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Deep Impact, written by Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, directed by Mimi Leder, 1998, 120 min.

Deep Impact is not very interesting, not even interestingly bad, simply dull. It's a movie that's about the end of the world and everyone who lives on our cherished planet, but it still lacks any charisma or sense of urgency. A comet is headed for earth, and Deep Impact is only frightening in its implication that the end of the world is banal and nothing more than an excuse to exchange inane sentiments with those around you. There's a rescue mission, but the flight of the appropriately named Messiah is only intermittently interesting. The special effects were only adequate, which is not the most profound thing to say about a movie, but it is true that some flashy eye candy can sometimes save an otherwise doomed movie.

Jenny Lerner is an aspiring TV reporter, and she thinks she has a story about an American government official. After confronting him with her scoop about his supposed affair with "Ellie," she is whisked off by secret agents to a tense meeting with the President. In one of those annoying scenes where it's obvious that two characters are talking about different things, they come to a deal: the President will reveal everything in two days and Jenny gets to ask the first question at the press conference. But the name is not Ellie, but E.L.E. which stands for Extinction Level Event; the President reveals that the American government has known about a comet on collision course with the Earth for about a year. Preparations are under way, including a space mission to blow up the comet, and if that mission fails, an underground cave to save a million people.

Deep Impact proceeds with a few different storylines. The most successful of them is the mission of the Messiah; the crew has landed on the comet by 50 minutes into the movie and they provide some nice moments of suspense. But these scenes often feel so perfunctory and emotionless as to be irrelevant. Jenny Lerner is saddled with a subplot in which her father has divorced her mother and settled in with a much younger new wife: will the disaster-movie sweep of emotion reunite the two? Not much suspense there. This combines with the oddly artificial newsroom scenes to create a sense of phoniness for her storyline. The other major character is Leo Biederman, a high school kid who made the initial discovery of the comet in his astronomy club. Because of this discovery, he gets to be one of the million who gets saved; without much build-up, he gets married to his girlfriend and they run back and forth between opposing decisions and escape only by a silly circumstance.

The catastrophe story is a well-worn subgenre of science fiction and Deep Impact contributes nothing new. The characters of the movie run around fulfilling the requirements of their archetypes (or, less flatteringly, stereotypes). Many of the events don't feel right or all that panic-stricken, like the rather subdued people stuck outside the gates of the one safe shelter. The President, while a strong character, gets to impose martial law on what seem like superficial riots -- reality would have been totally out of control -- and only once or twice did the gravity of his decisions make itself felt. His speeches were also repetitious by the third or fourth time around. The crew members of the Messiah were often the only good thing about the movie, but even there something as basic as the conflict between the older astronaut and the others is essentially glossed over.

So what's left to like? I liked the satellite photo-like scene where we see the clouds affected by the comet's strike. I also liked the role of women in the movie, but only in relation to that other giant-thing-hits-earth movie of 1998, Armageddon. Jenny Lerner, who could have certainly been given more to do, still felt more important to the plot than the daughter character in Armageddon. Both movies have female co-pilots on their respective space missions, but Deep Impact has less of a sense of boy's-only and more of a sense that the characters are all in it together.

DVD Note: Deep Impact is available on DVD, but it's a bare-bones edition that has two trailers for the film and nothing else. Many movies that were released on DVD around the same time as Deep Impact have been since treated to handsome special editions but apparently there hasn't been much outcry for the same with this movie.

First posted: May 18, 1998; Last modified: March 13, 2004

Copyright © 1998-2004 by James Schellenberg (

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