When the subject of “disaster films” is brought up, one will usually think of films revolving around over-exaggerated, fictionalized disasters. Whether it’s Sharknado or The Day After Tomorrow, these types of titles have become the faces of the “disaster film” category. But what if a movie depicts a real-life disaster that could be experienced by anyone? This is the case of my Disaster Blog-a-Thon entry, Point of Origin. Last month, I searched on Wikipedia for a title to review for May’s Genre Grandeur. During that search, I stumbled across the aforementioned 2002 HBO production. After reading the film was a “fact-based drama about an arson investigator searching for the perpetrator of a string of deadly fires in 1980s California”, I knew it was the perfect choice for J-Dub and Pale Writer’s event! Before I start this review, I would like to point out how this marks two firsts for 18 Cinema Lane. Not only is this my first time participating in the Disaster Blog-a-Thon, this is also the first HBO film reviewed on my blog!
Things I liked about the film:
The mystery: For the most part, the mystery in Point of Origin allowed the audience to experience it alongside the characters. What also helps is how the mystery started right at the beginning of the film. This immediately hooked the audience into the story, while also giving them a shared journey with the key players on screen. There was room for viewers to speculate what would happen in the story. That gave them the opportunity to interact with the film’s mystery. Three separate components played a role in the overarching narrative. While I won’t give anything away, it was interesting to see these components come together.
The special effects: When John was investigating a crime scene, he would attempt to figure out how the fire started. Toward the beginning of the film, this thought process was visualized through special effects. As John is recounting the information, the actual fire is played out in reverse on screen. This is very different from other mystery movies, as flashbacks might be utilized to speculate the cause of a crime. When it came to the fires themselves, it appeared as if they actually took place in a given scene. It may have been possible for the movie’s creative team to insert footage of fires through editing or CGI, as Point of Origin was released in 2002. However, practical effects were an interesting choice. This creative decision reminded me of productions like The Crow.
Showcasing the dangers of fire: While investigating a local fire, John and his co-worker, Keith, examine a young boy who died on the crime scene. Despite only the victim’s face being shown, it is blackened due to smoke and flame exposure. Later in the film, John visits a surviving burn victim in the hospital. The victim’s face and part of his hand are covered in burns. He even claims that it hurts to open his eyes. Due to the nature of Point of Origin, the story is heavier in tone. However, the incorporation of the dangers of fire never felt like they were there for “shock value” or as a tactic to scare the audience. If anything, it was shown just enough to get the point across.
What I didn’t like about the film:
Bai Ling’s limited presence: Bai Ling was cast as John’s wife, Wanda Orr, in the 2002 HBO film. Her involvement in Point of Origin is one of the reasons why I sought out this movie, as she is the top billed actress. When I watched the film, however, I discovered Bai appeared in only a handful of scenes. Compared to some of Bai’s other projects, her talents were under-utilized in Point of Origin. It also seems like the main supporting actress, Illeana Douglas, received more screen-time than Bai. Bai did a good job with the acting material she was given. But this situation is very reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn’s involvement in 1994’s One Christmas, where Katharine appeared in about five scenes despite being that film’s top billed actor.
A confusing time period: As I mentioned in the introduction, Point of Origin takes place in the 1980s. Elements from that decade were incorporated into the film, such as vehicles and a typewriter used by John at various moments in the story. Meanwhile, Bai’s wardrobe looked like it came straight from the early 2000s. There was also a scene where a store patron tells another patron not to smoke in the store. This attitude was more prevalent in the 2000s, as smoking in public places was more accepted in the 1980s. The inconsistency with the film’s historical accuracy was so confusing, it was, on a few occasions, distracting.
An unidentified red-haired man: Throughout the movie, a red-haired man made multiple appearances. I won’t spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it. But I will say when everything was said and done, I don’t feel like I received a satisfying explanation of who that character is. Yes, I can assume the red-haired man’s identity. However, when it comes to that character, the movie was building up to something without providing a pay-off.
My overall impression:
For the Disaster Blog-a-Thon, I chose to talk about a film that revolved around a real-life disaster. This is because, in my opinion, these types of titles aren’t talked about as much within the realm of “disaster films”. When it comes to Point of Origin specifically, it was a fine, competently made, intriguing movie. But the 2002 HBO project made me feel similarly to Red Corner. This is ironic, as Bai Ling was cast as the lead actress in both films. What I mean by my aforementioned statement is I held higher expectations for each film, only to be somewhat let down by them. As I’ve said before on 18 Cinema Lane, the historical accuracy works when the creative team places emphasis on the details. In Point of Origin, however, it seems like the film’s creative team forgot, at times, their project took place in the 1980s. This is because some aspects of the film reflected the time of the film’s release; the early 2000s. I haven’t seen a lot of HBO films, so I can’t make any comparisons with Point of Origin. But I will say, based on other made-for-TV mystery productions, this one felt closer to the middle of the road.
Overall score: 7.2 out of 10
Have you seen Point of Origin? Are there any HBO films you’d like to see reviewed on 18 Cinema Lane? Please let me know in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!