“This is the Earth at a time when dinosaurs roamed a lush and fertile planet. A piece of rock just six miles wide changed all of that. It hit with the force of 10,000 nuclear weapons. A trillion tons of dirt and rock hurtled into the atmosphere, creating a suffocating blanket of dust that the sun was powerless to penetrate for a thousand years. It happened before. It will happen again. It’s just a question of when.”
When was 1998 with the summertime blockbuster movie Armageddon. This film was the poster child for summer tent pole movies. It had everything to combat any of those summertime blues. There was adrenaline-pumping action and adventure. We got to witness groundbreaking, for the time, special effects. Who can beat the threat of global devastation and a ragtag team of unlikely heroes sent to save the day? There’s space travel and plenty of explosions. The movie sported an all-star cast. There’s even a classic red or blue wire moment. And, of course, there were computer generated lifelike dinosaurs munching on the panicked citizenry. Okay, so I made that last part up. There were no dinosaurs. But, who would dare to deny this was a film loaded for box office bucks? It was often hounded by the critics for being somewhat unbelievable. There were also the usual complaints of a thin plot covered over by a huge spectacle. And every one of those accusations is dead on true. Who cares? This was an imaginative amusement park ride from beginning to end. It was never intended to do anything more than entertain. And entertain it did in the summer of 1998. And, entertain it continues to do today on a sweet Blu-ray high definition release. The theatergoers agreed with me then to the tune of $201 million at the box office and $350 million worldwide. Consider that this reviewer accounted for about 8 bucks of that money. If I hadn’t gotten an advance copy of the Blu-ray, I would have been in line to relive the fun in glorious high definition. Since I already have mine, it means I saved you a place in line. Don’t blow it.
“They’ll do it for love, for honor, for mankind.”
The unthinkable has just happened. An asteroid the size of Texas is heading our way. It is already sending a few of its little asteroid friends ahead of the pack to do some recon damage on fragile planet Earth. But these disasters are nothing compared to the extinction event the mother asteroid is going to create if it hits us anywhere at all. The only way to stop it is to send a drilling team to land on the rock. They must drill 800 feet below the surface and then implant a nuclear device that will split the rock and send the halves in opposite directions around the Earth. No one knows drilling better than Harry Stamper (Willis) and his motley crew of roughnecks. NASA executive Dan Truman (Thornton) has the unenviable task of recruiting and training the team to do the job. Let’s just say these guys are used to living in seclusion and out in the middle of nowhere. They aren’t exactly socialized. They have 12 days to train before they must launch to intercept the asteroid before it reach the terminus line, the point where the planet is SOL. They’ll do it for all of those reasons above, and the opportunity to never pay taxes again. Sweet deal. Now all they have to do is survive long enough for the job to pay off.
Once in space, it seems nothing goes as planned. They dock with the Mir Space Station for fuel only to have it explode, allowing them to escape by the skin of their teeth. One thing after another goes wrong, and the trip puts the audience on the edge of their seats. It’s real save-the-planet stuff, and they didn’t even have to carpool.
This is not merely a special effects extravaganza. The cast in this movie is a solid group of actors who deliver some memorable characters. It’s all led off with proven action talent Bruce Willis. He plays Harry. Harry is more than an expert driller. He’s an overprotective father who is having trouble dealing with his daughter, played by Liv Tyler, falling in love with his right hand man A.J. (Affleck). There is a great scene in the beginning of the film where Harry catches the two of them in bed. The reactions from Willis are priceless. Then he proceeds to, rather calmly, chase A.J. around the oil rig with a shotgun. Willis plays it perfectly. His stoic, matter-of-fact demeanor clashes comically with his attempt to shoot his daughter’s lover. Ben Affleck also delivers one of his better performances here. I often find that Affleck appears to be trying too hard to be whatever it is he’s supposed to be. Here he is as natural as I’ve seen him. He’s the young arrogant up and comer in the drilling business whom Harry’s treated like a son. The two share a nice dynamic throughout the piece. This was the very first movie I saw Liv Tyler in. I was amazed that such beauty came from one of the ugliest rockers on the planet. I’m talking, of course, about Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. From here to The Lord of the Rings, she carries herself with a certain grace that always seems to help to make her characters compelling no matter how small the part. The rest of the crew includes Owen Wilson as Oscar. Wilson pretty much plays himself here. He’s charming and somewhat naive. Steve Buscemi plays the genius, Rockhound, who has zero social skills. His one-liners here are the comic relief of the film. He gets a crazy scene on the asteroid where he goes “space sick” and almost takes out everyone else with a mounted machine gun. Will Patton is the quiet reserved member of the crew, Chick. He’s often Harry’s calmer voice of reason. Michael Clarke Duncan is always an imposing presence with his intimidating frame and deep bass voice. He plays the appropriately-named Bear in the movie. His character has a tenderness that works with his fortified build. Peter Stormare gets more of the comic relief as Russian Cosmonaut Andropov. They encounter him on the Mir, and with its destruction, he tags along for the mission. He gets a lot of time with Ben Affleck, and the two play off each other very nicely indeed. Prison Break‘s William Fichtner gets a nice stint as Colonel Sharp, the mission commander and one of the shuttle pilots. Finally, we get another strong performance out of Billy Bob Thornton. He’s actually underused here. He gets to stay behind at mission control and try to run a little interference for the boys. For such an f/x laden tent pole film, cast and characters are huge here as well.
A year later a story very much like this one would come along starring Clint Eastwood, James Garner and Tommy Lee Jones called Space Cowboys. I gotta believe the news of that film influenced this one somewhat. There seem to be a lot of mentions with a wink toward the term cowboy here. Actually, they’re not really the same. Oh hell, sure they are. Can you believe I like them both anyway? So here’s hoping Warner sends me that Space Cowboys Blu-ray in June.
Armageddon is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30-35 mbps. You’re going to like this transfer. It’s a wonderful video presentation with a rock-solid bit rate. The sharpness you’ll encounter might just put a new spin on your opinion of this movie. Quite honestly, I found the f/x to hold up better than I expected. They might be 12 years old by now, but they stand up to the close inspection only now made possible in this high definition release. Black levels are remarkably solid and deep. Flesh tones and the close-ups provide some of the finest detail and natural color here. Sometimes the action is so fast that the f/x show a bit of a blurring effect, but not enough to change my mind overall that this is a solid image pretty much all the way around.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 fills your room just right. The subs work overtime here with all of those asteroid impacts and space mishaps. There’s plenty of high-energy score and ambient sounds to give you what you’re looking for here. The dialog is never overcome by all of the excitement. So you’ll hear every word just fine. It’s a high-end mix as far as I’m concerned. You’ll get plenty of punch out of it, I’m sure. There was just one flaw, however. Just under the two hour mark there appears to be a speed control issue with the score. Not sure what’s going on, but something there just ain’t right.
Music Video: (4:59) Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”.
I often take a lot of heat for my enthusiasm for this movie. Since my first experience in the movies, I’ve been a fan. I still think it beats out the latest wave of disaster films that include 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. Somehow those films forgot to let the audience have some fun. What’s the potential end of civilization as we know it without a few laughs, anyway? Hollywood takes itself too seriously, especially with their doomsday scenarios. We’ve gotten so caught up in the myths about global warming that we seem to have a duty to be scared out of our wits. Chill out. Relax. After all, it’s only the end of the world. For all of you guys who ride me over enjoying this movie, I just have this final thing to say, “I understand that you were handicapped by a natural immaturity, and I forgive you.”