Deep Impact

The logistics of getting a whole baseball stadium to do the wave are staggering. Imagine trying to get the whole Eastern seaboard of the United States to do the wave simultaneously. That’s the task of director Mimi Leder, who capably brings the first of this season’s two comet movies to the big screen. “Deep Impact” takes a human look at an extinction level event, the threat of a comet the size of Manhattan colliding with Earth.

The scenario is as old as time itself (just ask the dinosaurs), so it’s up to Hollywood to put a new spin on it. It’s a tough sell, especially considering the territory has been covered extensively in films like “When World’s Collide,” “Meteor,” and television’s “Asteroid.” “Deep Impact” is more “When World’s Collide” than “Meteor,” focusing on the human element, while still delivering epic special effects and a cataclysmic finale. Leder, who directed most of the first season of “E.R.,” and became the only female to direct big scale action films with “The Peacemaker,” does a magnificent job of making everything in “Deep Impact” matter.

Working from a literate script by Bruce Joel Rubin (“Ghost”) and Michael Tolkin (“The Player,” “The Rapture”), Leder confidently tells three different stories. The first involves 14-year old student Leo Biederman (a very likeable Elijah Wood), who discovers the comet during a high school science field trip. That night he also discovers comely fellow student Sarah Hotchner (Leelee Sobieski). Thread two follows enthusiastic young reporter Jenny Lerner (Tea Leoni), who believes she’s investigating a story about a White House mistress named Elle.

Her pursuit of the truth worries the President, (Morgan Freeman), who believes she has stumbled onto E.L.E., or their plan to deal with an Extinction Level Event. Once Jenny learns the truth, she is forced to sit on the story until the White House can get all of their ducks in a row. When the official announcement comes, the third story-line kicks in.

It involves a group of astronauts who will venture out into deep space to meet the asteroid, land on it, and implant nuclear bombs into it’s core. The mission is headed up by Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall), the last man to walk on the moon and considered a dinosaur by his younger colleagues. With only a year to impact, and since it will take five months for the astronauts to reach their destination, the government implements a contingency plan that will hopefully save one million Americans. A series of tunnels are built underground to serve as a modern day Noah’s Ark, and a national lotto will determine who gets to go.

While time constraints whittle away at the emotional ballast in “Deep Impact,” what remains on screen is riveting drama. Those expecting a special-effects extravaganza will have to wait for “Armageddon” this summer. “Deep Impact” has something more serious on its mind. It’s not brilliant by any means, but it is effective. Leder and the cast punch all the right buttons, even if they bang on them every now and then.

The scenario is ripe for emotion. What would you do if you knew life could end in a year? What direction would you life take? “Deep Impact” explores the possibilities without insulting the audience. Robert Duvall seems right as the grizzled astronaut who proves that with age comes wisdom. It’s a wonderfully etched performance that holds his third of the film together.

Tea Leoni shows dramatic depth as the fledgling reporter who becomes the nation’s voice of reason. Her efforts to reunite her divorced parents (Maximilian Schell and Vanessa Redgrave) are noble and ultimately courageous. Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski shine as the young lovers who find a way to beat the odds, while Morgan Freeman couldn’t be more perfect as the President. Outstanding tech credits complete the package, which packs quite a wallop for those willing to dismiss it’s shortcomings.

I was enthralled by the film, and especially pleased with the filmmakers savvy to skim over the obvious. Now about that wave.



Morgan Freeman, Robert Duvall, Tea Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Maximilian Schell in a film directed by Mimi Leder. Rated PG-13. 121 Min.


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