Friday, April 10, 2009

Film Review: 'Deep Impact' – 8.0/10

Film Review: Sci-Fi • Disaster Film (1998)
'Deep Impact'
Written by Joé McKen on Thursday, April 09, 2009

A chilling sight for any knowledgeable astronomer awaits the world in Mimi Leder's 1998 Deep Impact.

For a movie based in science-fiction to work well, there has to be a reasonable compromise between the rigidly scientific and fact-based aspects, and the human drama and artistic license. The result is a film that, while not always strictly accurate to reality, keeps us interested in following the story without driving us away with silly gimmicks and downright ludicrous attempts at explaining all the implausible (if not ridiculous) mechanics and events that go into the overall plot. If one spectacular failure at this was 1998's Armageddon, which really seemed to aspire to being a caricature of typical American Action movies, then conversely, one remarkable attempt at reconciling drama with reason would be Armageddon's "good twin", Deep Impact. While it does contain its fair amount of little icks and irks here and there, it achieves the nonetheless difficult balance between science/reality and fiction.

As the title and cover art not-so-discretely hint at, the overall plot deals with us poor little Humans facing imminent doom from Outer Space from a giant meteor that's "the size of Mount Everest", hurtling towards the Earth, which equals to a textbook E.L.E. scenario – Extinction-Level Event. This is revealed early in the movie, yet as per tradition the good astronomer who first discovers this problem is killed by an inattentive semi-truck driver. (When has a movie ever portrayed a semi-truck that didn't eventually lead to some death or destruction?) Somehow though, the findings aren't lost and the US government quickly stitches together a massive but entirely secret plan to try and prepare for humankind's survival without causing a premature mass panic.

But of course, sticking to the True Action Movie™ formula that dictates that a third party must be made aware of the impending disaster, we also follow MSNBC reporter Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni) who soon stumbles upon what first appears to be a typical yet juicy bit of gossip: something about an important politician resigning to hide an affair he's having – with a mistress named Ellie. However, some people aren't very happy with her snooping around in this business, and soon Jenny's forcibly escorted to a private meeting with the President himself, Tom Beck, played by Morgan Freeman (really, who else? And doesn't Freeman every play a role that isn't that of some wise and respected old man?), who asks her to wait before breaking out the news on E.L.E. – a curious pronunciation of the mysterious 'Ellie' that you can bet Jenny will look up on the Net, and be profoundly shaken by the results.

Also following the strict Disaster Movie™ guidelines, we see much of the screentime devoted to the relatively meaningless lives of a few relatively random folk, and we follow, not only the unfurling disaster, but also the personal stories of the main characters. I'd say these are the weakest parts of the movie – I've never been one for melodrama, and while this was certainly much better executed than in Armageddon, it still had some dully inane and uninteresting moments, including a love story between two teenagers, and a subplot concerning Jenny and her estranged father. These scenes could stand to have been better written I suppose, but ultimately it's probably pointless for me – I never get hooked by folderol no matter how well it's written; it's still filler.

Oh, and there's also the plot concerning the government's attempt at sparing the Earth a grisly fate, which inevitably includes four things: 1 – it involves flying a spaceship to the comet and depositing a crew on its surface; 2 – there will be nukes involved (albeit in a much more realistic fashion than in Armageddon); 3 – the first attempt will fail, and 4 – they'll suddenly pull a miraculous solution out of the air. But you'll have to see the movie to learn if the end fate of the planet is either disaster of survival, or both.

I'm always glad to see Robert Duvall's name amongst a movie's credits; in this flick, he plays Spurgeon "Fish" Tanner, the veteran astronaut who was the last man to have walked on the Moon, and his performance is enticing as it usually is. Téa Leoni plays her role as the intrepid yet family-conflicted Jenny solidly, and Elijah Wood plays young astronomer Leo Beiderman well enough to keep us from leaving, yet seems to lack the conviction to truly pull off his performance.

Technically, the film is at the height of its craft for a 1998 flick. The special effects are developed and convincing, even if the CGI does start to show by modern standards, and one particular scene where a watery disaster engulfs New York City is quite thrilling, if also fairly reminiscent of the more recent The Day After Tomorrow.

It's sad, albeit inevitable, that Deep Impact didn't fare as well at the box office despite the much higher general critical consensus – Armageddon just had that "mass appeal" feel to it (as Roger Ebert said quite aptly, you could use any portion or scene from the movie and it would become its own trailer) that's quite perfect for pandering to the ever-ADHD-afflicted general public. For the rest of us who can actually appreciate a good movie when it comes along, Deep Impact is the choice to go with.

For enchanting us with an archetypal tale that's told with tact and skill, I give Paramount Pictures' Deep Impact 8.0 deadly Space-rocks out of 10.

Jenny Lerner: Téa Leoni • President Tom Beck: Morgan Freeman • Leo Beiderman: Elijah Wood • Capt. Spurgeon "Fish" Tanner: Robert Duvall
Crew & Credits
Director(s): Mimi Leder • Writer(s): Bruce Joel Rubin, Michael Tolkin • Original Score: James Horner
General Information
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures • Released: May 08, 1998 • Running Time: 121 mins • Budget: US$75 million • Rated: PG-13


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