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Armageddon, story by Jonathan Hensleigh and Robert Roy Pool, adapted by Tony Gilroy and Shane Salerno, written by Jonathan Hensleigh and J.J. Abrams, directed by Michael Bay, 1998, 140 min.
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Michael Bay has returned a sense of wonder to science fiction! His latest directorial effort, Armageddon, is a stunning movie. A tale of love and adventure told with wit and a strong sense of pace, Armageddon is a visionary mix of comedy and action. The film takes on almost mythic stature in its clever use of working class conflicts in the face of the end of the world. The angry, compassionate, lovelorn characters all reach their own moment of aching epiphany, in a taut, unflinching look at the piercing dilemmas of an event rich in symbolism and import. The special effects are splendidly prophetic, jaw-droppingly tense, and most of all, deliciously intense. The camera moves with all the assurance of a panther in the deepest, most dangerous jungle, stalking its prey -- the perfect shot. And let us assure you, each camera angle in this movie is searingly beautiful. Recommended for anyone over the age of two months!
The Truth in Blurbs Commission, Special Plenary Session, Convened July 1, 1998
Due to a disturbing trend in blurb-writing, we have been forced to release the following statement.
If you were expecting intelligence, subtlety, or logic when going to see Armageddon, haven't you been paying attention? The trailers were efficient at portraying the nature of the movie: loud, fast, and big. And when you look at the credits of the director, Michael Bay (Bad Boys, The Rock) or the producer, Jerry Bruckheimer (Top Gun, Con Air), you can guess that this will be a testosterone movie, pure and simple. Written by men (the five credited writers are all men and only one of the four uncredited script doctors is a woman), produced by a man, directed by a man, starring a bunch of men in outer space -- the scattering of token females in the movie does nothing to alleviate the problem. If there is a problem at all. That is, how can anybody criticize a movie that has no pretensions? Makes no false promises? And delivers up a film that is faster-paced than its theatrical trailer? Well....
Here is the easiest summary of Armageddon, and the phrase that was likely used to justify its big budget to the studio execs: Bruce Willis kicks some asteroid. In the opening sequence, meteor showers hit Earth, destroying a shuttle that was in orbit and also parts of New York City. Then an amateur astronomer discovers a meteor the size of Texas, heading straight for us. NASA has a plan, and sends up a team of drillers, led by Bruce Willis, to drop a nuke in the centre of the meteor. They do so. Boom. The end. Except that Bay does quite an efficient job with his material. All of the setup sequences, which made up the first half of the movie, were interesting, funny, and relentlessly paced. When the drillers leave Earth, the pace does not need to speed up for the ensuing action, giving the film an odd and compelling unity. There are a few places where the story gives us time to breathe, and here is where the film sags. The love story was cheesy and all of the international scenes were, frankly, offensive. Sure, having everyone in the world listening to the American President fits the skewed internal logic of Armageddon, but it's the worst kind of chauvinism. I will grant that the movie sometimes has its own surreal inner meaning, which drags the bothersome bits along with it, but there's no real way to make this kind of material work. Armageddon takes itself seriously, so much so that I was wishing for some tongue-in-cheek self-mockery. But big summer movies that have gone that route don't necessarily achieve any kind of extra level of meaning (I'm thinking of claims that Independence Day was "homage" to movies from the 50s).
The characters are exactly what could be expected. The drillers are tough guys, who say lots of witty one-liners, get in trouble with the law, and kick some asteroid. The acting here is ok, with Bruce Willis doing his best impression of himself and Steve Buscemi showing off his weaselly persona. The Russian cosmonaut has a hilarious role, but he doesn't stray too far from his stereotype. I liked Billy Bob Thornton as the NASA bigwig -- hopefully this role pays him well enough (and gets him other big budget roles) to fund more films like Sling Blade. As for the women in the movie, here's a quick rundown. There's Dottie, whose astronomer-husband names a Texas-size meteor after her because she is "a vicious, life-sucking bitch from whom there's no escape." There's the estranged wife, who lies to her child. Presumably for a good reason ("The court says you're not supposed to come around here"), but the kid, in a totally dubious scene, runs to a stranger he doesn't even recognize. What kind of abuse would be necessary to get a court injunction? Armageddon says that's all ok if the man is enough of a hero. Jessica Steen does what she can with her role as shuttle pilot, but she is functionally passive in terms of the plot (she doesn't even get to fix the engines near the end). Deep Impact's crew in space had a better gender balance, and almost none of the same sense of the women as wallpaper. And this brings me to Liv Tyler, who gets to simper, sigh, and weep, because both her boyfriend and her father are out there doing active things and she is waiting. Waiting for her men to come home. What kind of ridiculous bunkum is this? Haven't we had enough of this sexist nonsense? Armageddon would've been much more interesting even with one woman on the drilling team, whose boyfriend (I don't know, maybe an accountant) was behind in Houston with Liv Tyler. Bay and his small army of writers could've taken a few hints from James Cameron's movies (I'm thinking of either Aliens or The Abyss), where, even if there isn't strict numerical equality between the sexes, there is equality at the conceptual level. And we still get a kick-ass action movie. Enough said.
How about the science of Armageddon? Sure, there were a number of lapses, but I'm less bothered by that than by the movie's sexism. I could spend some time identifying logical anomalies, like the double shuttle launch, or the strange suits for working on the meteor's surface (thrust downwards on a specific part of the body acts differently than the comprehensive effects of a planet's gravity). But I'm starting to give up on this crusade -- maybe the next summer blockbuster will raise my ire about logic and science, but Armageddon simply defeats me. The threat of a meteor strike is certainly plausible enough.
The special effects were competent. Most of the big effects shots were in support of the story so I can only approve. And no one knows what a Texas-size meteor would look like up close, so the Hollywood guess (based on what will look spooky onscreen) is just fine. Lots of things blow up, and the explosions looked, convincingly, like explosions.
After having said all these nasty things, I would still recommend Armageddon on its strengths. Bay has a good grasp on the bare necessities of an action film, and while he's no Cameron, he does the edge-of-the-seat trick on even the most cynical viewer (namely, me, or someone like me). And in terms of excitement or sheer cumulative thrills, Armageddon beats out Deep Impact easily. Deep Impact was a dud, and while Armageddon has more than its own share of flaws, at least it doesn't forget to move quickly. Deep Impact has done well at the box office, and Armageddon likely will as well. At least Hollywood is giving us choice, however truncated the options.
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Last modified: July 7, 1998
Copyright © 1998 by James Schellenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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