A few weeks ago on Saturday Afternoon, BBC One treated us to a showing of the 1998 disaster movie Deep Impact, and since then; I have thought a lot about it. In writing this post I constantly thought about writing a piece pitting this film against another disaster film involving comets/meteorites which was released the exact same year as Deep Impact; Michael Bay‘s Armageddon. In my opinion Armageddon is the better of the two films; but it felt wrong to write a Clash of the Movies post about these two films, as I constantly thought on Deep Impact’s issues, and to me it felt like I would be picking on Deep Impact in comparison to Armageddon which would have very little words by comparison. Deep Impact is a very thought-provoking film on a movie study side, as it has a lot of ideas and quite a few other major differences over its rival, but it doesn’t execute these as well as it’s rival does.
Directed by Mimi Leder Deep Impact is a film about a giant meteorite which is on a collision course with Earth. The film follows several different points of view as different characters are chosen to show the event through their own different perspectives. So we have the young astronomer (Elijah Wood) and his girlfriend (Leelee Sobieski) who are facing up to the idea that the world might end and are doing their best to stick together. We have a news reporter (Tea Leoni) who has been given the tough job of reporting the sad and stressful news as things get worse. There is a crew of astronauts (including – but not limited to; Robert Duvall, Ron Eldard and Mary McCormack) who are given the tricky job of trying to prevent the complete disaster. Then there is the American President (Morgan Freeman) who is having to face up to leading the country, if not the world; in this life threatening disaster.
I remember seeing reports of this film when it was first released back in 1998. I remember the amazing images of disaster, the one grabbing me the most was the amazing shot of a tidal wave building over New York. It was a big major blockbuster release. Strangely though I do not remember anything about Armageddon. Armageddon was the highest grossing film of 1998; but I did not remember hearing or seeing anything about it. I think the first time I heard of it and saw it was possibly between 2005 and 2008 when it was shown on BBC One. I did not get to see Deep Impact at the cinema, it was many years later when it too was shown on BBC One I think on new Years Eve that I first saw it, and it was well, pretty forgettable. I remember watching it, and was lost completely by the car crash at the beginning and how the story developed.
After seeing it again a few weeks ago, I am a bit more open to it, but in that viewing, I can spot the film’s failings, and there are some. If you were to look at images, or shots of the film for the first time; what would you say the film was, without watching it? You see clips and pics of a Meteorite streaking across the sky, giant tidal waves, the odd explosion, racing, panic! You’d probably describe the film as a Disaster Movie, as these images and clips suggest it is. So why isn’t it one then?
Deep Impact and Armageddon’s release came at an interesting time for cinema; they were both released during the boom of large-scale computer generated effects. This was in part thanks to the success of films such as Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 which both featured these new and amazing effects. Due to this ability, cinema was able to create images that it couldn’t necessarily do before. Before it would have come down to models, suits, puppets, effects which were becoming easier to notice. These new systems could create Meteorite’s, and also giant waves over big cities. During this same period, there was a time of a resurgence in Disaster movies thanks in part to the release of Independence Day two years earlier. In 1996 there were Giant UFO’s over the world’s major cities, which were then quickly obliterated. In 1997 there were two movies featuring Volcanoes (Volcano and Dante’s Peak), and a T-Rex stomped its way through San Diego. So come along to 1998 we have two films involving giant comets threatening the earth. Disaster Movies are few in number now by comparison, but they’re still around. In the 2000’s for instance there were two major disaster movies from the godfather of the Disaster Movie: Roland Emmerich, in 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.
Deep impact though, isn’t a disaster movie. It’s more akin to Drama than anything else. The scenes of wide-spread disaster don’t actually occur until the end of the film. The whole film is more a big build up to a possible disaster. A meteorite is on its way to earth. The powers that be trying to keep it hush – hush, but soon the world finds out, and it comes down to how best to handle the situation. A plan is made to try to destroy the thing, which fails! So, it’s on to the next plan. Then it comes down to what to do, and how best for the world to survive and live on. Tough decisions are made, they have to be made, and not everyone is going to survive. It’s the end of the world as we know it, but now is the time to prepare for the worst and survive beyond it. Of course, it’s a film which it too like many other Disaster Movies carries the generalisation that “AMERICA RULES!” and obviously the disaster is of course averted. What Deep Impact really is; is a political drama! What it did was target itself for the blockbuster schedule and created scenes to market it to everyone so as to of course grab as many people to go see the film; which worked, it was after all the sixth highest grossing film of 1998. But in some regards it conned audiences in to watching it, as by those images, the audience would expect those kinds of things, but not necessarily have to wait until the end of the film for them to appear. The rest of the time they get treated to political handling of a serious threat and how this kind of event may be seen by the general populace. It’s a film of survival, not kick-ass heroes in a trip to destroy a foreign threat!
Not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s more that the way it targeted itself for a type of film that the film in the end wasn’t; but given the climate of film production at the time it probably made the most sense to aim at those target audiences. A political drama about how to handle an apocalyptic event wasn’t necessarily the must see thing for movie going audiences then, and possibly not now either. If it was made now, it maybe be better if it was made into a TV Series. Political based TV Shows are all the range now, and it would help the film in one major way; it’s length. Deep Impact is long. Two Hours may not seem long, but given it’s core and context, you can actually feel time pass. It’s important for the film to show this length of time as there is a lot happening, but also shows how long it takes for politics to work, the things that politicians need to do in order to get things done swiftly, especially in a time of great crisis when time is of the essence. Deep Impact needs to show how bad the crisis is, and does this simply by things getting worse and worse and worse. But there is a lot that needs packing in, it has created a universe (pun not intended) of ideas that need to be implemented and what needs to be done given the situation, but given how it needs to switch perspectives too; it’s a lot! It’s not like Armageddon where the narrative just keeps going towards it’s intended narrative direction, here it’s purposefully showing different perspectives and needs to for the experience to be properly documented. But it’s a film, not a TV Show, or experience! It needs to stay on course and when it’s flitting between characters it seems to be adding and filling up the story with nonsense that could be left out and either cut the run time down or fill it with more interesting little bits.
There is a scene where Tea Leoni is with (I think) her mum in Washington talking about being drafted for the survival lottery. It’s four weeks to go until impact and the scene takes place in a nice sunny setting where you wouldn’t be aware that something bad was about to happen. But everyone, and I mean everyone is aware something bad is about to happen! It’s a nice sunny peaceful day and many people are going to die! Where is the lawlessness? Where is the panic, the stress, the tension? No, everything is ‘nice here in Washington!’ It just does not make any sense and feels pointless. Meanwhile several underground tunnels have been built for selected people to survive in. I would like to learn more about that, their construction and what it means for the builders, things such as like, well: do they get automatic selection to be in them? It’s like the ships in 2012. Reserved only for the privileged, not the those who work hard. But we don’t get that, we get a nice peaceful view of how peaceful everyone is that they are probably going to die except the privileged few, but everyone is fine with that! Like I said, if it was made now, it would be best made for TV, as it’s length and jumping viewpoints would allow better character development as well as deeper dramatic intrigue. Then when the big thing finally arrives, we get to see how things happen and could be treated to more spectacular viewings of destruction and survival post apocalypse, instead of a major disaster that’s almost embarrassed to be there.
I don’t want to come off as harsh with this film, because, well, in its failings it actually creates additional intrigue and points for discussion! The film is an entertaining watch once you sit down to give it a go, and while some of the film feels like nonsense, there are parts which draw you in and make you want to learn and understand more! I mean, I really want to learn more about the construction of the doomsday tunnels that can hold a million people no problem for two years. I sort of want to see the comet hit the earth, and find out if humanity does survive when they leave the tunnels. It’s not all that bad either as the adverts promise destruction and we get destruction (eventually). We get the tidal wave which today still looks pretty good. The comet hurtling across the sky as Leelee Sobieski and Elijah Wood ride alongside it. There is even a classic image of a bloke reading a newspaper with his back to the disaster, really funny moment. Even the scene of hundreds of helicopters leaving the city is a treat for the eyes. The film also has quite a lot of star power. The cast features an almost stellar cast of actors who were at the time only breaking into the main stream. Tea Leoni would break out from this film, although may have sauntered a little after Jurassic Park 3, but is now back in the spotlight. Elijah Wood was a rising star, having appeared in Flipper two years previously and would of course get his role in The Lord of The Rings films soon after. And then of course we have Morgan Freeman who for many may have been their first experience of the actor who today is now a household name. His breakout role for many probably was the incredible Shawshank Redemption, the film that got everyone noticing him; but it could also be argued that that helped him get roles such as this which then tore down the walls for him to get even bigger and more noticeable work. Shawshank may have introduced him, but Deep impact may have propelled him.
Deep Impact does have it’s problems, issues and niggles; but in that, we get a film which is not crying to be noticed, but is noticed. It was noticed before it was released of course, but when you look deep (pun not intended) into it, and spot its little things, backed up with awe-gripping special effects, and a stellar cast doing their utmost best to deliver, you get a film which while maybe obscured by its stronger rival, can still turn heads to look at it, and give it a chance: a chance to entertain; which for many, is what films are all about!