Friday, March 27, 2009

Film Review: 'Armageddon' – 7.0/10

Film Review: Disaster • Sci-Fi (1998)
Written by Joé McKen on Friday, March 27, 2009

Meteors cause some serious damage, a fact not overlooked in Touchstone Pictures’ 1998 Armageddon.

Armageddon is an ambitious blockbuster that has all the necessary parts for a good Action flick but in the end fails to bring it all together in a way that truly makes it worthwhile. It’s a thrilling premise combined with a good mastery of special effects and technical stuff, but it’s weighed down by sticky problems that cut its reach just sort of reaching true quality. A less ‘typically American’ (ie. less explosions and corny humor) and overall better alternative concerning Death from Space would be the same year’s Deep Impact, at least in my opinion.

The basic premise is one we’ve heard over and over again yet curiously can’t seem to get enough of: a gigantic asteroid from the far depths of Space is hurtling towards poor little Earth at a million miles an hour, posing just large enough a threat to let us know we’re all screwed yet still allow us to think straight enough to try and find a solution. The problem in Armageddon is that said Evil Space Rock is only discovered as it’s at 18 days from smashing into the Earth to begin with. And so, NASA’s best (and only) plan? Send up a ragtag crew of roughnecks onto the rock to drill a hole, in which they’ll drop a nuke to blast the Texas-sized bit of Space junk in half, hopefully sparing Earth from a bitter fate.

The crew in question is helmed by Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), a ‘legend’ in the oil drilling industry as he’s never failed yet (and probably would do well not to break his streak with this particular job). However, Harry gets slightly sidetracked by the prospect of his beautiful young daughter, Grace (Liv Tyler), ending in the arms of fellow crewmember AJ Frost (Ben Affleck). He does what any regular father does: chases AJ around the rig, sending shotgun blasts ricocheting everywhere (apparently the rig is indestructible). That’s all fine and dandy – until a government chopper comes along unannounced and flies him and his daughter to NASA, where he’s filled in with the horrible details of the world’s impending doom.

Harry has been chosen to lead the space crew into drilling the hole with a drill of his own design (which apparently even NASA couldn’t assemble properly), yet the wet-behind-the-ears crew he’s supplied ain’t good enough: he needs his men.

Somehow they’re all able to be whipped into sufficient astronaut-esque shape in less than twelve days to land themselves in prototype space shuttles and blast off into the unknown above, with less than a day to find the specified landing site and drill eight hundred feet straight down into the rock-and-metal monster.

By far the biggest bunch of blows landed on the film’s broken jaw from critics of all sides have all been about its laudable amounts of scientific gaffes and inaccuracies, but in the spirit of lenience (and because this is a long review already) I’ll cut it some slack and instead focus on the bits I myself found less pleasant.

For me, the largest issue I had with the movie, by far, was with the editing. It’s absolutely chaotic and unrestrained – and that’s when there aren’t explosions and destruction all over the place. Shots get mixed with shots that seem to have little to do with each other, which confuse the viewer into wondering what the hell is going on in the first place – always a bad scratch against a movie. If any good, deep and powerful story can be ripped apart simply by overexcited editing, Armageddon is in mangled tatters.

The movie follows a strictly American Action Film formula: tough guys that seem to sweat pure bravado with every move they make and unironic, uninspired joke they spin off; explosions and unrestrained chaos and pandemonium that occurs at a regular interval of roughly 5 minutes, from ‘warning’ meteors hitting the Earth and obliterating Paris or some riverside Asian town, to fights, to a Very Evil Asteroid bent on wiping the crew off its surface before they can detonate the nuke; and etc. The whole film seems to be built on a foundation of endless clichés and predictable outcomes to events: when you see a space station, you’re guaranteed to see it blow up in the next half-hour, and when the characters try a stunt that even they don’t think would normally succeed, of course they’ll all be alive and asking for more moments after.

On the positive side, the film does boast some excellent special effects for its time, and overall has a good mastery of most technical aspects, including great photography and interesting sets and locations, though I personally wasn’t much impressed with Trevor Rabin’s underwhelmingly generic score. Much effort was brought into bringing the asteroid itself ‘alive’, breathing and throwing obstacles at the would-be heroes from all sides, and while I generally discourage making a rock into more than it actually is, it does add a good sense of horror when things go catastrophically wrong.

Overall, Armageddon is a decent popcorn film to watch with some friends on a late Saturday evening on the bigscreen (it’s what it seems to be made for), and it doesn’t seem to aspire to any more than that – if it did, it failed, hard. A good rental, but that’s all the regular movie-lover will likely get out of it.

Good special effects and a thrilling premise aren’t enough to save the movie from its inaccuracy woes and editing horrors, so Michael Bay's Armageddon only gets 7.0 death-rocks from Space out of 10.

Harry S. Stamper: Bruce Willis • AJ Frost: Ben Affleck • NASA Admin. Dan Truman: Billy Bob Thornton • Grace Stamper: Liv Tyler
Crew & Credits
Director(s): Michael Bay • Writer(s): Jonathan Hensleigh, JJ Abrams, Robert Roy Pool • Original Score: Trevor Rabin
General Information
Distributed by: Touchstone Pictures • Released: July 01, 1998 • Running Time: 150 mins • Budget: US$140 million • Rated: PG-13


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