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ARMAGEDDON, 1998
Movie Review


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ARMAGEDDON MOVIE POSTER
ARMAGEDDON, 1998
Movie Reviews

Directed by Michael Bay
Starring: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Will Patton, Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson, Michael Clarke Duncan
Review by Christopher Stacey



SYNOPSIS:

When an asteroid the size of Texas is headed for Earth the world's best deep core drilling team is sent to nuke the rock from the inside.

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REVIEW:

Armageddon, directed by Michael Bay, was the tentpole megahit of the summer of 1998. It featured a huge cast and dazzling, big-budget special effects. Yet, after peeling back the layers, one is left looking for a plausible story.

Apocalyptic disaster movies that hint at the end of the world are nothing new to Hollywood, and the notion that a giant meteor could end all life on Earth is rooted in reality. In fact, another meteor-ending-all-life movie, Deep Impact, was released just months apart from Armageddon. So, both are supported by the history of our planet, but Armageddon takes far too many unrealistic twists and turns.

As the film begins, Space Shuttle Atlantis, in orbit, is destroyed by a meteor shower. We are quickly introduced to Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton), the boss at NASA’s Mission Control. This character quickly establishes the familiar pattern of Michael Bay movies in which the supporting roles are more interesting, better developed and more appropriately cast than the leading roles. We’re then acquainted with two annoying, pointless minor characters, the couple of Dottie and Karl, an amateur astronomer, who sees the meteor shower.

The meteor shower hits New York City in an action sequence that we’ve come to expect from a Michael Bay movie. One must wonder, though, when filmmakers will quit trying to invent new ways to destroy the Big Apple. Indeed, Armageddon wasn’t even the first big movie of 1998 to destroy New York. That distinction would belong to Godzilla. Moreover, the images of the World Trade Center in ruins are now disturbing, and I would assume said images are edited out of TV broadcasts of Armageddon.

Truman informs the President (Stanley Anderson) that the asteroid is the size of Texas and is “a global killer. The end of mankind.” The ticking clock is set in motion as we learn that it will hit in eighteen days.

The story moves to an oil rig operated by Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis). Harry has an antagonistic relationship with his assistant, the young A.J. Frost (Ben Affleck). The antagonism turns to outright violent hostility when Harry learns that A.J. and Stamper’s daugther, Grace (Liv Tyler), are a couple. We meet Stamper’s crew, a dizzying number of supporting characters, including Chick Chapple (Will Patton), Rockhound (Steve Buscemi), “Bear” Kurleenbear (Michael Clarke Duncan), Oscar Choi (Owen Wilson), and more. There are too many minor characters to keep track of, both when watching the movie and when reviewing it, but a plot twist later will eliminate many of them.

This is yet another Michael Bay movie in which the romance between two of the main characters – A.J. and Grace – is paid too much attention, and it feels forced, contrived and insincere. It holds the story back rather than moving it forward. Character development should complement the big action pieces, but in Armageddon, just like Pearl Harbor, the Transformer movies and The Island, it just gets in the way.

The military wants to nuke the asteroid, but as explained by Dr. Ronald Quincy (Jason Isaacs), that would be useless. Quincy proposes that the asteroid must be nuked from the inside, and that in order to get a bomb into the rock, drilling will be required. Ah, now it suddenly makes sense. That’s why the main characters are on an oil rig! You think this coincidence is implausible? Bay’s just getting warmed up.

The military recruits Stamper and airlifts Harry and Grace off the rig. They arrive in Houston and meet Truman, who delivers the horrible news. It’s quickly just fifteen days before the asteroid hits and it’s still a global secret, being suppressed by governments across the planet. For some unexplained reason, only nine telescopes in the world can see the asteroid. Harry refuses to train NASA’s drilling crew and insists that he will only take his own crew up into space. So in a matter of a few days, Harry, A.J. and all the others are going to become astronauts. A quick montage shows us the FBI gathering Harry’s crew and bringing them to Houston. Comic relief is provided through some of these minor characters, particularly Buscemi’s Rockhound. For their services, none of them wants to pay taxes again – ever.

The drillers are rushed through NASA’s training program in a couple of days. Never mind that actual astronauts spend years in training. In Michael Bay’s world, this can be accompished with a few quick montages. They undergo physical and psychological testing. These scenes are intended to provide additional comic relief, but they just aren’t very funny.

We are introduced to two futuristic-looking Space Shuttles, classified X71’s, and named Freedom and Independence. One of the pilots is Col. William Sharp, played by William Fichtner. Fichtner is great in whatever he’s doing and he is a breath of fresh air in a Michael Bay movie, which are often left lacking truly excellent actors.

Another characteristic common to Bay’s movies is unnecessarily long scenes and sequences. This is especially true here in Armageddon. The training, already so utterly ludicrous, simply goes on too long. How can we be expected to believe that these guys become astrounauts in twelve days? The film would have benefitted by ignoring this impossibility. Rather, it indulges it. The dialogue throughout is equally painful. Pop culture references to Star Wars and Wile E. Coyote, again intended to provide comic relief, fail to do so.

A.J. and Grace spend some romantic moments together, much to Harry’s chagrin. A.J. proposes to Grace and she says yes. The relationship between A.J. and Grace is meant to raise the stakes, to put an emphasis on the importance of A.J. succeeding in the mission and returning to Earth safely. But considering that the stakes are obviously high enough already, the A.J./Grace relationship gets in the way of the action. And the action is why we go to Michael Bay movies.

Fifty minutes into the movie, Stamper’s crew is given the night off. Never mind that it’s the night before the most important day in all of human history. As Harry points out, “these boys are ready to snap.” So they’re given ten hours to be with their families and/or to blow off some steam.

Songs by Aerosmith are featured prominently on the soundtrack. Given the fact that Liv Tyler was cast as Grace, this selection of music feels cheesy, insincere and ham-handed. The score, however, is dramatic.

Also on the night before the launch, China is hit by one of the smaller meteors. Fifty thousand people die. The implication is that now the whole world knows that the bigger meteor, the so-called global killer, is just days away. Stamper and Truman speak, and we learn that Truman is disabled and thus could never be an astronaut himself. This adds an intriguing dimension to Truman’s character and continues the pattern of Michael Bay movies in which the supporting characters are more interesting than the lead roles.

The morning of the launch, the President addresses the nation. This sequence was awkward and failed to move the story forward as all he did was tell us what we already know.

Finally, seventy minutes into the movie, the two Space Shuttles lift off. They’re on their way to the asteroid...sort of. First, they need to dock with the Russian Space Station to refuel. The Russian cosmonaut, Lev, is played by Peter Stormare in another entertaining supporting role. But this whole sequence was unnecessary and utterly pointless. There’s no reason why these supposedly advanced Space Shuttles would need to refuel immediately upon entering outer space. They should’ve gone straight to the asteroid. The only positive aspect of this sequence is that Lev is now along for the rest of the movie.

As the Shuttles slingshot around the moon, they have just seventeen hours until they can no longer blow up the asteroid. The trip around the moon is thrilling, but we’ve seen this before in Apollo 13, so the ideas of the slingshot and the loss of radio contact are nothing new.

As the Shuttles approach the asteroid from behind, they are slammed by debris. The Shuttle Independence crash-lands on the asteroid. The Freedom lands more smoothly. Now, when viewing a big-budget sci-fi/action movie, one must suspend disbelief to a certain extent, but Armageddon is just too preposterous. The entire premise – landing a Space Shuttle on an asteroid, drilling to eight hundred feet, planting and then remote detonating a nuclear warhead? Puh-lease.

A.J., Bear and Lev somehow survive the Independence’s crash. Next, they get in one of those lunar dune-buggy’s, called an Armadillo. In Armageddon, the “astronauts” take their Armadillo’s for a ride on the asteroid, jumping vast canyons and somehow staying within the asteroid’s gravitational pull. As the asteroid draws ever closer to the zero-barrier, the point of no return, Stamper and the Freedom crew commence drilling. Meanwhile, NASA realizes that they’re going to lose radio contact with Space Shuttle Freedom very soon, and thus, they’ll lose the ability to remote detonate the nuke, which was the backup plan in the event that drilling failed. Of course, this implies that the crew will all be lost. This actually was a clever plot device, well-written by Jonathon Hensleigh and a then-unknown J.J. Abrams. When the nuke begins counting down, the tension is electric. The military brass butts heads with Truman and NASA, but the day is saved at the very last second.

A.J., Bear and Lev arrive in the Armadillo with fresh drilling equipment, and just like that, we’re thrust back into the unreal. Rockhound slips into some sort of outer-space-induced dementia and he’s strapped down. Stamper, A.J. and the others finish their drilling just as the asteroid approaches zero barrier, but there’s a problem with the remote detonator for the nuke. One of the crew members will have to stay behind to detonate the nuke. This supreme sacrifice does manage to pull at the viewer’s heartstrings, but the emotions that this moment elicits come too little, too late as most of Armageddon has been devoid of any emotional connection to the audience. It has been, well, like space itself, dizzying.

Armageddon is sufficiently entertaining, but it’s the kind of action movie that is viewed once and soon forgotten. Spectacular action pieces are accomplished easily enough with modern CGI technology, but for a movie to be truly memorable, it must establish an emotional connection to the audience. Armageddon joins Michael Bay’s body of work as another film that is, at times, thrilling, but that fails to establish a genuine emotional connection.


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