Charles Harries

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1998 space disaster movies

No one made any good space movies in 1998, I'm pretty sure. Armageddon: 3/5 and Deep Impact: 2/5.

Armageddon

Armageddon is exactly what it sounds like. It's directed by Michael Bay; a lot of things explode; nothing makes much sense. You get what you paid for.

Deep Impact

Deep Impact is worse because it takes itself so seriously, and it's bad.

There's all sorts of exposition posing as pseudo-scientific journalism running in the background. People barking statuses to each other on the spaceship. Close ups on various computer screens foretelling certain doom. One of the earliest search-engine montages--you know the kind. You can tell that every time a horn comes on, the James Horner is elbowing the director in the ribs, going, "Like Apollo 13, eh?" We get gratuitous shots of Ensure. Lots of teary-eyed hand-wringing from Morgan Freeman's president character, where he tells the whole country shit that the president would never tell the American people. Navel-gazing about looting, how the blazes continue since the firemen are all helping erect shelters or something. The movie takes itself so seriously.

I don't think I need to tell you that the movie is rife with non-science. Armageddon didn't play fast and loose with science so much as not play at all. I don't like movies like that, but it's Michael Bay & whatddya want.

But the movie goes to great lengths to show us how a character gets blinded by exposure to the sun, gives us a touching scene about how he's blind, and then in the next scene he's in the background with his eyeballs darting all over looking at things.

And none of the characters make any sense. Tea Leoni's character is unforgivingly mean to her father, for no reason, it seems. Vanessa Redgrave doesn't seem too bent out of shape about the divorce but Leoni is on a crusade against her ethnically-ambiguous father and his new wife, with whom he seems to have a pretty good relationship until she leaves him, for some reason, off-screen in the third act.

We get barely any character development for Elijah Wood, either; nor for his relationship with Leelee Sobieski. He gets on the bus, and then right before he goes in the bunker he changes his mind; and he goes back to find his neighbourhood looted, except for his neighbour's motorbike, which hasn't been looted?

And then in the very next scene, Tea Leoni's character also makes the exact same last-minute sacrifice, where she sort of looks off into the distance with her father's pictures in her hand as if she's forgiving him--for what, it's not clear.

The characters just do what the script needs them to. There's not a single real person in the whole movie. What makes Leelee Sobieski change her mind about going in the bunker after Elijah Wood comes back? She's already made it clear that she's not leaving her parents. UNLESS, of course: the script needs her to do it, because it wouldn't do for her to die. This is what I mean. The characters just move around and do what the script tells them to.

Lots of characters do this: say or do something, but they're lying, or they're one scene away from changing their mind to do the opposite, or we're led to believe one thing, our hearts are wrung, and then the movie goes, Just kidding! Leoni says she doesn't remember the pictures; then she says she does. Oren's wife doesn't make it to say goodbye; and then she does. The guy who discovers the comet drives off the road and the evidence is lost; but the government evidently learns about the comet anyway.

By the end of the movie I just didn't care anymore. The movie set us up for Tea Leoni to be our main character, and I was trying to get on board; but then they sidelined her in the second act so we could spend more time with the space guys, but then they sidelined them too, and we just sort of jumped around with people making dumb decisions and everything lost momentum. By the time the disaster happens it feels like we're just trying to get it out of the way so we can get to the scene of Morgan Freeman standing on the Capitol steps talking about hope and pretending that, what, half? of all Americans aren't dead.

Roll credits.

2/5

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