In 1998 we were treated to two big disaster movies, both involving a comet heading for Earth. Now many people took great joy in poking fun at the ridiculous Michael Bay entry Armageddon, and I would be the first to agree that it truly was a loud, flashy, and utterly stupid film. But as dumb as it was it never took itself seriously while the film I’m reviewing today tried to pass itself off as a realistic look at this type of disaster, with a little family drama added to help us swallow the bad science, and obvious plot holes. Well I’m forced to throw a flag on that play because even though it’s not as preposterously idiotic as Michael Bay’s film that still doesn’t make it a good film, just a better film, and that my friends is faint praise indeed.
The film starts with an amateur astrology group scanning the heavens, and it’s while doing this that Leo Beiderman (Elijah Wood) discovers a new comet. They quickly notify a local professional astronomer Marcus Wolf (Charles Martin Smith) who with just this one spotting can miraculous predict that it’s going to hit the Earth. When in fact it would take several viewings over time to discern the path of the comet. Well let’s move on to one of my favorite bits of plot ineptitude, unable to contact anybody by phone or email Dr. Wolf jumps into his jeep and heads down the mountain where he is killed by one of the worst telegraphed car crashes in film history. But what is truly annoying is the fact that his death serves no real purpose to the plot. We jump ahead a year and find that the government has been working all this time on what to do about the approaching catastrophe. They found the disk in the wreck and named the comet after the two discovers Wolf-Beiderman. (For some strange reason they believed Beiderman died in the crash as well) We are not told that the death of Marcus Wolf delayed the government in finding the comet or had any effect whatsoever. It was just filler and has no bearing on later events.
Meanwhile reporter Jenny Lerner (Tea Leoni) has accidentally uncovered the comet story and she blackmails the President (Morgan Freeman) into getting her a better position at the press briefing, the world maybe ending put at least her career is on track. We of course have to ignore the fact that with the size of this comet it would have been visible to every two-bit yahoo with a telescope, and that there is no way the government could have kept this a secret.
Now on to the plan! They decide to send a group of astronauts up to the comet, plant some nukes, and blow it to kingdom come. When in fact given the time frame they had it would have been more beneficial to try and nudge the comet off its course instead of blowing it up. But that’s just a minor quibble; we’ll get into the problems of blowing it up later. One scene in the film that really angered me was when the young hotshot astronauts give the senior member of their crew, played by Robert Duval, a hard time for being to old and only being on board as a publicity stunt. I can’t believe for a minute that real astronauts would show this kind of disrespect to somebody who has actually landed on the moon. Of course things go wrong and the comet is just broken into two pieces and both are still headed for Earth.
Meanwhile back on Earth the President moves right on to the back up plan, which involves a lottery and moving a crap load of people underground to ensure that mankind survives. Elijah Wood and his family have been pre-selected because he was one of the comet discoverers, but his girlfriend and her family have not been. So what does are stalwart astronomer do? He marries her and is told that now her whole family can come. But on the fateful day when the army buses come to pick them up the girl’s name is on the list but not her family. She refuses to get on the bus and watches as her true love rides away. This scene is almost more idiotic than the one with the disrespectful astronauts, could you for a minute believe any parent would let their kid stay behind and face sudden death? Later when Elijah Wood shows up on a dirt bike as the girl and her family are stuck in a traffic jam, she tearfully hops on behind him, and leaves her parents in the dust.
Back in space the astronauts have come up with a new plan, to nobly sacrifice themselves by flying inside the comet and blowing it up with their remaining nukes. This will take care of the big piece, but the little one will still smack the Earth. Of course blowing up the big one would still doom the Earth; instead of one big piece hitting you will have millions of pieces raining down with same kinetic energy of the original comet creating an explosion with more power than all the world’s nuclear bombs combined. Yeah team! But no, we see a nice little fireworks display kind of like the one at the end of Independance Day.
We aren’t cheated completely out the carnage we paid our ten bucks to see. The smaller piece does impact somewhere in the Atlantic and a huge wave heads for the shores of North America. I won’t get into the fact that the people in the traffic jam would have been flash fried as the comet streaked overhead, I won’t state the obvious effects that many tons of water would actually have on the New York skyline.
I’ll just say this…It looked great. But was it worth two hours of soap operatic drivel that led up to it? My answer is simply no. Save your money and rent something by Irwin Allen.
From Time magazine, “Numbers” section:
Estimated annual cost for a 10-year program that would identify large asteroids most threatening to earth.
Budget for “Deep Impact”, a film about the devastation caused when a comet hits earth.
Film grad who spends most his time trying to catch up on his "To Watch" pile of movies.