There was a time when telemovies and miniseries were very popular formats for Australian producers. These days the miniseries is frequently reduced to 6 hour dramas, or in the case of Sea Patrol, series drama masquerading as miniseries for the sake of funding. TEN had a round with Blackjack, Small Claimsand Emerald Falls (The Informant will also air this year), while the ABC recently had Valentine’s Day.

This Sunday Nine hopes to burn up the screen with Scorched, a contemporary – even futuristic – telemovie set in Sydney, 2012. The city hasn’t seen a drop of rain in 247 days, and bushfires begin to threaten the city. As director Tony Tilse says, “it’s a true story, it just hasn’t happened yet.”

Scorched is an ensemble telemovie with a star cast including Cameron Daddo, Georgie Parker, Vince Colosimo and Rachael Carpani. Each represents different aspects of the city’s response to a growing threat, and as is the nature of the genre, rarely do their paths cross. We frequently cut from the Premier’s office to a hospital to the emergency services.

Loved ones will find themselves in peril, including Libby Tanner, Bob Morley, Ben Oxenbould, Ally Fowler (now there’s a blast from the past!), Kathryn Beck, Anita Hegh.

Much of the film depicts bushfire scenes that are impressively shot, given the budget limitations that must have accompanied this project. Scenes of fire, smoke, flying leaves and chaos look like the Canberra fires we saw on our nightly news. Cleverly, a media crew becomes a significant story device, allowing for actual news footage to help illustrate larger fires.

Running parallel with the action scenes is the drama of a conspiracy theory involving the government. This is led by Cameron Daddo in a quietly reserved role as State Emergency Co-ordinator and Georgie Parker as a machiavellian Premier.

Disasters certainly lend themselves to telemovie formats. How often we have seen those earthquake, volcanos, tidal waves and viral diseases gripping a nation. Most of the American “telemovies of the week” do so with a sense of fun (and four times the budget), almost aiming to be a “fabulous B-grade popcorn movie.” Scorched takes itself very seriously. As a result some of the shortcuts, and lapses in logic, show the cracks. How some people survive explosions without blemish is a mystery. Another scene with a helicopter rescue also has several moments that defy explanation.

Still, it’s nice to see Georgie Parker in a role in which she isn’t a sympathetic character. She must have had great fun being a cool, lying politician. Parker’s ably assisted by the equally strong Les Hill as her principle advisor –though, a few more extras would have avoided the NSW government being continually represented as a “government of two.”

Rachael Carpani and Vince Colosimo, along with the rest of the ensemble cast, make a good job of this ambitious script, which has enough jeopardy and action for a satisfying, if somewhat sterile, entertainment.

The producers have also offered up a staggering online platform with parallel “sequel and prequel” videos -an ambitious venture for a one-off event. You can check it out at www.scorched.tv

Scorched premieres 8:30pm Sunday on Nine.

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