July 4, 1998 -- Just when "Deep Impact" is fading from movie screens after a very successful run ($250 million box office world wide), starting last May, here it comes again, in the form of "Armageddon." Instead of a comet, this time it is an asteroid, and there's no subplot about survivors.
While "Armageddon" has great special effects, non-stop action and comedy and some good acting talent, it lacks scientific credibility, the editing is choppy and the characterizations are weak. It simply isn't as good as "Deep Impact."
The story starts with a meteor shower hitting downtown Manhattan, blowing the top off the Chrysler Building, so don't get there late. You might be used to 10 minutes of trailers and commercials prior to the movie, but this one starts in 5 minutes. There is no letup. The action just keeps coming.
Scientists soon discover that an asteroid the size of Texas is headed toward earth, a planet-killer that would destroy all life. What to do? The only answer, of course, is testosterone. A bunch of manly men, oil drillers no less, are rounded up to deal with the crisis. The oil drillers get a crash course in how to be astronauts, which provides for some good comic sequences. They blast off and rendezvous with Mir, where they pick up a Cosmonaut hitchhiker, more comedy.
This wacky, dysfunctional group heads off to save the world. Of course it comes down to a last-minute encounter with a nuclear device. They even pull out the old line "Which wire do I cut the red one or the blue one?" You know how it is going to end. It is pretty much by the numbers. This movie gives you $100 million in special effects, which are great, but it also gives you a $10 script. It is full of holes and the characters are thin. The talent is good, but cast has little to work with here.
Leader of the drillers Harry Stamper (Yes the same last name as the family in "Sometimes a Great Notion"), played by Bruce Willis with Liv Tyler ("Inventing the Abbotts") as his daughter. Billy Bob Thornton ("Sling Blade" and "Primary Colors") is the head of Mission Control, oil driller Ben Affleck of "Good Will Hunting" (they should have let him write the script) also stars with Will Patton and Steve Buscemi as more drillers, and Peter Stormare as the Cosmonaut (who mistakenly calls himself an astronaut in the story and who has, of all names, Andropov, same as the late Soviet premier).
As you can see, there is plenty of acting talent. Buscemi, as usual, creates an interesting character as a wacky, iconoclastic genius and Will Patton also does a fine job, as does Stormare. Thornton underplays his part and Willis does his "Die Hard" schtick.
There are numerous problems with the film. For one, you can't keep a planet-killing meteor a secret, especially after smaller meteorites from the same shower have smashed into New York and Paris. That tends to get the attention of amateur astronomers, who have the ability to track back along that trajectory. It would get other people's attention too, including the media. Unless Texas is a lot smaller than the last time I checked you can't hope to split an asteroid of that size in two when you drill in the wrong place and put your bomb only 800 feet below the surface. Gravity on the asteroid would also be of the micro-gravity variety, not full earth gravity as shown in some scenes.
The movie also goes over the top in promoting NASA. At one point we see kids playing with space shuttle toys and the camera pans across a prominent poster of John F. Kennedy, the man who made NASA the pride of the nation with his goal of putting a man on the moon. I like NASA as much as anybody and support a manned mission to Mars, but this is too much. The NASA logo appears everywhere in the movie. It is placement overkill.
Anyone over the age of 40 is going to have a hard time adjusting to the choppy editing of the film, unless they watch way too many television commercials. I didn't notice a single shot in the entire film that lasted longer than three seconds. Even during those brief shots, the camera is often zooming in or out, or rack focusing. The movie is a blur of motion and loud sounds. It is like a hundred hard rock music videos spliced together. That gets tiresome. I also got tired of scenes where the camera is shaken to simulate quakes or other movement.
Despite these problems, the movie did hold my interest, the special effects are great. There is also plenty of action. The cliffhangers just keep coming. There is also some drama and quite a few funny scenes. The movie rates a C+.
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