“We watched as the bombs shattered the second comet into a million pieces of ice and rock that burned harmlessly in our atmosphere and lit up the sky for an hour. Still, we were left with the devastation of the first. The waters reached as far inland as the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys. It washed away farms and towns, forests and skyscrapers. But the waters receded. The wave hit Europe and Africa too. Millions were lost, and countless more left homeless. But the waters receded. Cities fall, but they are rebuilt. And heroes die, but they are remembered. We honor them with every brick we lay, with every field we sow, with every child we comfort, and then teach to rejoice in what we have been re-given. Our planet. Our home. So now, let us begin.”
It all started when Steven King wanted to remake the sci-fi cult classic When Worlds Collide. These films must have been favorites to him, as he would indeed go on to remake George Pal’s better known film War Of The Worlds and the Robert Wise classic The Day The Earth Stood Still. But it just never really happened for When Worlds Collide, at least not directly. At the same time Spielberg had optioned The Hammer Of God by Arthur C Clarke of 2001 fame. That book dealt with the deflection of an asteroid on a collision course with Earth using thermonuclear rockets. Somewhere in that time he decided to put the plots together, and the result was Deep Impact, with an “original” screenplay by Michael Tolkin and Bruce Joel Rubin. By then Spielberg wasn’t interesting in directing the feature, but acted as one of the film’s producers with Mimi Leder in the director’s chair. She was somewhat of a risk. Leder had never directed a big-budget film before. In fact, all but one of her previous credits were for television, directing shows like China Beach and L.A. Law. The risk paid off, and she did quite a good job with the film for the most part. There are certainly some pacing issues, but the film was well received as it raced to beat another film with pretty much the same plot to the box office. That other film was Bruce Willis’s Armageddon, and Deep Impact beat it by two months.
MSNBC reporter Jenny Lerner is ambitious and wants to be an on-air anchor. She thinks she’s stumbled onto a scoop story. One of the President’s cabinet members is resigning, supposedly because his wife is sick, but Lerner has heard he has been having and affair with a woman named Elly. When she confronts Rittenhouse (Cromwell), she starts to realize the story might be larger, and the President (Freeman) might be the one having the affair. She’s picked up by Secret Service agents and brought to see the President himself. She bluffs her way into the story and forces the administration to go public much sooner than they intended. There isn’t a girl named Elly. It’s ELE, or Extinction Level Event, that has been discussed on these hush-hush calls. At the press conference, Lerner and the whole world learn there is a comet heading straight for Earth. The comet was discovered by teen Leo Biederman (Wood) and an astronomer Dr. Marcus Wolf (Smith) who dies in a crash trying to get the info out there. So the comet is named Wolf Biederman, and it could destroy all life on Earth.
The film is pretty much broken up into two very distinctive parts. The first hour covers the discovery of the comet and a mission to send astronauts in the largest spaceship ever built to land on the comet and plant nuclear devices to blow the comet in harmless little pieces. The astronauts involved include moon landing veteran Spurgeon Tanner (Duvall), Gus Partenza (Favreau), Mark Simon (Underwood), Andrea Baker (McCormack), and Oren Monash (Eldard). The young guys aren’t so happy to have the old guy along, but of course he proves his worth when it counts. It’s no spoiler that the mission fails. There’s still an hour of film left, so that cat’s pretty much out of the bag. The comet was split into a smaller and larger piece by the failed mission.
The second hour deals with the consequences of failure. Here’s where When Worlds Collide is the greatest influence, while the first hour leans more on Hammer Of God. Like When Worlds Collide, a plan is put in place to decide who gets to survive. There’s a massive cave system that can support a million people for the two years it is expected to take for the ash to clear. 200,000 are pre-selected, while 800,000 are selected by a computer lottery, but no one over 50 is going to be chosen. Here’s where the disaster film elements come into play. Most of the destruction is portrayed by tidal waves when the first smaller piece hits. Here the story deals with characters trying to get back to loved ones. Leo is trying to get to his girlfriend, whom he married to try to get her on the list. But Sarah (Sobieski) decided to take her chances to be with her parents. Lerner tries to get to her mother, played by Vanessa Redgrave, and we get a lot of tidal wave destruction. Meanwhile the astronauts decide to take a brave action to protect Earth from the larger ELE piece of the comet.
This is an A cast down the line, starting with Morgan Freeman as the President. He’s perfect in the role. Freeman has the ability to express the cold nature of authority in an impossible situation, and he’s got those subtle touches of sorrow and the result of the burden he carries. It’s quite an exceptional performance. This would not be the last film that Elijah Wood will appear written by a writer named Tolkin, even if it’s spelled differently. He’s so much younger here, and you see flashes of what’s to come. Tea Leoni plays it pretty much straight and is believable throughout. Robert Duvall is always a master at the craft, and this performance is no different.
The f/x run pretty much what you might expect in 1998. I’m afraid we’ve become so jaded that they won’t really hold up, particularly in ultra-high-definition. Still, it’s a background noise that really supports a lot of emotional character beats, so I’m not sure I really minded at all. It’s very much a film of its time at a moment when computer-generated images were about to take quantum leaps into photo-realistic images.
Deep Impact is presented in a slightly altered 2.35:1 from an original 2.39:1. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 50 mbps. The film was shot on 35mm so is native 4K. There has also been no extensive restoration here, and it shows. The problem with this image is that it shows off the aged f/x. The human stuff looks great. Colors are pretty much reference but the space shots and the last act aren’t really holding up under this kind of resolution. There’s some black crush and pretty much average black levels. This is pretty disappointing when compared to other Paramount 4K releases
The Dolby Digitah-HD 5.1 track is also pretty average. There’s not a lot of sub bottom here and that really hurts the big disaster scenes. The dialog comes through as does the dialog but don’t expect a lot here. It might very well be the same audio as the older Blu-rays.
The extras are found one on each disc with various compiled audio commentaries.
Evil Lost & Found: (17:05) This 2008 feature talks mostly about the memo and the reconstructed version of the film.
Bringing Evil To Life: (20:59) This feature is more an historical look behind the scenes and also touches on the reconstructed film.
Director o Photography Dietrich Lohmann was suffering from leukemia during the shoot and died soon after the film’s release. It would be his final film, and while he didn’t pass until November, the film included a dedication to the cinematographer. The summer of 1998 would see two films on this subject released, and both actually did pretty well at the box office. Deep Impact brought in $350 million, while Armageddon pulled in $550 million and did better worldwide, while Deep Impact did better domestically. More would come in later years. No matter how many times Earth takes a beating on film, “Life goes on.”