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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Armageddon (1998)



Reviews and Comments

High-powered summer action special effects blockbuster extravaganzas don't have to be bad. Jurassic Park was a thrilling, awe-inspiring visual and visceral feast. As recently as 1997's Con Air and Air Force One, it was shown that heaping doses of adrenaline don't preclude a good story and at least enough characterization for the audience to care what happens. Sometimes critics choke on even the best of these for their shallowness in comparison with more meaty films, but it's hard to deny that a good action movie can attain a level of spectacle and excitement works of other genres can't. A good action movie will encourage you to suspend your disbelief. A bad action movie will insult your intelligence and leave a foul taste behind.

Armageddon is the culmination of everything bad about high-action special effects flicks. There isn't any reason to care about the characters on the screen, and the result is an utter lack of tension of any kind. Furthermore, the science in the movie is more laughably inaccurate than in any movie I ever remember seeing. An asteroid the size of Texas is heading for the earth, so they're going to divert its course by drilling a scant 800 feet down and detonating a nuclear weapon in it? If you detonate a nuclear weapon underground in Texas, is it really going to break the whole thing up? How do they know it will break in two pieces which will be pushed to either side? A comparatively tiny fragment of this asteroid could hit earth and still destroy the world. It's hard to root for the successful completion of the task at hand when you know it's never going to work.

Another atrocity is director Michael Bay's fast cut editing. It was irritating in The Rock, but somehow that movie's pacing still worked. Here the editing style is so choppy that it would have sabotaged all opportunities for character development had the script not already done so. During the action scenes, particularly the one aboard the Russian space station, the editing is disorienting. It is next to impossible to determine any of what's going on, so instead of tension there is only confusion. The most basic and important goal of editing is to make sure the audience knows what the heck is going on.

After the movie is over, what's left? Not much. I was almost relieved that this loud, screaming, obnoxious movie was over. There was no sense of satisfaction. The victory over the asteroid, as I say, would never happen, and the resolution of the human "drama" was manufactured, shallow, and unfeeling. I did like Billy Bob Thornton's performance and some of the special effects (the ones of meteor showers on Earth in particular) were pretty impressive -- but even then, there were some poor and obviously computer generated effects that perhaps the choppy editing style was designed to cover up. I sincerely hope the blockbusters to come employ some substance to generate the frenetic levels of energy and tension that action and special effects are so often mistakenly thought to be capable of by themselves.