The miners’ rescue: A review

The helmeted hugfest that was the rescue of 33 miners trapped for two months deep in a Chilean mine may have been a ratings hit with viewers around the world, but how did it stand as a piece of television drama? The reviews are mixed.

For one thing, the show played itself out long before it ended late last night when the final miner was pulled to safety. A good story line needs to start with a pop, and this one did. The appearance of the first survivor Tuesday night, rising like a phoenix from the depths — points off, by the way, for the person in charge of titles, who misspelled it “Fenix” on the escape capsule — was TV at its best.

But having the same plotline repeated another 32 times, and dragging it out over the next 22 hours, eventually became tedious. I’m all in favor of bringing back the long-form miniseries as a staple of broadcast entertainment. A little variety, though, would’ve been a nice touch.

You half-expected survivor number 16 to arrive at the surface rattling his cage and calling out “Hey! Over here! Somebody let me out!” as the focus gradually shifted elsewhere while the operation grinded on. By then, workers on the surface, and much of the estimated billion-person TV audience, had checked out and switched their attention to something more riveting. Like watching paint, or the tears of the families, dry.

You certainly can’t fault Chilean officials for scrimping on production values. The site was blanketed with cameras, with one even placed deep in the cavern itself, though a stage manager had to constantly remind milling victims to get out of the shot. As CNN’s Anderson Cooper noted, the lighting and sound were superb, the blocking crisp, the staging splendid. (Cooper seemed especially intrigued by sight of all those burly men being inserted into a shaft and then shot deep up the bowels of the earth, but I think that was just him). The drama, however, soon wore thin.

The second and third acts definitely could’ve benefitted from punching up by a Hollywood screenwriter. An action sequence or two around the 15-hour mark would’ve gone a long way in holding onto the diminishing audience, especially that key 18-to-35-year-old male demographic. I heard that each evacuee was given a small charge of dynamite to help dislodge any rockjams they might encounter during their ride to the surface. Once rescuers realized this wasn’t going to be a problem, would it have ruined the atmospherics of an intimate drama to have an explosion or two? Who could’ve resisted watching the capsule rocket out of the hole in a shower of flames?

A little comic relief would also have given this offering more staying power. Have the capsule emerge into view only to find that the miner was put in upside down. Stage a “Cash Cab”-style game show on the transit to the surface, peppering the victims with trivia questions as they rode through the unforgiving rock. Bring Baby Jessica out of retirement for a cameo appearance.

And speaking of casting, I’m all in favor of giving unknowns a chance at their big break. Heaven knows it was refreshing to see Hispanic men in roles other than Landscaper In Yard or Drug Pusher #2. It’s just a little tiresome to see a Jorge following a Carlos following a Pablo following an Estaban, all 5-foot-4, all dark-featured and all rocking the monobrow. Was Matt Damon suddenly not available?

Even some small touches could’ve delivered more entertaining fare. I know post-production sweetening isn’t an option with a live event such as this, but there’s a lot that could’ve been done in real time to elevate this teleplay to levels that might’ve garnered Emmy consideration.

In the area of costuming, the sunglasses were a hit with early focus groups, though the clunky helmets, drab jumpsuits and lack of accessories other than a canvas harness were being judged more harshly. Props and sets were only okay; I appreciate the austerity of a simple wheel, rope and hole, but must admit I was a little disappointed with the lack of high-tech-iness. The musical score was sparse and realistic, with the chanted “Chi, Chi, Chi … Le, Le, Le” lending an air of authenticity, and the rousing show-stopper of a national anthem bringing down the final curtain with a flourish. I just found myself longing for the haunting tones of Simon & Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa.” (Technically, yes, that’s a Peruvian style of music. However, to the rest of the world, South America is South America).

All in all, I’d still give “Miracle at the Mine” a positive review, as long as I had a crossword puzzle standing by. I agree with Omar Reygadas, miner number 17, who offered two thumbs up as he was carted away on a gurney. True, he’d had most of the rest of his fingers blown off in a previous mining accident. But his spirit, and that of an ambitious production that now seems ready for translation to the big screen, video-gaming and possibly even Broadway musical theatre, showed that the human spirit can prevail. Even if it wasn’t prevailing in high-def.

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2 Responses to “The miners’ rescue: A review”

  1. Expressmom Says:

    When I started reading your post I was thinking, “What’s wrong with this guy, was he not breastfed?”
    When I finished I thought, “This guy is hilarious!”

  2. Stephen Says:

    Absolutely brilliant. Funny stuff.

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