channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2007, 12:00am

Given the number and severity of natural catastrophes in the past couple of years, one might expect disaster movies and TV series to be on the wane, superseded by real footage on the news and the myriad documentaries profiling 'super typhoons', 'mega earthquakes' or whatever other force of nature is in vogue in scaremongering circles that week. Not so, it seems, in light of TVB Pearl's new miniseries 10.5: Apocalypse (Wednesdays at 10.35pm). This action-drama imagines what might happen if a 10.5 magnitude earthquake were to rock the west coast of the US, setting off a series of secondary quakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and floods, and ultimately threatening nuclear meltdown at the country's two largest reactors, which are supposedly located on a fault line. Battling against the clock to stop the forces of mother nature are a rescue worker (Dean Cain; Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), a geologist (David Cubitt; Medium), a seismologist (Kim Delaney; NYPD Blue), the US president (Beau Bridges; Stargate SG-1) and a retired scientist (Frank Langella; Unscripted).

The makers seem to have taken a literal approach to the genre because 10.5: Apocalypse is an unmitigated disaster. Every element of the plot scores highly on the cliche scale, the acting is calamitously bad (the presence of Cain and the least talented of the Bridges clan should be a hint), the script crumbles under the weight of its own clunky artlessness and the camerawork appears to have been carried out by an ADD-afflicted monkey that has just discovered the zoom button. Most unforgivably, the special effects look like they were knocked up on a home computer circa 1990 and are probably the least convincing CGI since a feebly rendered Pierce Brosnan ice-surfed his way to James Bond infamy in Die Another Day. Who would have thought the end of the world could be so insipid?

Far more worthy of attention is Moon Bears: Journey to Freedom (right; Friday at 9pm), which receives a welcome encore showing on Animal Planet. Focusing on the plight of the titular creatures - who are farmed for their bile on the mainland for use in traditional medicines - this special highlights the work of Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) and its efforts to rescue and rehabilitate as many bears as possible at its sanctuary in Chengdu.

Bile farming transpires to be even more despicable than it sounds and the mental and physical abuse suffered by the animals is upsetting and repugnant. Coffin-like cages, medieval-looking bile-milking apparatus and callous owners combine to leave most of the bears maimed and psychologically scarred. And yet, while the reports are distressing, this is a story buoyed by hope thanks to the dogged determination of the AAF staff and the footage of the reinvigorated moon bears is heartwarming.

To find out more about this barbaric and outdated industry, which hardly befits an emerging superpower, and the efforts to end it, visit

Finally, don't miss Child Genius (ATV World, Wednes-day at 9.10pm). This excellent feature-length documentary from Britain's Channel 4 interviews some of the country's most gifted children, including Mikhail Ali, who became Mensa's youngest member at the age of three, the talented but oddball Grafton-Clarke brood, Dante Minghella, an 11-year-old with an IQ of 170 (the maximum possible) and a startling aptitude for philosophical debate, and Michael Dowling, 11, who is a published children's author and is learning two musical instruments and seven languages - including Putonghua and Old Norse.

As well as demonstrating the astounding intelligence of these children, the show looks at the problems they and their families face because of it, such as the struggle to meet impossible expectations, ostracism by their peers and the difficulty in finding schooling that is appropriately challenging.

Easily the most compelling documentary on the box so far this year, this is merely the first instalment; the makers aim to return to see how the children's lives have progressed in two years. A+.