A Sort-of Review by Tess Dawson
I must say that this movie was not the worst movie I’ve ever seen. That dubious honor goes to the likes of Horror at Party Beach, The Avengers (Uma Thurman not the dynamic Diana Rigg), Highlander: The Source, Wild Guitar, and Mars Attacks when I was pumped up with codeine after oral surgery.
Having made this unofficial disclaimer, I will say that Ba’al: the Storm God which aired Saturday, September 13, 2008 on the SciFi Channel was bad. I could come up with a host of other adjectives, but it is unseemly to dress up the truth. It wasn’t bad in an I-got-mugged-at-my-mother’s-funeral sort of way, but it was bad in a gee-I-could-have-saved-that-spot-in-my-brain-for-something-far-better sort of way. In this case, B-movie stands for Bad Movie, even from the first few minutes where the thieves that would rob the museum were easily discernable in their mock-up utility van.
I could go into character development—or lack thereof, or the weak plot(s), or the pseudo-science that would have any amateur cloud-watcher clutching her anemometer in pain, but that’s not my focus here. No, alas, it was the mythosbabble that had me crying in my pomegranate juice. To be fair, I knew before watching the movie that it was going to be inaccurate, but oh what a woeful mess it was.
For all the lucky sots who missed the show, I’ll go through a—quick?—overview. If the overview sounds convoluted and, well, weird...then it is an accurate portrayal of the movie’s events. Dr. Charlton-Heston-look-alike has a cancer relapse and only has a short time to live. How long? It seems from the movie’s unrealistically crunched timeline that he may only have a few days. He and a museum director heretofore referred to as Dr. Rat Fink team up together to rob the museum and collect a series of valuable scrolls, perhaps in order to collect amulets that the scrolls supposedly lead to. Dr. Rat Fink wants the amulets for fame and fortune; Dr. Charlton-Heston wants them because he believes they will restore his health and maybe bestow him with immortality. Together with a couple of random hired henchmen in black knit ski masks, they pull off the perfect museum heist and steal the “Dead Sea Scrolls.” As one of the security guards—who just happens to carry a gun—is about to spoil the fun, the large statue of Ba’al mysteriously and maliciously tips over and squashes him. The statue, by the way, is some deeply frowning vaguely Eastern-European visage wearing a horned helmet and sitting in lotus position.
Dr. Pudgy Brendan Fraser-James Spader (now called Dr. PB&J) and his window dressing, Dr. Naomi-Watts-nots meet up with Dr. Charlton-Heston (hereinafter called C&H) as he excavates in the Arctic while being guarded by hired guns—big guns. Dr. C&H throws caution, and all archaeological standards, to the Arctic breeze as he uncovers the first of the so-called Ba’al amulets. Each of the four amulets supposedly contains a portion of Ba’al’s power which he had stripped from him long ago and hidden across the planet to prevent him from terrorizing humanity. A beam of power shoots up from the amulet shocking Dr. C&H into convulsions and causing a number of cut-and-paste CGI explosions and a large storm.
Somehow our wounded main characters make it to an airplane where Dr. PB&J and Dr. Naomi Watts-nots learn of the true nature of their situation. They are not headed back to the museum with the find of the century. Dr. C&H has paid off the pilot to take him to the location of the next amulet, but he has no idea where they’re going until Watts-nots makes a crucial mid-air discovery. Dr. C&H reveals he has stolen the scrolls; the revelation causes PB&J to go into a whining fit for the moral decline of his mentor. Watts-nots has a eureka moment and realizes that one of the scrolls happens to correspond with the amulet in something between “Sumerian” grammar school code and a biblical Hebrew Orphan Annie decoder ring. They figure out that the next of the four amulets, which represent earth, air, fire, and water, will be at the Black Sea . Dr. PB&J hesitates in going along with the scheme to find the second amulet—after all, there’s stolen artifacts involved and improper archaeological procedure, but Watts-nots gives him the puppy-dog eyes as if to say, “Have some compassion for a dying man. After all, it’s only a felony.”
So our newly formed Legion of Doom lands near the Black Sea . A quick note on location: miraculously both the Black Sea and the Arctic look strikingly like some area just outside of Vancouver in Canada . Using some magical script device and some spurious logic regarding “Sumerian coordinates” they find the next amulet. Dr. C&H forgoes asking the Turkish government for permission regarding excavation and starts digging with the delicate tool of a bulldozer. Bleeding-heart Dr. PB&J whines some more about improper archaeological procedures, and I begin to wonder if he got his doctorate in daftness because he still fails to realize his former professor has gone renegade. As they release the amulet another beam of power shoots up and forms another storm.
A parallel plot picks up at this point. Lt. X. Position in the Navy has been clued into a potential disaster by friend/girlfriend/ex-girlfriend Dr. Hippie-Wannabe, a meteorologist. Dr. Hippie-Wannabe wants to “borrow” Navy equipment to study the budding super storms. Apparently, she had been banned from the base due to some questionable practices and some computer-hacking. After the storm develops over the Black Sea , and destroys a Navy jet, Commander Questionably Ed Harris relents and allows Hippie-Wannabe onto the base as a consultant. After all, what’s a little government computer hacking between friends? Here’s another quick note of unrealism: the Lt has two chevrons on his sleeves with the points facing down like an enlisted rank in the British military, and the conference room at the base looks more like a posh hospital waiting room with large table and HD flat screen than a military board room. But why start with accuracy here? Also note that this is not a subplot to further the original plot, but a parallel plot that only connects to the main plot through a solitary phone call which occurs later. It’s rather like watching two bad movies at once: random generic disaster flick collides with K-Mart blue-light special version of "National Treasure."
Now back to the blue-light special and our Legion of Doom. Somehow or another C&H has gotten out of the Black Sea super storm, but PB&J and Watts-nots end up in the cleanest, most polite and family-friendly version of a Turkish prison that I’ve ever seen. It seems that C&H managed to frame PB&J for the scrolls heist. Generic Fed Agent Younger Robert Redford escorts PB&J and Watts-nots onto a plane and back to the States. PB&J keeps professing their innocence—regardless that they are obviously accessories. PB&J insists that the Feds look for C&H but has no idea where the evil doctor has gotten to.
The plane ride becomes the vomit comet as they fly into the storm and the Fed nearly wets his pants when he sees a glowing red-eyed Mummy-esq Ba’al face in the storm. He picks up the phone and calls Commander Ed at the naval base and finds out that the next super storm cell is forming over Utah, so the Fed agent and our dimwitted duo assume, with the help of Dr. Hippie-Wannabe and some hair-brained quasi-Celtic ley line theory, that Dr. C&H must have gone to Utah for the third amulet.
Meanwhile the rogue Dr. C&H and the villainous Dr. Rat Fink have teamed up to locate the third amulet at a military test range in Utah . Dr. R. Fink has decided to perform this excavation with more care than C&H’s Black Sea debacle, so he installs some goofy airtight chamber over the amulet’s resting place. C&H suits up in a sort of deep sea pressure suit—in the Utah desert—and goes into the pressurized excavation pit where, without gloves, but otherwise covered fully even with face mask, he breaks the frowning terra-cotta Ba’al face to reveal the amulet. The Feds, including our Younger Robert Redford, crash C&H and Rat Fink’s party, wanting to arrest the two for violating a federal restricted area. C&H gets away again, this time by throwing the amulet at Rat Fink and the Fed agent who get caught up in a giant cyclone.
Back in the parallel plot, Commander Ed asks Lt. X. Position and Dr. Hippie-Wannabe what they should do now that the catastrophe has come to the U.S. and that the storms are joining to create a worldwide storm. The Lt suggests seeding the storm with chemicals, but Dr. Hippie-Wannabe decides to get gun happy and suggests a nuke...yes, a nuke. Even the gung-ho commander thinks Dr. Hippie-Wannabe has drunk from the wrong Kool-Aid. They go with chemical seeding, which unremarkably has the opposite effect of causing the storm to regenerate.
Drs. PB&J and Watts-nots end up figuring out the last amulet’s location and rush back to the museum that originally housed the stolen scrolls. They mess around with a statue of “El” that just happens to be in the same room as the scrolls were kept. El here looks more like Random Patriarchal Almost Near Eastern God #5. Upon their frantic examination of the statute, they find special earth, air, fire, water buttons on it that push down as easily as the day they were built in the props studio. Lo and behold, out pops the final amulet like a video game coughing up a bad quarter. Cue the mad archaeologist: C&H bursts in with guns a-blazin’ and shoots poor doe-eyed Watts-nots, but she manages to survive the attack. C&H gathers up the last amulet then takes all four over to the suck-a-lemon-frowning Ba’al statue, conveniently located in the same gallery, and feeds them all into the statue’s base like a dryer at a laundromat. In a Go-Bots moment, the statue’s base gobbles up the amulets and out shoots a spine impaling Dr. C&H. His blood is the activating substance for the final amulet. The two doctors try to save C&H—why? Who knows? They also try to prevent his blood from coming in contact with the final amulet by doing everything but logically removing the amulet. Their efforts avail them not and the storm grows to worldwide proportions.
Back at the naval base, Commander Ed decides that Dr. Hippie-Wannabe’s Strangelovian strategy maybe the world’s best hope so he allows the civilian to type in the coordinates for the nuke and he begins the countdown to detonation. Odd, I didn’t think civilians were supposed to play with nuclear weapons.
In the museum, Drs. PB&J and Watts-nots decide they’d better come up with something fast lest Ba’al take over the world, so they decide to cut El a piece of the action. In a Fonzy-like stroke of Neanderthal genius, PB&J whacks the base of the Ba’al statue with the butt of a fire extinguisher. Miraculously, the statue base spits out the four amulets which the doctors then use to activate the El statue. It turns out that it requires the combined powers of El and the nuke to subdue Ba’al. Our “heroes” PB&J and Watts-nots take a quiet moment to enjoy a romantic sunset even though Watts-nots is still gushing from her gunshot wound to the shoulder.
Don’t worry, I won’t test you on the previous material. It had me confused too.
As I said before, I will not critique plot, character-development, “science,” or the time-warp flights from the Artic to Turkey , to Utah all within the span of what seemed less than five hours. No, what got me irked was the mythosbabble. While I realize the entertainment industries have an equal-opportunity policy regarding the exploit of all cultures’ mythologies—even the Bible is fair game—this movie hit close to home for me.
I use the term mythosbabble like folks use the term technobabble to describe nonsensical dialogue-spewings that are supposed to resemble technology, or in this case, mythology. The mythosbabble and horrid history had me howling such that I probably could have been picked up for disturbing the peace. While in the Arctic and on the plane ride to the Black Sea , Drs. C&H, PB&J, and Watts-nots chat and it is revealed to the unfortunate movie-watcher that Ba’al is supposedly a Sumerian god who controlled the seasons in an effort to dominate humanity, according to an obscure myth from about 1000 years ago. Oops. Let me set the record straight: Ba’al was a Canaanite storm god called upon as a protector of humanity in a prayer from about 3500 years ago.(1)
The mythos-plot sickens (not “thickens”) when the rebel Dr. C&H further “explains” that El, Ba’al’s father, grounded the misbehaving god and confiscated his powers over the elements (earth, wind, fire, water), causing Ba’al and presumably his storm clouds to burn off like fog. Umm, yeah, uh, about that...Dagan, the god of grain, is actually Ba’al’s father. When Mot, god of death, destroys Ba’al, El mourns the storm god’s defeat (instead of grounding him) and mourns the fate of humanity who will suffer without Ba’al’s life-giving rains to sustain the food crops.(2) The whole “burning off like fog” is actually a Canaanite idea, but it is often Shapshu, the sun goddess, who heals the ill by burning off the fog of illness, poison, or venom.(3) As for the movie describing El as the God of Eternal Fire—not bloody likely.
My favorite archeological and historical FUBAR is the magical secret code combining supposed Sumerian “runic inscriptions” (which resembled a combination of SciFi studio invention and Western astrological symbols) with supposed biblical Hebrew writing on the brand-new looking leather Dead Sea Scrolls. Ooh, where to begin with this one? Sumerians wrote in a cuneiform system(4) and would have had to have been incredibly psychic to form a code in conjunction with languages neither written nor spoken until about 1000 years after their existence. If they were that psychic, they would have already cursed this movie out of production. To convolute matters further, the movie scrolls were written in quasi-Hebrew on a thick, very new looking piece of leather when the actual scrolls were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek on parchment, papyrus, and even copper.(5)
And now we come to one of my favorite quotes of the movie: PB&J woefully describes looking for the second amulet at the Black Sea while using a bull-dozer is “like using a road crew to find the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Doubly hilarious since the scrolls were found accidentally by a Bedouin shepherd (6) who probably didn’t have heavy machinery and who certainly wasn’t traveling on paved roads. The Dead Sea Scrolls had nothing to do with the Sumerians or the Canaanites, but actually were sacred writ for a small Jewish sect who would have balked at the idea of being connected in any way to the polytheist Sumerians, assuming they even knew who the Sumerians were.
Not to mention that the idea of the four elements (earth, air, fire, water) may trace to the Greeks, but cannot trace back to the Canaanites and probably not the Sumerians. I’m glad my friend had recorded this movie for me—I was in shock so many times I had to keep rewinding to make sure I had heard correctly. She also made sure I only had soft objects to throw in the television’s vicinity.
My other favorite quote included “an archaeologist never leaves a big find behind,” as C&H pockets the first amulet, and I can forget about the artifact remaining en situ. My final favorite quote: “Death and destruction, isn’t that what we archaeologists wallow in?” I can’t even begin to touch that one. I am reminded of the saying that “archaeologists’ careers are in ruins.”
Ah, and I shan’t forget the constant mispronunciation of Ba’al’s name to rhyme with “pal” or “bow-el.” I was really not surprised at how bad the movie was, but I was let down, I must admit, by the lack of bloodshed. The only main characters the storm deity smote were Dr. Rat Fink and the Fed after about an hour and a half in to the two hour movie, and of course the crazed Dr. C&H, who ends up getting shish-kabobed at then end of the movie.
All in all, SciFi Channel is absolutely right when they bill their Saturday B-movie night as “the most dangerous night on television.” View at risk of your own sanity.
1. Pardee, Dennis. Ritual and Cult at Ugarit. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta , GA , 2002, p. 53.
2. Parker, Simon B., ed. Ugaritic Narrative Poetry. Society of Biblical Literature, 1997, p. 150.
3. Pardee, p. 183.
4. Edzard, D.O. “The Sumerian Language,” in Jack Sasson, ed., Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody , MA , 2000, p. 2108.
5. Century One Foundation, "Twenty-five Fascinating Facts about the Dead Sea Scrolls."
6. Vermes, G. The Dead Sea Scrolls in English. Penguin Books, Ltd., Baltimore , MD , 1965, p. 11.
© 2008 Tess Dawson
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