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Sunday, April 1, 2001

Copperfield talkes man-made tornado of fire

Much-hyped show sounds scary, but Baca thinks the showman takes himself a little too seriously

It's hard to say it with a straight face: "Tornado of fire!" It sounds like something a disgruntled computer designer would insert into a Sim City video game: "And if you don't build enough power plants to support your thriving city, ZAP! A tornado of fire burns down your entire metropolis."
   But David Copperfield doesn't want you to think of it as a senseless feat. He wants you to tremble at the mere mention of "Tornado of Fire." He still trembles, and he's been planning this event for more than seven years. The fruition of his labors comes at 7 p.m. Tuesday, when Copperfield will tackle this man-made tornado of fire live from New York City's Pier 94 (broadcast nationwide on CBS).
   Copperfield recap
   This is the same guy from:
  

  • "Escape from Death" (1994), where he was chained and bound underwater for more than three minutes trying to escape a giant spike.
      
  • "Escape from Alcatraz" (1987), where he ran through challenges such as timed explosives and attack dogs while trying to escape from the Rock.
      
  • "Explosive Encounter: The Imploding Building" (1989), where he was locked in a safe inside a secure building and had to escape before dynamite blew everything to smithereens.
      
  • "Niagara Falls Challenge" (1990), where Copperfield was chained to a burning raft and had to free himself before plummeting 200 feet over the falls into the rocks below.
      
  • "Fires of Passion" (1993) where he dangled upside-down 10 stories high and had to free himself from a straight jacket before a fire burned through the ropes holding him there.
       And now, "Tornado of Fire!"
       According to Copperfield's press materials, he spent seven years developing this tornado with F2 winds of 140 MPH - "capable of blowing a house off its foundation." If the winds are at 140 MPH, then that is an F2 on the Fugita scale - very worthy of stealing roofs, but not entire houses, I'm afraid. That would require an F4, Mr. Copperfield.
       Whatever the case may be, he's got a lot of wind. Logically the next step after you've created your own pet of a man-made killing-machine tornado is to add fire. It's supposed to get up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit - "hot enough to liquefy steel" the release reminds us - and Copperfield's only chance of survival is to remain in the tornado's unpredictable core.
       Burn specialist Dr. Peter Grossman seems genuinely worried about Copperfield surviving the trick.
       "These temperatures here are going to be well over 1,000 degrees," said Grossman in a press video. "I think his chances of survival, if he gets injured, are small. I hope that he makes it through this, but I tell you, I'm really scared right now."
       You've got to wonder, is the heat Grossman's "well over 1,000 degrees" or the press releases' "as high as 2,000 degrees"? Entertainment exaggeration does little but attempt to make something sound grander than it really is, but it makes entertainers look like snake-oil salesmen when they get caught.
       Back to the good doctor: "Even if he just gets brushed by the fire," Grossman said, "because of the intensity of the heat, the chances of severe disfigurement and functional impairment are really a significant problem."
       To which Copperfield replied: "He said to me, that if I do get burned, that I won't want to survive, which is pretty darn scary."
       Uh oh. Copperfield is pretty darned scared. And so is his Doogie of a doctor. But I still can't muster up any feelings of empathy for the magician (who has 20 network TV specials under his belt) and his tornado or fire. Especially when, in the promotional video, he goes on to tell about a supposed real tornado of fire.
       "The most dangerous tornado that ever existed was a tornado of fire," said Copperfield, who recounts a tornado that killed 800 people in the early 1900s Japan. The houses were built with rice paper, and as soon as they were sucked into the vortex, they caught on fire and the tornado was the "most dangerous and deadly tornado in history," Copperfield said.
       And he says it with a straight face.
      
       Other highlights include:
       Sunday
       5 p.m. on TCM: CITIZEN KANE Each week at this time, Rob Reiner will introduce and comment on the importance of a film being shown as part of a new series, "The Essentials." Tonight's choice may seem an obvious place to begin, but the aim is to bring a "deeper appreciation" to both first-time and repeat viewers.
       8 p.m. on NBC: SEMPER FI Marine recruits from varied backgrounds face those notoriously tough 13 weeks of basic training at Parris Island, S.C. Among the stars of this new made-for-TV movie are Scott Bairstow, Bianca Kajlich, Vicellous Reon Shannon, Steve Burton and Tammy Townsend.
       Monday
       1 p.m. on CBS: AS THE WORLD TURNS Even successful prime-times series tend to burn out after a few seasons, but soap operas are different. Today, "As the World Turns" celebrates its 45th anniversary. Six actors have been with the show for at least 25 years, and one of them, Helen Wagner, spoke the first words when the program debuted on April 2, 1956.
       8 p.m. on PBS: SCOTTSBORO: AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY Filmmakers Daniel Anker and Barak Goodman use archival materials to document the notorious 1930s case in which black youths were unjustly convicted - four times - of raping white women in rural Alabama.
       Tuesday
       7 p.m. on Animal Planet: THOROUGHBRED This new weekly series follows life on a large family-owned farm in northern Maryland where thoroughbred horses are cared for, from foaling into retirement.
       Friday
       8 p.m. on TMC: BEING JOHN MALKOVICH After discovering an entrance to the actor's mind, John Cusack ventures into uncharted territory in more ways than one. In addition to Malkovich, this extremely offbeat 1999 movie also stars Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, Orson Bean and Mary Kay Place.
       Saturday
       2 p.m. on TNT: WHITE HOUSE DAY Four presidential films in a row: "Wag the Dog" (1997) at 3 p.m., "Primary Colors" (1998) at 5 p.m., "The American President" (1995) at 8 p.m. and "Murder at 1600" (TV, 1997) at 10:30 p.m.
       7 p.m. on ABC: APOLLO 13 Director Ron Howard handled the true story of the ill-fated 1970 space mission so well that knowing the outcome of the 1995 film was largely irrelevant to the audience. Tom Hanks stars as Cmdr. Jim Lovell, on whose book the film was based.
       8 p.m. on HBO: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E STREET BAND Taped at Madison Square Garden last summer, this show is said to mark the first TV concert appearance of Springsteen and the band together. The material comes from the final two performances of their 1999-2000 world tour.
       Pop culture and media critic Ricardo Baca can be reached at 886-3688 or by e-mail at bacar@caller.com
      
    Pop culture and media critic Ricardo Baca can be reached at 886-3688 or by e-mail at bacar@caller.com


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