Should I Watch..? 'Armageddon'
What's the big deal?
Armageddon is an action sci-fi disaster movie released in 1998 directed and co-produced by Michael Bay. The film follows a ramshackle collection of deep-core drilling experts sent into space by NASA to attempt the destruction of a massive asteroid as it threatens to wipe out all life on Earth. Co-written by Jonathan Hensleigh and a young JJ Abrams, the film's ensemble cast includes Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Clarke Duncan, Will Patton, Owen Wilson, William Fitchner and Keith David. The film was released the same year as Deep Impact which was thematically very similar. The film proved popular with audiences as Armageddon became the highest grossing film of the year, taking more than $553 million worldwide. However, the film was slammed by critics who accused the film of numerous scientific inaccuracies and also Bay's editorial style. The film's reputation was sealed after it was nominated for multiple Razzie awards.
What's it about?
After a serious meteor shower destroys an orbiting space shuttle as well as large parts of New York, NASA discovers that the meteors were pulled off course by the gravitational pull of a previously undetected asteroid the size of Texas on course to strike the Earth. Such an event would undoubtedly cause the extinction of all life on the planet and the asteroid is due to make impact in just 18 days. Luckily, NASA have actually planned for this possibility and produce a bold plan to save the world - by detonating a nuclear weapon buried beneath the surface of the asteroid, the explosion would cause the asteroid to fragment into smaller pieces which would harmlessly burn up in our atmosphere. If only there was a bunch of guys crazy enough to take on such a mission...
As luck would have it, the world's best deep-sea driller Harry Stamper has a gap in his schedule so NASA decide to recruit him for this top-secret mission. Stamper agrees but only if he can bring his crew along for the ride - a rag-tag bunch of misfits including the boyfriend of Harry's daughter Grace, AJ Frost. As they stumble their way through astronaut training, the danger facing the world becomes ever more evident and with time running out, the unlikeliest group of heroes ever assembled launch into space to begin their perilous quest to save the world.
Harry S. Stamper
Billy Bob Thornton
Colonel Willie Sharp
Michael Clarke Duncan
Co-pilot Jennifer Watts
Jonathan Hensleigh & JJ Abrams*
Release Date (UK)
7th August, 1998
Action, Adventure, Disaster, Sci-Fi
Academy Award Nominations
Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Song (I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing)
Worst Actor (Willis)
Razzie Award Nominations
Worst Picture, Worst On-Screen Couple (Affleck & Tyler), Worst Supporting Actress (Tyler), Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Original Song (I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing)
What's to like?
It isn't often you find me saying this - or, for that matter, many other critics - but I do have to give credit to Bay. The film shares many of his favourite cliches such as everything exploding and vast amounts of collateral damage instantly forgotten about by the characters BUT the film certainly looks the part. With a film clearly based in no kind of reality, it's impressive that the film looks as realistic as it possibly can - astronaut uniforms look convincing, as do the various vehicles and space stations involved in this ludicrous plot to save the world with nuclear weapons. And with Bay's undeniable relish for depicting on-screen excitement and action, the film is remarkably fun to watch once the action finally moves into space. The stuff on Earth is about as memorable as your last sneeze.
While Willis and Affleck are at loggerheads at the forefront of the picture, it falls to the supporting cast to try and relieve some of the tension and they do a decent job. The always reliable Buscemi provides sardonic commentary throughout while the likes of David, Thornton and Duncan perform well in roles that feel a little underwritten - there's no shortage of characters on screen but not many make much of an impression. As for Willis and Affleck, the pair of them bicker and then make-up throughout the picture like two kids in the back of a car on a long drive while Tyler's lovelorn beauty can't decide which of the two men in her life she loves more - her beau or her dad. Good thing the film's insane narrative even manages to solve that dilemma for her as well...
- Bay later admitted that the central premise of the film was a hoax - the largest potential asteroid that could impact the Earth is only 7km wide and NASA would also be largely unable to do much about it at all. Affleck also questioned why NASA would train drillers to be astronauts when it would be easier to teach astronauts how to drill. Bay apparently told him to "shut the f*** up" and the subject was never raised on set again.
- Buscemi claimed that the role of Rockhound was pitched to him as a heroic geologist, which appealed to the actor who is normally associated with sleazy low-life roles. Not wanting to be typecast as such, Buscemi was disheartened to find that the script had changed to include Rockhound's more amoral behaviours.
- NASA actually use this film during their management training procedures but perhaps not how the film-makers intended. Candidates are asked to point out as many errors with the film as possible - the number currently stands somewhere north of 160.
- Willis has claimed to dislike Bay's directorial style and has vowed never to work with the director again. But even Bay has been quoted as saying that Armageddon is the least favourite of his own films, blaming a tight 16-week schedule and the inability to construct the third act to his own satisfaction.
What's not to like?
The Nineties had no shortage of disaster movies produced but few take as many liberties with logic as Armageddon does. The film is less a gripping race-against-time thriller and more of a destruction derby with a talented cast (who deserve better) caught in the middle. Hell, even Speed looks more plausible than this well-produced slice of tosh! The film manages to include plenty of action movie cliche in its ridiculously bloated running time such as the military top brass gathered around a crisis table listening in, plenty of shots of Old Glory billowing in slow motion as fighter jets fly past in unison and practically everything that could go wrong with the mission goes wrong, usually accompanied by explosions. Most audience members won't be struggling with the concept of fire in space but I found the movie a test of how much nonsense I could tolerate.
But even if you take the film as a throwaway piece of popcorn culture that shouldn't be taken too seriously, the movie still has fundamental flaws. The heroes are supposed to be blue-collar icons, representing the strength of everyday viewers like you and me, but they're all rather unlikeable as people and about as reliable as Randy Quaid. I wouldn't trust these guys on a stag night, let alone a space mission to save the world. The film's pacing is also out of sync - at two and a half hours long, the film could have lost a good thirty minutes and not lost much in terms of cohesion - well, such as it is. The film's most redeeming feature is undoubtedly the now-iconic track by Aerosmith which I personally don't rate as one of their best. Without that song, the movie is pretty forgettable despite the decent visuals and chest-thumping sound effects.
Should I watch it?
Viewers used by Bay's bombastic style of film-making will know exactly what to expect here - a dumb-but-fun piece designed to entertain and bombard you with decent visuals and explosive set pieces. Armageddon is yet another moronic disaster film that doesn't offer much difference to others in the genre but includes enough goofy silliness to amuse those prepared to forgive such antics. But anyone hoping for a smidge of realism are going to be bitterly disappointed.
Great For: pyrotechnics, fans of Michael Bay movies, actual NASA astronauts, people who just want mindless fun
Not So Great For: brain cells, anyone with any common sense, non-Americans fed up of them always saving the world
What else should I watch?
Armageddon has a natural foil in Deep Impact, a slightly more dramatic take on the whole asteroid-coming-to-wipe-us-out subject. While avoiding the same trap as this film and not becoming another exercise in flag-waving optimism, Deep Impact is saddled with too much soap-opera story-telling amongst its equally impressive cast (Morgan Freeman, Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Tea Leoni, James Cromwell, Jon Favreau, Leelee Sobieski...) and it failed to really out-gross its explosive rival. Of course, there are other examples of disaster movies from the same period - both Volcano and Dante's Peak featured craggy-faced actors running away from molten lava (Tommy Lee Jones and Pierce Brosnan, respectively) while at least Twister had the novelty of having a female character played by Helen Hunt in the lead. The daddy of all Nineties disaster movies remains Independence Day which filled your screens with US landmarks getting blown up by huge alien ships, Will Smith launching his A-list career as a wise-cracking fighter pilot and... erm, Randy Quaid being Randy Quaid.
These days, CG has evolved to the point where such sights as the White House exploding seem almost passe. Nowadays, disaster movies need to really push the boat out and few did it with such gleeful delight as 2012 which invoked apparent fears about the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world (you remember that, right? Mayan calendars? Oh, never mind...) to show us John Cusack fleeing countless disasters and somehow surviving. But why stop there when you can go to the movies to see the world destroyed by weather (Geostorm), zombies (World War Z), giant sea monsters (Pacific Rim), beasties with very sensitive hearing (A Quiet Place), monkeys (Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes), sharks (Sharknado) and even super-powered villains with natty handwear (Avengers: Infinity War)?
Questions & Answers
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