October 10, 2011

Reviews in Retrograde: Armageddon

Critical Outcast isn't my first attempt at a website, I had a few stutter steps in the late 1990's and early 2000's. These attempts generated a whole bunch of poorly written, often very short and spoilerific reviews. I recently stumbled upon them in my archives and thought you may be interested in seeing some of these early attempts at writing. They are as they were then, I make no apologies for how bad or how short they are. Feel free to have at them with reckless abandon! I present to you: Reviews in Retrograde.

Due to a shuttle's unfortunate demise in outer space, NASA becomes aware of a doomsday asteroid that is on a collision course with Earth. It seems that the only way to knock it off course is to drill into its surface and detonate a nuclear weapon. But as NASA's under-funded yet resourceful team train the world's best drillers for the job, the social order of the world begins to break down as the information reaches the public and hysteria results. As high-ranking officials play politics with the effort, the drilling team all faces deep personal issues which may jeopardize humanity's last chance...

First let me say that this movie was visual feast, and best described by Roger Ebert as being "a feature length trailer." You could take almost an thirty second chunk and make it into a commercial. As visual effects go it was amazing. Michael Bay is a talented director who knows how to take a movie and give it a high coating of gloss. i would like to see Bay take on a film with a better story, he has already proved himself with action with his two prior outings, Bad Boys and The Rock.

The movie is about an asteriod that is about to hit the Earth and act as a Global Killer, simply, we're all going to die. The government says that our only hope is to blow it up by drilling a couple of nukes into it. Who better to do this, than action hero extraordinaire Bruce Willis, and his rag tag team of deep core oil drillers. We all know this is going to work, who want's to see the Earth destroyed? not very exciting is it. So, they pin their hopes on getting us to feel for the characters, who lives, who dies, who loves who, and so on and so forth. That is one side of the story, next we have the drilling team, and their story of compadreship and such.

This brings us to the characters. All are your standard action film stereotypes, think Con Air in space. You have the gritty boss Harry Stamper played by the previously mentioned Bruce Willis. This character has problems, his best worker is in love with his daughter, and he has to save the world. My main problem with the guy is how he can go from one feeling to another without missing a beat, he can go from trying to kill AJ(Affleck) to wanting to be his father, both with the same facial expression.

Next up is A.J. Frost played by sometimes good, sometimes not Ben Affleck. Ben is an excellent actor, just not here. He is Stamper's top driller, but he's also a hotshot who loves his daughter. Affleck seems forced and unnatural most of the time, trying to be the posturing wisecracking action hero he's not. The last of the main three is Truman, the mission control leader, played by Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton is an excellent actor(especially considering what he did in Sling Blade), This role is exactly the same one that Ed Harris played in Apollo 13. Thornton comes trough well and is effective when he is on screen, actually displaying some ability in the midst of mediocrity. Don't worry only two more characters to go....

Next up is Rockhound, played by the always wonderful Steve Buscemi, who was last seen at your local bowling alley in The Big Lebowski. Rockhound is a quirky, odd looking man who likes woman, and playing with big drills. One of the more interesting characters(and my favorite of the group) with his sarcastic humor, and the onset of so-called 'space-dementia.' Buscemi plays him perfectly, Buscemi has a knack for making great characters out of roles that would otherwise be rather bland.

And finally there's Grace Stamper, played by the lovely Liv Tyler. Unfortunately she's not on the top of her game. She comes across unconvincing, and not completely comfortable in the role. The character was named appropriately, since she was A.J.'s saving grace, in a manner of speaking.
As for problems with the film itself. Sitting in the theater I sat back and loved every adrenalin filled minute of this visual feast. But the minute I tried to put sense to it, it completely fell apart. As pure eye candy I liked it, just don't analyze the story.

Possible spoilers.

I don't know if this is spoilered or not, but I decided I did not want to take that chance for those who haven't seen it.

One problem is right at the beginning, the exciting decimation of Manhatten while really cool to look at, it is never mentioned again, as if no one noticed that a major city just got wrecked. Another problem was selective gravity on the asteroid, only when they needed the illusion of weightlessness, was it there, other than that, they walked around as if they were on Earth. This is shown mainly when they need to have a transport(which for some reason is equipped with machine guns??) jump over a jagged canyon. Another minor quibble

were the romantic underpinnings with Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler, it appeared they were only tossed together for their looks, as the scenes they shared were so phony, you could see right through them, especially the animal cracker scene, totally bogus.

As for my two biggest complaints. One was the scene with the bomb. First why does every bomb have to have a big digital readout? The answer, only for the audience, or else there is no reason to have it, normally no one would be around to read it. This leads directly to Colonel William Sharp's(William Fichtner) inability to perform his job. He was a military bomb expert, on the flight because he knew about the nuke on board, but when it comes to disarm the bomb he hasn't a clue as to how to do it, it's not like it was a terrorist bomb, it was one of his, HIS.This was annoying, as he succeeds in disarming it by pure luck. And

second was, fittingly, the second nuke. Two nukes went up, one in each of the shuttles, when they get there one shuttle invariably crashes, shifting the focus to one team, rather than splitting the drill time. The problem arises when Mission Control decides to remote detonate the nukes(Ooooh, rising drama). This would be both nukes, right? Of course not, as soon as the first shuttle crashes it is forgotten, but one would assume that when the detonate order goes through it was for the planned two nukes? Nope, only the one with the important team, in my opinion they should have all been blown sky high, but that wouldn't have made for good patriotic entertainment.

What it comes down to, is that I ultimately give this film two ratings, one is my regular film rating, how I thought of it as a film, the second is special because I am a sucker for an adrenalin filled visual feast such as this. I recommend this to people who wish to be blown away visually, but if you want a good asteroid film ,with a better story and characters, check out Deep Impact, while not perfect it was a better movie.

Visually spectacular, and spectacularly dumb, Shut your brain down and enjoy. You've been warned.

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