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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ARMAGEDDON -- movie review by porfle

(This review originally appeared online at in 2006.)

Sometimes I just like to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch a big, dumb, action-packed space opera with awesome special effects, a great cast, and a script that's funny and engaging without taxing the old grey matter too much.  Of course, I'm describing ARMAGEDDON (1998), in which a huge asteroid is discovered to be hurtling directly toward Earth and all life will be wiped out unless NASA can figure out a way to avert it.

By now, many of you have already seen ARMAGEDDON and may be thinking, "Ye gods!  My hatred for that movie shatters galaxies!"  I can understand that, if you're someone who likes his/her sci-fi serious and scientifically accurate, or you hate Michael Bay movies, or both.

If so, you would probably prefer the other asteroid-on-a-collision-course-with-Earth movie, DEEP IMPACT, which came out the same year and was more serious and scientifically accurate.  Or, if you're like me, you like them both in the same way that I like both filet mignon and beef jerky, or Beethoven and the Jingle Cats.

I find ARMAGEDDON hugely entertaining on the Jingle Cats level.  It starts out with the extinction of the dinosaurs by a six-mile-wide meteor smashing into Earth, narrated by Charlton Heston (who else to talk us through a catastrophe of Biblical proportions?), and then skips to the present day with a meteor shower destroying an orbiting space shuttle and taking out much of New York City.

This, it turns out, is merely a prelude to an approaching asteroid the size of Texas (a Rhode Island-sized asteroid would've been bad enough, or even Vermont, but somehow "Texas" sounds better) which will hit the Earth in eighteen days and kill everybody.  Finding a way to stop it, needless to say, shoots right to the top of our government's "Things To Do" list.

The top brain-boys at NASA come up with the only possible solution: they must send two teams of deep-core oil drillers to land their shuttles on the asteroid, drill a really deep hole, and plant a nuclear bomb that will split it into two halves that will spread apart and narrowly miss our planet.  So the world's greatest deep-core driller, Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), and his ragtag team of roughnecks are enlisted to accompany NASA's astronauts on the mission.

Watching these idiots go through an astronaut crash-course and magnificently flunk most of their medical and endurance tests is a highlight of the film.  Udo Kier (ANDY WARHOL'S DRACULA) even pops up as a psychiatrist who is shocked by some of the stuff going on in these guys' heads.

This is where a lot of that "great cast" I mentioned comes in.  There's Bruce, of course--one of my favorite actors--supported by guys like Will Patton (THE POSTMAN), Steve Buscemi (FARGO, CON AIR), Michael Clarke Duncan (THE GREEN MILE), Owen Wilson (THE WEDDING CRASHERS), and Ben Affleck.  Ben Affleck? 

Okay, they're not all "great", exactly.  But Ben does a pretty good job as Harry's irresponsible protege', A.J., who gets Harry's dander up by falling in love with his daughter Grace (the ever-popular Liv Tyler).  Harry don't want his li'l girl marryin' no roughneck, so A.J. must prove himself worthy, which he eventually does, of course. 

And then there's Billy Bob Thornton (SLING BLADE) as Dan Truman, the NASA head honcho who coordinates the mission, Jason Isaacs (SOLDIER) as NASA's Mr. Wizard, William Fichtner (CONTACT, THE DARK KNIGHT) as shuttle pilot  Colonel Sharp, Keith David (JOHN CARPENTER'S THE THING) as a military officer who is skeptical of the mission's success, and Peter Stormare (FARGO) as Lev, a cosmonaut who ends up on the mission when the Russian space station he's been stuck on for months explodes while the shuttles are refueling.  Like I said, this is one awesome cast.  And Ben Affleck.

The special effects are awesome as well.  The initial shuttle explosion and meteor shower on New York city get the movie off to an explosion-packed start, despite a few instances of hinky CGI.  Most of the other CGI is well done, but there's also a lot of great model work for us more old-fashioned sci-fi fans to enjoy.  The comparatively simple act of refueling the shuttles at the Russian space station results in a tense, SPFX-laden sequence where a lot of stuff blows up real good. 

The shots of the asteroid are often striking, especially in one incredible sequence where the two shuttles are slingshotting around the moon to gain speed and circle around behind the huge rock, and then head straight into a dense hail of debris in the asteroid's trail.  This is the highlight of the movie for me, and, as the old trailers used to proclaim, it's "thrill-packed." 

Once the shuttles have landed (one not quite as successfully as the other), the drillers encounter a variety of hazardous and hostile conditions that hamper their progress and threaten to derail their mission.  Several of our favorite characters get killed.  At one point, the effort to drill a hole deep enough for the bomb looks so hopeless that the military decides to remote-detonate it on the surface, which would not only have no effect on the asteroid, but would also seriously vaporize our heroes. 

And as the clock ticks down to the final deadline for averting global destruction, one of the main characters must make the ultimate sacrifice.  Who will it be?  Will Bruce die hard?  Will GIGLI fans be devastated?  Will Steve Buscemi no longer be "the sexiest man alive"? 

Anyway, I love this stuff.  I don't care if it's scientifically-inaccurate, lowbrow, sappy, or cheesy.  (It's all of those things, and more.)  Michael Bay, one of the most hated directors on the planet, has never made an action movie that I didn't find entertaining in some way.  If I have to put my mind on hold to enjoy THE ROCK, I'll do it (I like putting my mind on hold now and then).  If I have to wade through a crappy love story to get to the mind-boggling action sequences in PEARL HARBOR, fine. 

And if I have to fast-forward through any part of ARMAGEDDON that features an Aerosmith ballad or most of the cast singing a brain-frying rendition of "Leavin' On A Jet Plane", that's okay, too.  It's worth it to enjoy this much pure, unadulterated entertainment that is filled with so many of my favorite actors.  And Ben Affleck.

Buy it at

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