Deep Impact (1998)
Directed by: Mimi Leder
Starring: Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood, Téa Leoni, Morgan Freeman, Leelee Sobieski, James Cromwell
Deep Impact is “the other asteroid movie” of 1998, even though it was released before Armageddon. Sporting a smaller budget and a bigger cast, it is the more restrained of the two, though not necessarily a hugely superior picture. Personally, I do like this one better, even though it is severely underdeveloped in the disaster scene department.
The basics are the same as in Armageddon: big rock headed for Earth, team sent into space on mission to drill and blast said rock to smaller pieces, complications ensuing. Deep Impact adhers closer to classic disaster movie rules, however, by spending a lot of time with a large cast of characters as they deal the situation, instead of focusing almost exclusively on space stunts. Which means we don’t get exploding space stations and astronauts with guns, but instead puppy love and somber presidential speeches.
Elijah Wood is the teenaged science geek who discovers the asteroid threat. Since the astronomer he shares this discovery with is instantly killed in a car crash, nothing happens for a year, until supremely annoying news reporter Téa Leoni stumbles across the story. Téa doesn’t realize what’s going on until the president himself, played by Morgan Freeman, spells it out.
Robert Duvall is the senior member of the space mission, which fails, only managing to break the asteroid into two still very large pieces. The end of the world is an apparent fact, and president Morgan Freeman reveals a plan to save mankind (or at least the American way of life) by selecting a number of prominent citizens who will take shelter in an enormous underground facility. Elijah and his family are selected, but through some glitch in the system, the parents of his love interest – Leelee Sobieski – are not. Leelee refuses to leave mom and dad behind, and so Elijah has to go searching for her at the very last minute.
Finally, the smaller one of the asteroid pieces hits Earth, causing a massive tsunami that destroys the east coast. Nice enough, but given that this scene is basically the only actual disastrous event in the entire movie, it could well have been extended somewhat. The remaining asteroid piece is destroyed as Duvall and his crew sacrifice themselves, crashing their shuttle, armed with nuclear weapons, into it.
So why do I like this one better than Armageddon? I guess there are several reasons. One is that it doesn’t feature Ben Affleck, which is always a good thing. Another is that as a disaster movie fan, I prefer stupid disaster movie clichés over stupid action movie clichés. Deep Impact is formulaic, to be sure, and has it’s fair share of stupid moments but is not quite as moronic as its more successful genre colleague.
However, I will admit that if it is loads of action and quips you want, you should go with Armageddon. In comparison, Deep Impact is rather slow moving and dour, and no one sings a capella or eats biscuits off each others’ stomachs. For better or worse.