Nostradamus (2000): I Predict a Riot…

An unintentional laugh riot, that is. Matty loses the will to live after subjecting himself to a proper clunker.

In October 1998, as they edged towards award season success with Gods & Monsters (1998) — their critically acclaimed biopic of Frankenstein (1931) helmer James Whale — Regent Entertainment and London-based film financier Flashpoint struck a second co-production deal. Reportedly worth a whopping $30million, Regent and Flashpoint’s agreement was for a slate of six titles — though only five were made, and at a fraction of the projected cost: Deadly Game (1998), Boltneck (2000), Red Team (2000), Deep Freeze (2002), and this howler, NOSTRADAMUS [1]. 

Shot in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in June ‘99, Nostradamus was originally conceived as a pilot to a prospective TV series. It shows. Despite featuring some very cool sets and several eye-catching locations, Barry Gravelle’s flat, bad sitcom photography reduces Nostradamus to ugly-looking dreck right from the off; a fact accentuated by its drab, earth-toned colour palette and the general air of disinterest that hangs over each laboriously presented frame. Directed with consummate anonymity by the usually pretty reliable Tibor Takacs, what talents The Gate (1987) and I, Madman (1989) helmer has are completely absent here. To call the film phoned in would be an insult to both telecommunication and laziness: Nostradamus is a lifeless, soul-sapping folly that can’t be arsed dialing in the first place [2].  

It’s a shame, really, as with a bit of oomph, it could have been a gonzo blast. Conceptualised by Regent’s co-head Stephen P. Jarchow and fleshed out by scripters David Bourla and Brian Irving (a Takacs regular), Nostradamus’ story is an attractive mix of odds and sods; a Terminator (1984), Matrix (1999), and Se7en (1995) smoothie served with a healthy dollop of millennial religious panic (think The Prophecy (1995) or Arnie’s End of Days (1999) or Dolph Lundgren’s The Minion (1998)). Silk Stalkings hunk Rob Estes toplines as Michael Nostrand: a brilliant Minneapolis detective — and, of course, a descendent of the eponymous astrologer and oracle — who falls afoul of a murderous cult of monks that are planning to bring about Armageddon. Time travel, Satanism, and spontaneous combustion also feature — but, in addition to Takacs’ apathetic stewardship, such a potentially glorious stockpile of imagination is further neutered by crass exposition, ear-stinging dialogue, and horrific, fancy dress costuming. Still, the latter at least affords Nostradamus a dose of unintentional hilarity. The Lego man hair and stick-on goatee that Estes is saddled with in the film’s closing moments sure kept me laughing deep into the credits.

Nostradamus premiered on SyFy on 14th October 2000 and landed on U.S. video and DVD in early 2001 via Pioneer. There, it sat quietly on the shelves for a while — until, amazingly, after 9/11 when its rentals skyrocketed amidst the dubious belief that the actual Nostradamus had foretold the terror attacks.

USA/Canada ● 2000 ● Sci-Fi, Thriller ● 88mins

Rob Estes, Joely Fisher, Fintan McKeown ● Dir. Tibor Takacs Wri. David Bourla and Brian Irving, from a story by Stephen P. Jarchow

[1] The sixth, a biopic of Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie, eventually transformed into the Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet-led Finding Neverland (2004) at Miramax.
[2] Interestingly — and, perhaps, tellingly — Takacs would go on to tackle two more projects for Regent before their relationship disintegrated during the chaotic making of Ice Spiders (2007). So, if you’re au fait with that tale, maybe we should consider Nostradamus as that movie: the one where he apparently gave up. Takacs has crafted a bunch of bangers since (specifically Mansquito (2005), Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep (2006), and Mega Snake (2007)) and he continues to work steadily in the Hallmark Christmas flick arena, but behind-the-scenes murmurs suggest that his heart is no longer in it. As one of his recent collaborators told me a couple of years ago: “This didn’t come from me, but Tibor doesn’t care anymore. He comes in, does what’s needed, and leaves. I thought it was maybe just the movie we were on, but I’ve got friends who’ve worked with him and they’ve said the exact same thing. It’s sad, y’know? You watch The Gate and, fuck: he should have cracked the mainstream. Instead he’s stuck grinding out B-movies that he clearly hates.”

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