Appellate Judge Mac McEntire wonders if this sci-fi miniseries will spawn sequels called The Trapezoid and the The Dodecahedron.
Nothing stays lost forever.
It's hard to know what to expect with an original production from the Sci-fi Channel. The cable network has come up with some winners in the last few years, but at times it also smothers you with its cheese. For every Battlestar Galactica and Farscape, there's a Boa vs. Python or a Mansquito. While some folks at Sci-fi do show respect for the science fiction and fantasy genres, the network seems mostly interested in cashing in on campy nostalgia. So I had some trepidation in viewing The Triangle, the Sci-fi Channel's blockbuster miniseries event of 2005. Would the secret of the Bermuda Triangle be a captivating storyline, or a poorly rendered CGI monster? Only one way to find out…
Facts of the Case
A reclusive billionaire (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park) has lost one too many of his ships due to mysterious circumstances in the Bermuda Triangle. So he rounds up a small group of experts in the hopes of finally putting to rest the decades of mystery and superstition about what's really going in the triangle. There's a dedicated scientist (Catherine Bell, JAG), a wisecracking meteorologist (Michael E. Rodgers, Red Rose), a troubled psychic (Bruce Davison, X-Men), and a skeptic tabloid journalist (Eric Stoltz, Anaconda).
With millions of dollars promised to them if they can solve all the triangle's mysteries, this eclectic group of geniuses immediately head out over the ocean to the site of a downed airliner. They hope to get in, find any evidence, and get out before the National Guard arrives on the scene. They manage to rescue a survivor, who provides not answers but more questions. Then it's back to the water again, courtesy of a rented-out former Soviet Union submarine. This will lead them into the heart of a vast conspiracy, on travels through time, and to see their personal lives in strange new ways.
Meanwhile, a Greenpeace volunteer (Lou Diamond Phillips, Bats) returns home after his own experience in the triangle, only to find that his family life isn't what he remembered. Afraid he's losing his mind, he eventually comes to believe that the answer is somewhere in the heart of the triangle.
Filmmakers Bryan Singer (X-Men) and Dean Devlin (Independence Day) have their names all over the packaging here as executive producers, but The Triangle is really the brainchild of writer Rockne S. O'Bannon, the genre maestro who created Farscape and the Alien Nation movie and TV series. O'Bannon was also a driving force behind SeaQuest DSV and the '80s Twilight Zone revival. This guy does not think small.
That being said, don't expect Hynerians, Tenctonese, or talking dolphins in The Triangle. This is cerebral science fiction. Here, it's all about a group of experts with a problem to solve. The conflict lies in overcoming obstacles on the way to that solution. This means there's no villain in the story out to get everyone. The closest thing the characters have to an enemy is the Bermuda Triangle itself. When its strange energies start to get out of hand, it triggers a series of events that could lead to—wait for it—the end of the world. It's up to our heroes, then, to calculate just the right equations and formulas to save the day. Although there are a handful of big set pieces, most of the "action" involves the characters theorizing about wormholes and electromagnetism.
Fortunately, not everything is ponderous and technical. Some of the The Triangle's best moments come when the characters are away from the ocean and back at home. Thanks to their otherworldly experiences at sea, they get a glimpse of what their lives might have been like had they made one or two decisions differently. This means reuniting with a long-lost parent, discovering family never thought possible, or being reunited with an estranged spouse. We all wonder about our regrets and our missed opportunities, and in The Triangle, the characters come face to face with what might have been in their lives. The whole "alternate reality" thing is not a new concept, of course, but the actors really make the most of these scenes, and they're better at these moments than when in a lab discussing energy wave patterns.
Eric Stoltz has one of the meatiest roles here. He gets to play a contradictory dynamic, writing Bermuda Triangle stories for a trashy tabloid while not believing any of the stories about it. His character also has a personal story about wanting to reconcile with his ex-wife and son. This too applies to Catherine Bell's scientist character. In most movies of this kind, she would be the one who delivers all the exposition and has nothing else to do. But here she also has a relationship with her mother to worry about, one that never would have happened had she never ventured into the triangle. Sam Neill and Bruce Davison have the fun parts—the really quirky characters—and they bring the appropriate weirdness to their performances without overdoing it. That's not quite true of Lou Diamond Phillips, who at times does overact as the family man whose family keeps going all other-dimensional on him. Fortunately, though, he does manage to rein it in just when in danger of going into full-blown melodrama mode.
Although the miniseries gets too slow and talky for its own good at times, director Craig R. Baxley (Storm of the Century) keeps things moving with some excellent production values. All the scenes on the water look appropriately vast, leading us to believe that the characters really are stranded thousands of miles away from any land. One of the big effects scenes, in which our heroes are driving on a bridge only to have it start disappearing all around them, looks just as polished and eye-popping as any summer blockbuster.
That being said, not all is well in The Triangle. This being a three-part miniseries, it's expected that parts one and two would end with huge cliffhangers. They do, and you'll be excited to see what happens next. Then you'll be disappointed to discover just how easily and conveniently the characters get out of these life-or-death predicaments. Big cliffhangers should move the story forward, but instead these come across as little more than attention-getting copouts.
Visually The Triangle shines, with a nice transfer that emphasizes the mostly blue and black color scheme used throughout. The 5.1 track is also good, especially when Joseph LoDuca's rousing score kicks in. The only extra is "Sci-fi Inside: The Triangle," a depth-free promotional piece of fluff made to air on the Sci-fi Channel, with some sound bites from the actors and producers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Soapbox time: In the last 10 years or so, I've talked to dozens of publishers, editors, agents, and even my fellow writers who downright insist that all science fiction must be based on real science. Everything, they say, must be fully explained and rationalized. If a character in your story is going to visit another planet, travel through time, or shoot laser beams out of his or her nostrils, then you damn better well include about 25 pages' worth of exhaustively researched technical mumbo-jumbo about how this is actually possible. This attitude extends to The Triangle, which attempts to explore the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle with down-to-earth scientific explanations. If that's the intent of the creators, I can't fault them for it. To me, though, it's another sign of this "real science" attitude, which is choking the life out of today's science fiction, removing all the wonder and creativity from the genre in the name of "plausibility." You'd think that a well-written plot with interesting characters would be more important than scientific jargon, but I guess not.
OK, rant over.
With more plot than action, The Triangle rewards patient viewers with an intriguing story, but not one with a lot of rewatch potential. Give it a rental.
It has its faults, but it's still better than Mansquito. Not guilty.
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• Featurette: "Sci-Fi Inside: The Triangle"
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