause earthquakes as it hits the Earth’s magnetic field. While the government scientists conclude that the magnetic storms will settle within 48 hours, Dr. Ranger believes that things will get worse. And sure enough: The continuing solar flares cause hundreds of satellites orbiting the planet to fall out of the sky and rain down on major cities. It all culminates as the International Space Station crashes down and annihilates the entire city of Chicago.
But bad as that is, it’s only the beginning. Promptly the sun belches out the largest coronal mass ejection ever recorded, and it is headed straight for us. If it hits, it will burn away the ozone layer and we’ll all be cooked. Dr. Ranger has a solution, but as in any self-respecting disaster movie, no one wants to listen. Or rather, as the crisis deepens, Dr. Whitlow realizes that Ranger might be right, but her boss, defense secretary Brian Lee (Whittall), adamantly refuses to consider Ranger’s ideas. Instead, an attempt is made to deflect the CME by sending up a satellite armed with nukes. As that strategy very predictably fails and the defense secretary, along with the rest of the government, takes shelter in the White House bunker, it’s up to Dr. Ranger, along with his daughter and her boyfriend, to make a final heroic attempt to save the planet.
CAT. 8 was broadcast as a two-part miniseries, and the good news is that it sports decent production values and good performances from the cast. Modine is a fine choice for the role as grumpy but brilliant scientist/overbearingly protective father, Ted Whittall is quite unpleasant as the defense secretary who turns almost ridiculously evil as the story progresses, and Maxim Roy acquits herself nicely as the scientist trying to balance duty and conscience.
The bad news is that CAT. 8 is a disaster movie with a minimum of actual on-screen disaster. Millions die as satellites crash into major cities, earthquakes and volcanos cause widespread destruction and the ground itself collapses as huge rifts open up, but with a few very short exceptions we don’t get to see any of it. The destruction of Chicago is over and done with in one single shot lasting ten measly seconds. I mean, come on! Lavish scenes of horrible destruction is one of the primary reasons I even watch these kind of shows. In a three-hour feature, I do expect more than 35 seconds of mayhem, which is about all CAT. 8 manages. And no, people running through labs while the usual pyrotechnics go off doesn’t count – I can get that in any old action movie. (Brain-numbingly bad science comes with the territory, so I won’t even bother with that.)
As with many of these disaster miniseries, the heavily clichéd plot doesn’t manage to fill the bloated running time. While the first half of CAT. 8 is fine, things get way too drawn-out as it turns out that saving the world once is not enough. No, it’s double trouble as unforeseen events mean that Dr. Ranger and company has to do it all over again – but this time while being chased by armed special forces sent out by the defense secretary. Now, there’s a guy who really needs to learn when to admit defeat.
So, in conclusion: CAT. 8 is certainly cheesy, full of crap science and overly long, but nevertheless a decent production for its kind. The filmmakers should really have spent more time on scenes of disaster and less on people hugging, though.