Asteroid (1997)

Asteroid, with Michael Biehn and Annabella Sciorra.

Directed by: Bradford May
Starring: Annabella Sciorra, Michael Biehn, Don Franklin, Carlos Gómez, Anthony Zerbe, Denis Arndt

1998 was the year of the asteroid movies: Armageddon and Deep Impact. However, NBC scooped Hollywood the year before with this two-hour made-for-TV killer asteroid disaster movie, imaginatively titled Asteroid.

Annabella Sciorra plays astronomer Dr. Lily McKee, whose team discovers that a comet passing through the solar system has knocked a couple of asteroids out of their orbits and sent them hurtling towards Earth. The rocks, called Helios and Eros, are big enough to cause widespread destruction and, in the case of Eros, even the extinction of mankind if they should indeed hit.

According to Dr. McKee, Helios will likely strike Kansas City, Missouri. Enter FEMA director and all-around man of action Jack Wallach (Biehn), who wastes no time in evacuating the area. Minutes before the calculated impact, a couple of firefighters get stranded in the city after colliding with a drunk driver. Director Jack jumps in a pickup truck and floors it, picking up the firemen and the unconscious drunk just as a fragment of the asteroid hits a dam, flooding the city. (The rest of the asteroid burned up as the rock broke up when entering the atmosphere.)

Then the really bad news arrive: Eros, the bigger of the two rogue asteroids, will also hit Earth. Director Jack and Dr. McKee talks to the president. The secretary of defence reveals the existence of a secret laser weapon that might just save the day. Three lasers are mounted on three fighter jets that take to the skies and blast Eros to pieces. Which means new problems: the Eros fragments will rain down on the planet. The biggest piece is headed straight for Dallas, Texas, where Dr. McKee’s father and her 10-year old son are…

On the one hand, Asteroid is a well made disaster TV-movie with a couple of familiar names in the cast and decent production values. On the other hand, the plot is so utterly generic that boredom takes over as soon as the destruction of Dallas is over. What goes before that is just as predictable, but made watchable by disaster scenes at regular intervals. When the story shifts focus to Dr. McKee’s search for her son and dad in the ruins of Dallas, the fun is over.

Asteroid deserves credit for some nice FX sequences featuring good old miniature work — easier on the eye than the so-so digital effects — and the Dallas ruin sets in particular have a nice, post-apocalyptic look. While this is the kind of wholesome disaster film where most deaths are implied, the Dallas impact offers a few quite satisfying scenes of mass destruction. (As for the deaths, the only prominent character to die does so not as a consequence of the disaster, but because a grieving father shoots him. As grieving fathers do.)  For an entertaining critique of the less-than-accurate science in this one, check out Bad Astronomy.

Annabella Sciorra does a good job in the lead role — better than the clichéd script deserves — while Mr. Biehn is rather anonymous as Action Jack Wallach. Few other characters really register, with the unexpected exception of a news anchor whose somber reports take up a good part of the film. (He also seems to have telepathic contact with the control room, as he picks up the latest developments by putting his finger to his ear. No earpiece needed.)

I did enjoy the first two-thirds of Asteroid as comfortable you-know-what-you’re-gonna-get viewing. Sadly, the boring finale spoiled it. It’s okay for a made-for-tv disaster film, though.

Rating: 2/5

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