Monday, 28 January 2013

Top 100 disaster movies: Atomic Train

Atomic Train (1999)

If there's one thing that watching lots of disaster movies has taught me, it's that there's nothing like a nuclear explosion to bring a family together. Provided that none of the family's hair is on fire and their hand has grafted onto the side of a passing milk float in the heat. None of this happens in Atomic Train, however, and so the family unit comes out stronger than ever before, up until their teeth fall out or the sudden, unexpected nosebleeds. Previously want-away teenage daughters stop trying to frisbee their vagina at any passing male to own any form of vehicular conveyance, whilst their sprout-faced younger brothers get a new-found respect for their old man as well as a timely reminder of the things in life that are really important.

The marital bond, too, is strengthened immeasurably. At the beginning of the film, its key protagonist is estranged from his wife, who now prefers the attentions (i.e. cock) of a swarthy police officer. But there's nothing like a bit of trauma to make people re-evaluate their priorities. Plus there is now the undeniable bonus that the massive doses of radiation to which each has been exposed means its very likely that both parties will be rendered completely sterile, eliminating the danger of any unwanted progeny from the dirty, filthy, radioactive monkeysex that will almost certainly ensue.

Atomic Train is a parable for our times. It warns that in the post-Cold War age, there is as much danger from The Bomb falling foul of one of humanity's baser urges than there is any organised or concerted government military action. In this case, the all-too-human failing that brings about the crisis is GREED. It's one of the seven deadly sins, although when they were originally being written by wise Hebrew elders, it's unlikely that they would have envisioned of the chain of events essayed in Atomic Train.

A hazardous waste disposal company has somehow been given an ex-Soviet nuclear bomb to get rid of. Whilst there's no doubting that a nuclear bomb counts as hazardous, one has to seriously question whether or not its erstwhile owners has really found the right company to dispose of it. Maybe they were at the front of the Yellow Pages? Either way, the company agree to do it on the cheap and on the quiet. The amount of paperwork you need to complete to legally decommission a nuclear device is prohibitive, and this is why so many old Soviet nukes festoon council tips, in spite of the careful signposting to discourage it. And besides, what's the worst that could happen?

Atomic Train is a film that answers this question. The worst that could happen, in fact, is that the train transporting its cargo of toxic industrial waste (plus one sneaky ex-Soviet nuclear bomb, an old fridge, two rusty pram shells and a badly soiled mattress) could suffer brake failure and become an unstoppable projectile on collision course with a major urban conurbation, in this instance the city of Denver, Colorado. Efforts to stop the train prove continually in vain, despite the best efforts of National Transportation Safety Board officer Rob Lowe, who (almost literally) parachutes himself into the situation in that brave and admirable (i.e. foolhardy) way that no-one actually ever actually does unless they're on the clock.

Atomic Train: Rob Lowe's attempts to save the world and is relentlessly unsuccessful, it's just like real life

The decision is eventually taken to derail the train, whereupon the nuclear device is discovered in amongst a large cargo of unstable sodium. Once a well-meaning firefighting helicopter come by and waterbomb the area, it immediately becomes clear that the bomb disposal teams' wives are going to be claiming on their life insurance policies. The bomb explodes, leaving Denver in tatters but family groups everywhere reminded of the power of love, which conquers all. Or almost all. Tell it to the people who've had their head melted, or their dog buried under the rubble of their house. Greed actually conquered all. There's little positivity to be had.

A lot of reviews of Atomic Train choose to focus on its many, varied plot flaws and inconsistencies. I don't see any reason to do this. Taken at face value, there's already sufficient material to make the whole experience wretched and dreadful. The whole thing is so long drawn out that you start to wonder if there's ever going to be a disaster at all in this disaster movie. By the time there is one, it seems so rushed as to have been almost tacked on. And for all the emphasis on the familial storyline, there's little attention given to any greater, wider, emotional issues. Atomic Train is diverting, but only just. I may be old fashioned, but you shouldn't be actively seeking a nuclear explosion to happen in a film just to pep things up a bit. I give Atomic Train a feeble THREE out of ten disaster points.

1 comment:

Seamus Lowe said...

I've never actually seen this movie. I've heard of it before, so I'm going to have to watch it. Do you know of any other good movies like this?
-Seamus | Atomic Transmissions

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