Armageddon
Reviewed in September 1998
Director: Michael Bay. Cast: Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Will Patton, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Jon Favreau, Jessica Steen, Owen Wilson. Screenplay: Jonathan Hensleigh and Robert Roy Pool.

Photo © 1998 Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista Pictures
As everyone knows who wasn't living under a fallen meteorite, Armageddon was one of the summer's two Asteroid/Doom movies. But while Deep Impact was actually interested (well, sort of) in the feelings of imperiled humanity, Armageddon is concerned largely with more mundane action-movie phenomena, and they make all the difference as to why Deep Impact is both gripping and memorable while Armageddon is biodegradable nonsense. It doesn't quite oppress the viewer, but it pummels them with its own meteor shower of misguided earnestness, unchecked loudness, and less-than-convincing special effects.

The filmmakers behind Armageddon pursue the ideal explosion the way diehard surfers seek the perfect wave. Their pre-eminent aim is to blow up, like, the most stuff, or else capsize while trying. Besides the chunk of interstellar rock that causes all the trouble to begin with, there are deep-sea oil deposits, Russian-sponsored space stations, and tender, volatile masculine tempers that are just waiting to erupt at regular intervals during this picture. It helps if you do not invest too much interest in any object on the screen, since chances are that said article could blow to smithereens at any given moment. Thankfully, none of Armageddon's fresh-faced, youthful cast members are themselves detonated, which means that rising ingenues Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck may each continue in their tireless professional quests to find a single credible, playable role at some point in their careers.

Meanwhile, things snap, crackle, and pop with truly unprecedented regularity in this flick, though director Michael Bay declines to explode certain tired fixtures of the genre that I would give anything to detonate myself. One is the red digital read-out counter that—as I have already observed as an audience member of The X-Files: Fight the Future—apparently comes in a package deal with all bombs, alarms, and rocket-launchers ever made in Hollywood. Everything that happens in Armageddon, which is surprisingly not much, happens with...2.1 seconds to spare! "Whew," the characters think as they gaze at the clocks. "Thank God I made it, and thank God these numbers are so easy to read!" Standing amidst all of these buttons and buzzers and volatile gadgets are credible character actors like Billy Bob Thornton and Will Patton, the latter of whom is actually asked by the screenwriters to play out an emotional subplot as a father who has lost custody of his children. Lest this narrative line threaten to intrude on the whiz-bang aesthetic set forth everywhere else, Armageddon conveniently makes Patton's actions and feelings wholly predictable and utterly brief. If you don't feel like noticing it, you don't have to.

The movie's final and most charming obsession is with the power and reach of certain drills. Ostensibly meant to puncture and therein explode the asteroid, these shafts are mostly introduced to the plot so that they may a) achieve their goals with a mere...1.7 seconds to spare!, and b) make clear to the audience by film's end that Bruce Willis' is the longest and most potent of ramrods, though Mr. Affleck shows some natural, wild flair and promise with his own. The lesson of Godzilla and its ill-fated marketing campaign notwithstanding, size does matter to Jerry Bruckheimer and crew. Unfortunately, nothing in this movie really matters to us, prompting one to wonder why on Vulnerable Earth this movie could not be edited down from its colossal two and a half hours.

Everyone involved in Armageddon dutifully fulfills what is asked of them, so that Bruce Willis can continue the myth that he is worth a $20 million salary; Billy Bob can afford his next few directorial projects, like the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses; and Ben Affleck can allay any doubts that the sensitive, writerly side on display in Good Will Hunting does not prevent him from getting out there and pounding the bejesus out of some serious space garbage. All of these actors are talented in ways that are not required by this picture, and they will all do better work in the future. The same may not be true, however, of director Bay, who, having now made both this picture and The Rock, has achieved a career trajectory whose next logical step is a sympathetic, appreciative treatment of the life and exploits of the Unabomber. Bay's astronauts show us how to disable the sort of worthless debris that can threaten us from the cosmos, but a more pressing problem is how we might deflect the petrified garbage that the director himself keeps hurling at our cineplexes. C–


Academy Award Nominations:
Best Original Song: "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"
Best Sound: Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, and Keith A. Wester
Best Sound Effects: George Watters II
Best Visual Effects: Richard R. Hoover, Pat McClung, John Frazier

Other Awards:
Satellite Awards: Best Original Song ("I Don't Want to Miss a Thing")

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