Armageddon (1998)


Info SidebarI could spin this review many ways, because Armageddon is a movie that goes many ways before reaching its conclusion, a conclusion that sucks the life out of its audience just as they are planning on saving it by walking out of the theatre.

But I shall begin by discussing what’s right with this film.

1) Not everyone dies. Armageddon is a disaster movie that by definition of its category requires all its leading characters to meet their end. In the same year, Deep Impact was also released, another feature about a giant asteroid hurtling towards Earth, threatening to obliterate all life, which in Armageddon includes “bacteria”. In Deep Impact, we lose everybody, except for the young couple with the newborn baby. Here, you’d be surprised at how many characters make it out of this catastrophe alive, considering the whole of Paris (grotesque and all) gets wiped out.

And 2) Steve Buscemi. Buscemi plays the good friend of our hero Harry, and he has the fortunate job of working outside the emotional boundaries of the rest of the cast. As the heroic team reaches the surface of the asteroid — with a mission that I will detail later — Buscemi’s character, Rockhound, develops “space dementia”. No one takes the time to tell us what space dementia is, but judging from what Rockhound does, I’d venture a guess and say it involves using common sense. The last forty-five minutes of Armageddon are dominated first by Michael Bay’s outrageous special effects, and second by Steve Buscemi.

Bay has a fetish for the characters in his movies, and for great big explosions that seem to go on long after the epicentre has huffed its last breath. He shoots his characters either from low angles, which causes their chins to look large and round, or head on, in a wide that showcases them marching towards the camera in slow-motion. Are the actors aware that when they walk abreast, instead of close together like a real group of friends, they look supercilious and not cool?

There are a lot of explosions in Armageddon. Cars go up in flames. Space shuttles shatter in balls of fire (the filmmakers seem to have forgotten that fire cannot exist in space). Cities are cleaned off the Earth. More cars explode. And then there’s the climax on the asteroid, which is so laden with sparks and things blowing up that it’s almost impossible to tell who’s who and where anyone is in relation to someone else. Even when the Ben Affleck character arrives to save his friends, he has to blister through one of those monster truck leaps over a platoon of stunt cars, only instead of stunt cars it’s a forest of tall, sharp meteoric stalagmites. The entire movie is one big testing ground for Bay’s pyrotechnics team, and boy, they spare no expense.

The plot couldn’t be more simple. That Armageddon runs for 150 minutes is a heedless exercise in thin storytelling. An asteroid the “size of Texas” is coming for Earth. Its impact will be so devastating that all life on the planet will be wiped out, much like the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago (a fact this movie brazenly reminds us of in the opening scene). N.A.S.A., led by a one-man army named Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton), decides the only solution is to hire a team of professional oil drillers, get them to drill an 800ft hole in the asteroid, drop a nuke down it, and blow the rock to smithereens.

The drilling team is led by Harry (Bruce Willis), whose daughter, Grace (Liv Tyler), is all grown up and eerily looked after by the rest of his team, most of whom would look more comfortable in a police lineup. Among them is A.J. (Affleck), the hot-headed know-it-all who has irrevocably fallen in love with Grace. When we first meet A.J., he’s being chased around the oil rig by Harry with a shotgun. By the end of the movie, the shotgun is gone, the chasing has stopped, and A.J. is like the son Harry never had. Grace, meanwhile, continuously finds herself in the thick of the plot despite being an irrelevant character. Why is she on the oil rig? What’s she doing in N.A.S.A.’s command centre? It’s a small surprise she doesn’t appear on the asteroid with her father. Each character is portrayed with skill by their actors, but the actors fail to realise that what they say or do is not as important as what gets blown up next.

It is hard to appreciate a Michael Bay film. He knows his craft, that’s for sure. He knows how to manipulate the movie business to come out with huge profits — and his profits are indeed huge. He is a fine perpetrator of giving the audience what they want, not what they need. What Armageddon needs is a script, some intelligence, and a quiet room for Grace to sit in and contemplate her existence.

 

Best Moment | Nope.

Worst Moment | Every scene involving Grace. I especially love the part where she’s told to leave the command centre; she responds with, “I have nowhere else to go”. The next time we see her she’s on a couch that’s not in the command centre, sobbing her eyes out. This is the kind of intelligence the script brings to the table.


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