In which Gerry Hayes beats up Elijah Wood to steal his salvation-ticket for the comet-shelter. Wood’s only short and if Hayes can avoid his massive feet, he should be ok…
Deep Impact, 1998.
Directed by Mimi Leder.
Starring Téa Leoni, Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood, Morgan Freeman, Leelee Sobieski
Written by Bruce Joe Rubin and Michael Tolkin.
Ahh, the nostalgia. The summer of the big-bastard-rock-hitting-the-earth movies. Armageddon was all flashy and Aerosmithy and Burce Willisy while Deep Impact was the serious one, the thinking man’s disaster movie. Well, if for ‘serious’ you mean ‘exceedingly dull and dour’ and if for ‘thinking man’ you mean ‘easily entertained simpleton’ then this statement is true. Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not saying that Armageddon’s any good but at least it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Deep Impact wants to transcend action/disaster movies and be a human drama. Noble but awful.
Wood plays Leo Biederman, a geek who, while peering through his telescope at the wonders of the night sky, spots a comet. At the same time, a real astronomer, named Wolf, also spots it. Wolf seems unable to operate most forms of modern communications equipment and speeds off in his car to tell people of his discovery. He crashes and dies for no good plot reason (as his news obviously gets out and the comet is called Wolf-Biederman in honour of him and Leo).
Leoni is Jenny Lerner, a dour-faced, reporter for MSNBC. (This is the MSNBC movie, you see. I’d hazard that the logo is on the screen for at least a third of the film. And if it’s not, then it’s Internet Explorer, or Smirnoff, or Rothmans, or other ads ad nauseam. Deep Impact was, for me, one of the first films where the product placement became so prominent it kept taking me out of the movie). Lerner is investigating a politician’s affair with someone called Ellie but, wouldn’t you know it, her sources are wrong and Ellie is really ELE or Extinction Level Event – there’s a frickin’ comet heading straight at us, run people, RUN!
But nobody runs much in this film. Even when faced with certain, fiery – or watery – death, most people remain slow and polite instead of regressing to looting, stealing, murdering, bastards as, in real-life, most of them do at the drop of a hat.
Then there’s Duvall. He’s an astronaut who’s not respected by his younger and cockier crew even though he once flew a rocket or something. He and his crew, after a tearful goodbye scene lasting at least forty minutes, fly off on a spaceship to blow up the comet in a, massively-convoluted, massively-ridiculous, action scene filled with special-effects. They make an arse of it and just blow the comet into two chunks, both still bound for Earth, instead.
Back on Earth, Morgan Freeman is the president and he’s been building a huge hole in the ground where a million people will live in order that the human race survive the ELE. Other than the scientists and engineers needed to run the hole (read friends and mistresses of the administration), they hold a lottery to decide who’ll get to go. Little Leo Biederman doesn’t need to win though. He gets a ticket just because he spotted the damn comet that’s going to wipe out the world. When you think about it, it’s mostly his fault. Get him! Kill the witch geek!
Leo has a crush on Sobieski, who plays Sarah, and he uses his salvation ticket to cajole her into marrying him so she can be saved too. These sorts of comet-destroying-the-earth-weddings rarely work and two minutes later, she’s remembered that she’s too good for Little Leo and has decided that she’d rather stay with her parents and die horribly than go live in a hole with Leo. Her parents seem to concur.
You see? You see the human element?
It get’s better. Miss MSNBC herself, Jenny, gives up her salvation ticket too. She drives off to the beach to reconcile with her dad. They both hug and get hit in the face by an enormous tidal wave caused by the smaller comet chunk landing – sorry, impacting – in the ocean. Incidentally, they called the smaller chunk of comet Biederman after Little Leo. I’d be pissed off.
It’s the Wolf chunk that’s the problem though. That’s the biggie. Luckily, the astronauts, who seem to have been following the comet home but doing nothing about it for the last five months, remember that they’ve got some leftover nukes. They fly into a hole in the comet and blow it, and themselves, up at the last minute, turning the comet into teeny-tiny bits that look just like fireworks in the sky. Hurrah for our way of life, whatever that is.
I was surprised, when I checked, to see that Deep Impact is two hours long. It felt much longer. It isn’t a special effects, action blockbuster and, like in last week’s column, perhaps it should be praised for that. The problem is that what drama it has is slow moving and wearisome. It doesn’t have enough to say about life and the human condition to carry the 110 minutes when there are no spaceships or comet impacts. And that’s why it’s here.
It did make me what to get my news from MSNBC though.
Read more I Sat Through That? right here.
Gerry Hayes is a garret-dwelling writer subsisting on tea, beer and Flame-Grilled Steak flavour McCoy’s crisps. You can read about other stuff he doesn’t like on his blog at http://stareintospace.com or you can have easy, bite-sized bits of him at http://twitter.com/gerryhayes