The Sci-Fi disaster genre is upon us. So many films of this grouping have been made over the years case in point The Day After Tomorrow, Meteor and Geostorm and it’s safe to say, the genre is not a cup of tea for the upper echelon movie critics. However, audiences seem to have a high affinity towards the films (not all of them) and I’d understand why they would be.
The genre has a way of playing around with one’s emotions; plain and simple. This particular movie fights edition is going to focus on two movies of this category that are almost spitting images of each other in more ways than one. Two films that represent the best of what Sci-Fi disaster dramas have too offer as well the worst. It’s Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact versus Michael Bay’s Armageddon.
ROUND 1: ACTING & CHARACTER PERFORMANCES
Armageddon is star-studded; there’s no denying that. When you have a then hotshot actor in Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck in his upcoming years, Liv Tyler, Billy Bob Thornton, among others, what could possibly go wrong in the acting department? Well, a substantial amount of wrong in my view. The dialogue delivery of some of the actors is bland to say the least and at times is trying hard to go for comedy but fails, all the same. That said, the characters did have some captivating and riveting moments despite being underdeveloped. A good example of this is Will Patton’s character Chick who by the end of the movie, is finally reunited with his son after the space mission and wins back the affection of his ex-wife.
In Deep Impact, the mentioned flaws in character development are pretty much present, but more pronounced than in Armageddon, in my opinion. Beyond Jenny Lerner (Tea Leoni), an MSNBC journalist who is central to the story, and her rather interesting subplot with her separated parents, I wasn’t engaged by the rest, for the most part. The astronauts had comradery and some emotional moments but I didn’t quite feel it until the final scenes with the sacrificial act. This is because the film did not take it’s time to develop the characters who by the way, get a lot of screen-time. However, the film had some exceptional individual performances as far as acting is concerned i.e. Robert Duvall as Captain Spurgeon “Fish” Tanner and the legendary Morgan Freeman as U.S President Tom Beck.
All things considered, this round goes to… Armageddon!
ROUND 2; FILM TECHNIQUES
Beyond the tension in the story, you as a viewer want to be convinced that the end of the world is near and everything you know could soon cease to exist because a gigantic space rock hurtling towards the earth. You want to see and feel the threat it poses to the protagonists who are daring enough to try and stop it.
Given that both films in question came out in the late 90’s and they had access to similar visual effects technology, I think they did well in that department; not convincing but acceptable. In Armageddon though, VFX is excessively used with one too many explosions but hey, that’s Michael Bay for you.
The lighting in both films, more so in the space scenes, had to be as realistic and practical as possible; the two movies did good in that field. Deep Impact has a slight edge over its counterpart in respect to lighting in that there are moments where it is used for symbolism e.g. President Beck brainstorming and contemplating in a dark Oval office to enhance the dark tone.
There were many filler scenes in both movies that are unnecessary and slow down the pacing. Additionally, the dialogue in the two films is at times bland i.e. the military/NASA dialogue in Armageddon and the Press/NASA dialogue in Deep Impact.
Where the two films start drifting apart is in the production design, editing, and the sound departments. In my view, Armageddon takes a more immersive approach with its production design in select scenes; paying attention to detail and hence being as realistic as possible. For instance, the astronauts/oil drillers look like they could be on the surface of a space rock and are exposed to the harsh environment on it. That’s not to say Deep Impact did not do well in this, not at all. The sequence where the astronauts are trying to plant nuclear warheads into the comet’s surface was very sensible and real looking. Nonetheless, there aren’t enough of those kind of sequences in Deep impact as there are in Armageddon.
In Armageddon, the editing is okay but it goes downhill in the action sequences. There are a bunch of them e.g. the fueling station and the failed drilling attempt which are cut too fast; I couldn’t take in all of what was going on especially with the explosions and shouting.
Admittedly, the Michael Bay movie has a more compelling soundtrack that boosts the somber tone of the film, more so that Aerosmith song “I don’t wanna miss a thing”; one of my favourite songs ever.
All things considered, this round goes to… Deep Impact!
ROUND 3; STORY
Armageddon and Deep Impact employ a very generic style of storytelling that goes hard for emotion, which a lot of mid and late 90’s films were going for as well. It is that emotion that in many cases ends up clouding a viewer’s judgement on the movie. Frankly, I have fallen for this many times in the past but I eventually developed a sense of objectivity. In this round, I’ll be focusing on which film doesn’t go for emotion as much as the other does and takes time to highlight other storytelling elements better.
Straight off the bat, I think we can all agree that Michael Bay is not a very good storyteller and his filmography speaks for itself. He is all about the spectacle and sentiment which, I believe, hurts Armageddon story-wise. Watching the flick, I wasn’t entirely drawn into the main characters, the exceptional themes of sacrifice, fate or friendship, the ‘overcoming the monster’ plot, the tense human vs. nature conflict. This is because he was going too hard for the mentioned elements with all the meteor showers and explosions (whose effects haven’t aged well) and emotion; so many shots of different races and nationalities reacting to the unfolding events.
Deep Impact, on the other hand, takes it time to establish diverse aspects of it’s story hence making it so much better than Armageddon’s. For starters, it had the subplot between Jenny and her father and the themes of redemption and transformation which I followed closely and was riveted by. The tension that escalates around the world as a result of the impending danger took me on a compelling journey not just from a storytelling perspective but also from a characterization standpoint. There’s so much tension that Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood), a high school minor ends up marrying his girlfriend so that she as well as her family can all be taken refuge in the special caves.
This round goes to… Deep Impact!
With a score of 2 to 1, Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact wins this one, but it’s not a noteworthy achievement; both films had one too many faults. For me, it’s just a case of ‘pick your poison’. Anyway, this has turned out to be the longer edition compared to the other two and I appreciate the fact that you have taken your time to read this far into my article. Please utilize the comment section below and give me your suggestions on movies that I should pit against each other in future editions. As always, God bless!