Armageddon (1998) / Sci Fi-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sensuality and language
Running time: 150 min.
Cast: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, William Fichtner, Owen Wilson, Michael Clarke Duncan, Peter Stormare, Ken Campbell, Jessica Steen, Keith David, Jason Isaacs
Cameo: Eddie Griffin, Udo Kier, Mark Curry, Charlton Heston (voice), Michael Bay
Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Jonathan Hensleigh, J.J. Abrams, Tony Gilroy, Shane Salermo
Armageddon is a bit of a watershed movie experience for me as a movie critic, as viewing it for the first time in 1998 represented the first time I realized that I enjoyed films more as conduits for telling stories and less as excuses to splash audience-pacifying eye candy and sound effects across theaterplex screens. Although there are notable examples of this kind of film before, such as 1996's Independence Day and Twister, this is the film that really cemented the notion that mass audiences no longer care about plot cohesion and characterizations when it comes to their cinematic interests. If you toss in hunky actors in tight shirts, comic personalities exchanging banter, and copious amounts of special effects sequences of destruction, people won't care whether you have well-conceived ideas, suspenseful yarns, or depth of acting ability.
This is the film where it finally irked me to hear what has become an all-too-familiar retort to criticism: "Dude, it's only a movie."
Indeed, it is only a movie. It can be called nothing more, and definitely doesn't aspire to be a good one. Although the screenplay credits offer up some very credible future talent, one can only imagine that the script wasn't read by director Michael Bay until it had been placed in the shredder. There's a great deal of ad-libbing throughout this film, and not nearly enough exposition. At a 2.5-hour run time, over two hours of it is expendable if gauged on story requirements. One gathers that when Bay set to trim this behemoth down to size, it was actually these story elements that were left on the cutting room floor.
The premise is, for a $150 million sci-fi film, remarkably simple and more than a little farfetched. An asteroid the size of Texas is hurtling toward Earth, the result of which would extinguish all life on the plant, and the only plan to stop it is the split the asteroid in half with a nuclear explosion detonated within the asteroid itself. To do this, the U.S. government, represented by NASA director Dan Truman, has rounded up a team of oil drillers, led by longtime drill company owner Harry Stamper, to shoot into space via two space shuttles and land on the asteroid itself and drill a hole to place the mega-explosive in. It's a high-risk endeavor, and requires a great deal of timing and precision, but complications ensue that threaten the mission at every turn.
Armageddon is bolstered by good special effects work, particularly in the way it depicts asteroids hitting and destroying major metropolitan areas, which this film seems to think is the main selling point, given how these money shots appear at regular intervals.
©2009 Vince Leo