Saturday, June 13, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: Armageddon

First written: July 4, 1998

The folks at THX and SDDS sound must be proud. All qualms about story, acting, and editing aside, Armageddon is a masterpiece of sound technology, with every senses-shattering explosion and every bon-crunching thud putting modern sound systems to the test. It's this summer's second big "The asteroids are coming!" disaster epic, following hot on the heels of the surprise hit Deep Impact. Is Armageddon the superior of the two? It's hard to say, to be honest. The two are such widely different vision of the same basic subject matter that watching them in tandem makes for a decidedly eerie moviegoing experience.

The plot is public record by now. A giant asteroid the size of Texas is hurtling towards Earth, and the only hope of stopping it from turning the planet into an intergalactic pitstop lies in the hands of Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) and his heroic team of oil drillers (?). The premise is far-fetched, to say the least. The oil team, when they land on the asteroid, are to drill a nuclear warhead into its center, after which it will explode and detonate the giant rock miles before it reaches Earth. Make no mention of any smaller pieces striking Earth (as are shown at the beginning, to destructive effect) because that would shatter the filmmakers' carefully constructed logic.

Despite the somewhat shaky ground that the movie stands on in plot terms, the performances by the leads go a long way towards making it worthwhile. In addition to Willis, current flavor-of-the-month Ben Affleck plays Willis's sidekick/son-in-law AJ Frost, and Liv Tyler plays his long-suffering daughter (and Affleck's main squeeze). Billy Bob Thornton also appears as the unorthodox commander at Mission Control. Willis plays his role of Stamper much like his numerous other turns as action heroes, but in this instance he brings an aging, world-weariness to the role that the actor wears well.

Affleck too is quite good, making the transition from dramatic actor (Good Will Hunting, Chasing Amy) to action hero surprisingly well. Thornton too makes the most most of his limited screen time. The only liability in the casting arena is Tyler, whose attempt to give her character an air of empowerment and responsibility comes across far too often like arrogance. Her moments with Affleck don't demonstrate much chemistry either, such as a laughable "erotic" scene wherein the comely Tyler is seduced by animal crackers. Trust me, it's as bad as it sounds.

It seems director Michael Bay (Bad Boys, The Rock) has yet to fully fathom the concept of restraint with this, his third motion picture. His hyper jaunty technique of cut, cut, cut leaves the audiences gasping for air, and never lets a scene's impact truly sink in. When his camera does finally slow down, it's to cut to an awkward bit of character-enhancing dialogue that never quite works, because they're all such cardboard cutouts as it is. Still, when not bogged down with forced moments of character "development," and just being a summer blockbuster, Armageddon is imminently watchable, with many of the effects actually quite memorable, and some strong performance by the leads in spite of the mediocre source material. ** (out of five)

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