Armageddon

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Armageddon.
Armageddon, who?

Armageddon off this planet on the next space shuttle.
Honestly, it has not been a good year for the blue planet in general, and New York in particular. First 1,000 foot high tidal waves clean the streets in “Deep Impact,” and then “Godzilla” takes a bite out of the big apple. Now comes “Armageddon,” which impressively lays to waste Manhattan with one spectacular asteroid blow after another.


First Grand Central station takes a hit during rush hour, then the Chrysler Building is severed at the top, spiraling down to the streets below like a giant lawn dart that got away from the Gods. armageddondPerhaps it’s payback for buying the island for $24 and some beads. The New York strike kick-starts “Armageddon,” the second film this summer to deal with a Global Killer heading towards Earth. The third if you count the Pia Zadora films they launched into space years ago and should now be making an re-entry. Spectacular and epic, “Armageddon” is $140 million worth of gee whiz and knuckle gripping suspense, but is also long in the tooth and subjects the heroes to more close calls than Charles Nelson Reilly in today’s Army. Whereas “Deep Impact” took a more cerebral approach to the end of mankind, “Armageddon” is all muscle and machine. “Armageddon” is also pretty silly when you think about it, and that’s where you’re bound to get in trouble.

This is one film that doesn’t just require, but demands that you leave common sense and logic at the door. It’s not a tall order, as director Michael Bay (“The Rock”) knows how to pump up the action to a dizzying level. There’s enough diversion and good old American patriotism on show to entertain and eventually overwhelm even the most demanding audience member. It took no less than seven writers to put all of the cliched pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together, and their effort seems trite and overbearing in moments.

It’s the hard working cast that drives the plot and makes all of this work without sounding or appearing too hokey. Bruce Willis shines as roughneck extraordinare Harry S. Stamper, who ends up spearheading NASA’s plan to send a crew of oil rig workers to the asteroid so they can drill a hole, drop a nuclear warhead, and blow the menace up. Willis does just fine as the reluctant hero always trying to keep an eye on his beautiful daughter, Grace (Liv Tyler). Now an adult, Grace has eyes for A.J. (Ben Affleck), Stamper’s assistant. Stamper’s cartoonish behavior when he catches the two together sets the tone for the rest of the film. With only eighteen days until impact, Stamper and his team join a group of astronauts, who blast off in two space shuttles to reach complete the mission.

The first half of the film takes place on Earth, where we watch this rag-tag crew prepare to save the world. The second half takes place in space, where Bay and his special effects teams deliver the goods. Dodging space debris, a fault Russian space station and asteroid earthquakes, the crew manages to make it to their destination, but not without cost to life and machinery. Bay emphasizes the immediacy of the situation with quick edits that work during the action sequences but drain the drama of any emotional impact. That’s too bad, because the romantic scenes between Affleck (very heroic here) and Tyler (lovely to look at) seem to have some chemistry. Borrowing heavily from “The Dirty Dozen,” the oil riggers are a varied group, each one assigned a characteristic that makes them vital to the voyage. Billy Bob Thornton commands the screen back on Earth as NASA’s bull rider. Regardless of the flaws, “Armageddon” manages to be a lot of fun, and the special effects are indeed special.

The last hour of the film alone is one jaw-dropping set piece after another. If you can manage to slip your brain into low gear, you’ll find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat as the film plays out. Those looking for something more substantial will be sadly disappointed. I wasn’t.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

The RSDL disc features some of the sharpest images I have seen. Sensational color saturation fills the screen with pleasing blues, striking reds, soothing greens, and flattering flesh tones. The earth tones are realistic and natural, while the blacks are so solid they absorb light. Delivered in the film’s majestic 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, the transfer is as clean as they come, with no compression artifacts or pixelation. Even difficult patterns hold up well. The “Armageddon” DVD features distinct detail, and great depth of field.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

That thunderous sound you hear and the rattling of your windows isn’t an asteroid plowing into the earth, but the DVD’s ambitious 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track making full use of your sound system. I expected nothing less than perfection from the meticulously crafted sound track, and was never disappointed. The thundering basses literally knock you out of your seat. Thank goodness the dialogue mix is strong, otherwise it would get lost in the chaos that permeates the film. The stereo separation and definition is supreme, coming at you from all different directions. The ambient noise is especially pleasing, putting you in the middle of the action. I didn’t notice any hiss or distortion, but I had the sound cranked up so high that my room was literally pulling down several G’s. There’s also a French language track.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed captions in English for the hard of hearing.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

The “Armageddon” DVD features both the original theatrical and teaser trailers, plus the music video of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” and a Sony Music plug for the soundtrack album. The main and scene access menus are ordinary yet functional. I also hate the fact that you can’t jump between soundtracks without going through the main access menu first.

PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

Strap on your seatbelts and prepare for one hell of a ride.

VITALS: $29.99/Rated PG-13/151 Minutes/Color/RSDL/27 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#15639

DATE EXAMINED: January 7, 1999

PATIENT RELEASED: January 5, 1999

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: ARMAGEDDON

BIRTH DATE: 1998

HMO: Touchstone Home Video



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