5ive Days to Midnight (2004)

I know this will be hard to imagine, but there was a time when a new miniseries on the Sci Fi Network was a big deal.

Yeah, yeah, it didn’t really last long, but they got off to a strong start with their surprisingly good version of Dune.

Then came Steven Spielberg’s Taken, an epic effort that seemed to inspire them to far greater heights.

Their version of Children of Dune followed, and then a long string of miniseries “events” over the next few years.  These included The Triangle, a complex Bermuda Triangle thriller with a great cast and some heavy-hitting people behind the scenes; the strange and mysterious thriller, The Lost Room; and a steam punk fantasy version of The Wizard of Oz, Tin Man.

And  then it all sort of petered out with their subsequent efforts becoming rarer and more fantasy than science fiction.

5ive Days to Midnight was one of the earliest of these, falling between Taken, and The Triangle.  It doesn’t have Dean Devlin and Bryan Singer on board, but it had an unusual format tied directly into its story.

Professor J. T. Neumeyer is visiting his wife’s grave with his daughter when a mysterious briefcase appears out of nowhere.  Inside he finds a police report detailing the circumstances of his murder in five days time.

Each day was a separate one-hour episode — and the original broadcast dates were the same as those in the show!

The result is an interesting and unpredictable mystery, as J.T. learns how many people around him have reasons to kill him — not to mention a few other equally ugly secrets.

Timothy Hutton had a brief moment of stardom at the time and he does an adequate job as the hero.  However, an unrecognizable Randy Quaid steals the show as the homicide detective who helps J.T. after the predictions in the file start coming true.

As the story continues it gest more and more complex, with increasingly tangled motives, many of them spawned  by the arrival of the briefcase itself.

While 5ive Days to Midnight isn’t exactly great cinema, it was pretty good TV, making good use of its longer running time to tell a story which just wouldn’t have worked at Ninety minutes.  It lags a bit at the start of the fourth episode (a common problem for any story in any medium) but ends with a lot of subplots coming together in unexpected ways and a last minute twist you won’t see coming.

And, in the end, we learn the answer to one of the most important questions in the most dramatic way imaginable.

Although you’ll probably guess how that briefcase got there long before that is finally revealed.  It is fairly obvious.

Without giving too much away, however, there are certain questions about the original time line — including one all-important one — which go unanswered.  One can guess the most likely answer, but it still seems a major lapse in a story which is this tightly constructed otherwise.

While a lot of people once believed that you could not combine Science Fiction and detective stories, the two have a natural affinity as both are driven by their internal rules.  Like a lot of time travel dramas, we get few handwaving reference to String Theory and Multiverses, but instead, the question of the rules time travel must follow is just another mystery J.T. must unravel.

5ive Days to Midnight is a solid mystery drama as well, with plenty of clues, secrets, and convincing detective work.  I’ll confess that Randy’s Detective Sikorski is far too willing to let Professor Neumeyer do things no police officer would tolerate from a member of the public.  Perhaps there are reasons for this — and perhaps we’ve seen the heroes on too many TV detective shows get away with as much and more — but it still rings false until we get to the end and another major surprise gets unveiled.

Although it still might not be enough of an explanation.

Despite these minor flaws, 5ive Days to Midnight is entertaining, smart and well-made television.  It’s a nice reminder of that brief moment when the Sci Fi Network could still do something extraordinary.

As hard as that may be to believe…

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