Yellowstone is a park, but it's also the deadliest volcano on Earth. Beneath it, a sleeping 'dragon' is stirring. When an earthquake opens a crack for magma to seep through, other warning signs of an eruption start popping up, but they are ignored or dismissed as 'minor'. But when they learn an eruption will happen, panic breaks out through people of the USA and the world.
Directed by: Tony Mitchell
. Starring: Michael Riley
, Gary Lewis
, Shaun Johnston
, Adrian Holmes
, Jennifer Copping
, Rebecca Jenkins
, Tom McBeath
, Robert Wisden
, Susan Duerden
, Jane McLean
, Sam Charles
, Kevin McNulty
, Emy Aneke
. Music by: Ty Unwin
I had assumed this was the showing of a Transatlantic import, but I started having my suspicions when British people started showing up in fairly major roles, and indeed it seems the BBC has decided to make a Hollywood-style blockbuster - even setting it in the home of all such stories, the United States.
This production struck a false note immediately by opening with what I had assumed was merely its marketing strapline: "This is a true story. It just hasn't happened yet...." This is how far the currency of drama documentaries, of "True Stories" has been debased. Supervolcano is evidently not a true story in the traditional sense that the plot is based on past events, but neither is it a true story in the sense of representing real people. It predicates certain future events based upon current scientific knowledge. That makes it (in its purest sense) science fiction.
The programme's spurious ambitions for veracity were further undermined by the first scene of the main story which showed the Yellowstone USGS Volcano Watch office's demonstration of their new volcano simulation computer - a holographic display in 3 dimensions, no less. A note to producers - if you want to impress the viewers with your reverence for scientific fact and the imminence of a potential real-world situation, it's probably best not to show technology which hasn't been invented yet! Having started badly, the programme then went downhill. One early plot point was the introduction of a panic-inducing Jeremiah with a book to plug. He is shown as the kind of guy who cherry-picks little bits of actual science and statistics to build a false picture of imminent danger in contrast to the scientifically valid and more responsible approach of the US Geological Survey. But since, of course, it turns out that the book-plugger is right, people are going to be left with the idea that the USGS and other scientific bodies are behaving with irresponsibility. In a mad moment of purest Hollywood, the doom merchant is revealed to be the lead USGS scientist's brother-in-law!
That is not to say that the programme didn't go on to demonstrate some good sense and good science. The best scene in the first episode was the one in which Lieberman, the USGS head honcho, explains to the Director of FEMA the full implications of Yellowstone park actually going all the way to Supervolcano status; the destruction of large segments of the United States, the wiping out of the vast croplands in the Midwest and the dangers of even 1cm of volcanic ash falling on New York - emphasised with a magnified view of a piece of said ash, very nasty indeed. (Breathe it in and it forms a cement in your lungs.) On the other hand, this scene seemed highly implausible - as if the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency would not have been fully briefed on the potential of the Yellowstone volcano on her first day on the job. The impression is also given that the USGS and the American federal government are completely unprepared for any such eventuality, as if they are just now learning about it, when in fact just the fact of this miniseries having been made indicates that knowledge of the powderkeg situation under Yellowstone must have been understood for quite a while. At the same time, the holocaust that would result is so total that it is somewhat difficult to comprehend what the USGS or indeed the Government is supposed to do about the disaster. It is, after all, going to happen one day. It's not like the guy was telling the FEMA director the potential effects of a nuclear power plant going skywards, to which the debate is about the politics of closing the plant down. It's a volcano, and with our current state of technology there really isn't anything to be done about it except get out of the way.
I guess this is my biggest bugbear about the programme - that the USGS and FEMA are depicted as shambling amateurs. This kind of attitude fuels the fire of what Isaac Asimov called "the armies of the night, the purveyors of nitwittery" - the pseudoscientific doom-mongers who pour scorn on the efforts of genuine science while hypocritically using out-of-context parts of the very science they denigrate spuriously to bolster their wild claims.
The first episode finished with the explosion we'd been waiting for, and the second episode presumably deals with the aftermath - shown in the opening flash-forward scene to have lasted at least five years. The fact that a two-hour programme only uses an hour to detail the world-altering fallout of this massive event only showcases the BBC's inability to really put the amount of money required by the subject matter into the production.
The first episode of this mini was shown on BBC1 last night, I have not yet seen the second part.
Review by Clive-Silas from the Internet Movie Database.