Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, May 26, 2018


Hollywood learns nothing. In 1997, two volcano movies appeared, vying for the public's time and dollars. While both “Dante's Peak” and “Volcano” made money, I imagine either film would've been more successful without loosing their novelty factor to a similar project. In 1998, we'd get another pair of dueling disaster movies. This time the theme was Earth being struck by a massive asteroid and the potential extinction level event that would follow. The first of the two to hit theaters was “Deep Impact.” Originally intended for Steven Spielberg, the film would instead be directed by Mimi Lender. It would take a vastly different approach to the material than the summer's other asteroid movie. In fact, “Deep Impact's” dour and humanistic style is very different from most disaster movies.

Teenager Leo Biederman is looking through a telescope on a school trip when he notices an odd shape in the sky. He takes a picture and sends it to an astronomer. Upon seeing the photo, the scientist realizes the object is a comet on course to hit Earth. A year later, a reporter from MSNBC accidentally discovers the government is planning a secret mission to destroy the comet. The President is forced to make a public announcement. As a team of astronauts are sent to land on the object and explode it from the inside out with a nuclear bomb, the people of Earth deal with the possibility of their impending doom.

“Deep Impact” is a little more thoughtful than your usual disaster movie. The film attempts to realistically depict how the world would react to news of an apocalyptic collision. There is rioting in the streets, though its only mentioned in passing. Leo, the closest thing the film's ensemble cast has to a hero, marries his teenage girlfriend. Jenny Lerner, the news reporter who functions as the film's secondary protagonist, reconciles with her deadbeat dad. The two have a scene where they hug each other on a beach right before being wiped out by a massive wave. A lottery is drawn to place survivors into an underground cavern, safe from the blast. The random nature of the lottery ensures that some are left behind. The President has to deal with informing the country of its potential destruction. It's a heavy subject and one “Deep Impact” breaches with some sensitivity.

In fact, “Deep Impact” is so determined to be a serious examination of the apocalypse, that it's often a dour slog. This is most apparent in the scenes devoted to the rescue mission. The astronauts all fit established character types, with Robert Duvall appearing as the grizzled but wise veteran. The scenes of the astronauts landing on the comet, digging the tunnel, and risking life and limb are shot in an almost detached manner. When the mission inevitably goes wrong, an astronaut getting blinded and the explosion being less effective than envisioned, it feels expected. At least the scenes on Earth have a human element to them. The space scenes really feel like the movie is just going through the motions. When the astronauts sacrifice themselves, to destroy the bigger comet and save most of Earth, this too feels routine.

Besides, we know the mission is going to at least partially fail because a big rock hitting Earth is on the poster. The trailer was full of destruction. “Deep Impact” is one of those late nineties blockbusters that banked heavily on then groundbreaking but now antiquated CGI effects. The shots devoted to the space shuttle landing on the asteroid look pretty good. The shots of the comet flying through space, glowing blue and red, are not quite as good. When the rock inevitably hits the Earth, tossing up a huge tidal wave and completely destroying the East coast, the limitations of 1998-era CGI becomes apparent. The giant wall of water is not convincing looking. The shots of New York City getting washed away do not hold up. Like many disaster movies of this era, “Deep Impact's” need to wipe out millions of lives and then follow up with a sentimental ending rubs me the wrong way.

“Deep Impact” did gift us with something: Morgan Freeman playing the President of the United States. Beyond the obvious gravitas Freeman brings to the role, he's genuinely good as a man struggling to prepare for the worst case scenario. Elijah Wood is relatable as the teenager caught in the disaster. I wish Leelee Sobeiski was given more to do as his love interest. Tea Leoni is somewhat flat but gets a few touching moments as the reporter. Maximilian Schell and Vanessa Redgrave are underutilized as her parents. James Cromwell makes his one scene count, as the Secretary of the Treasury shaken by loss. Rounding out the star-studded cast are Jon Favreau and nearly-Wolverine Dougray Scott (as two of the astronauts), Kurtwood Smith (as a ground control guy), and Denise Crosby (as Leelee Sobieski's mom.)

Ultimately, “Deep Impact” is more interesting in conception than execution. Lender's direction is solid, the cast is strong, and the idea of a (relatively) realistic disaster movie has merit. However, the film is a sometimes glum watch and not in an especially meaningful way. It's telling the same sort of story you expect from the genre, about the perseverance of the human spirit and people coming together in a terrible time, but with more pretensions. Occasionally, the film touches upon something special, such as that moment on the beach. It's a decent watch all together. However, “Deep Impact” does not have the strength to back up its ambitions. [6.5/10]

[] Awards Bait Ballad
[] Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures
[X] Destruction of Famous Landmarks
[X] Grim Predictions
[X] Group In-Fighting
[X] Heroic Sacrifices
[X] Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
[] Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
[] Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
[X] Star-Studded Cast

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