In the 5th season of South Park, Kyle exclaims, “Job has all his children killed, and Michael Bay gets to keep making movies. There isn’t a God.” In the third of six articles, I determine the existence of God by revisiting the films of director and alleged anti-Christ Michael Bay.
Speaking from the atmosphere at the time the dinosaurs ruled the earth, narrator Charlton Heston notifies us that “a piece of rock just six miles wide changed all that.” After watching the planet get struck by an asteroid, we move ahead 65 million years. A meteor shower destroys the space shuttle Atlantis and rains down on New York, destroying Grand Central Station, the Chrysler building and sections of the World Trade Center.
NASA scientists led by Billy Bob Thornton determine the meteors were swept toward Earth by an asteroid weighing 97.6 billion tons. “It’s the size of Texas,” Billy Bob explains to the president (as well as everyone eating nachos in the back of the theater). The asteroid will hit earth in 18 days, and Billy Bob advises the Pentagon that the best course of action would be to land a team on the asteroid, drill into the core and detonate a nuke.
We meet Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) on an oil rig. Oblivious to events sweeping the globe, he hits golf balls at a Greenpeace boat. Harry discovers his daughter Grace (Liv Tyler) in the bed of one his employees (Ben Affleck). Harry chases the hot shot around with a shotgun, blasting away at his rig to the amusement of his crew (Will Patton, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan).
Harry – the world’s best deep core driller – and Grace are flown to NASA. Billy Bob has a Big Clock counting the minutes until earth’s destruction, and wants Harry to teach their astronauts to drill. Harry requests his own men for the job. The slobs train with a skeptical Air Force colonel (William Fichtner). They go into space, blowing up the Russian space station in the process and taking on a cosmonaut (Peter Stormare). Then they take on the big rock for mankind.
Armageddon was written by Jonathan Hensleigh, based on an original script by Robert Roy Pool. Hensleigh had just finished working for Michael Bay on The Rock, and the director was interested in his killer asteroid script. Hensleigh took Bay to meet Disney chairman Joe Roth, who greenlit the project based on the concept alone.
Once Hensleigh turned in his draft, he was moved aside by producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who brought in a succession of script doctors, parceling out specific incidents to be written. Robert Towne was hired just to develop a mutiny scene. Scott Rosenberg was asked to supply dialogue for the supporting cast, notably Steve Buscemi. Ann Biderman supposedly did the same for Liv Tyler.
Tony Gilroy was tasked with writing a new beginning, because no one liked Hensleigh’s concept that two kids would spot the asteroid, then be quarantined to prevent the story from leaking out. J.J. Abrams did an overall dialogue polish because Bay was a fan of his snappy repartee. Paul Attansio and Shane Salerno were also put on the payroll, which grew to $2 million for the script.
Five of the nine writers ended up being credited by the Writers Guild of America in one of the most complicated arbitrations in history: story by Pool and Hensleigh, screenplay by Hensleigh and Abrams, and adaptation by Gilroy and Salerno. This was a rare public admission of how many writers it takes to screw in a lightbulb for Bruckheimer.
Armageddon was a huge box office success, the highest grossing live action film in the history of Disney. It received four Academy Award nominations in various technical categories, while critics almost universally panned it. With 150 minutes of such mind numbing awfulness, explaining why this movie sucks in three paragraphs isn’t easy, but I’ll try.
A filmmaker with a love for NASA or deep core drilling – say, Steven Spielberg or James Cameron – would have made a good flick here. There are moments when Buscemi tips the film in the direction of a “geeks versus killer asteroid” movie and it comes to life. But Bay isn’t interested in science. He’s obsessed with bombarding the audience with an array of effects – like the Big Clock – no matter how devoid of logic they may be.
Armageddon is a $140 million TV commercial that has no spare change left for substance. Characters are dumbed down and subservient to the images. A simple scene between Affleck and Liv Tyler stands out not for what they say to each other, but for Affleck playing with Animal Crackers on her belly. These are the people worth saving the planet for? I was rooting for the asteroid.
Shanghai and Paris are destroyed, but these sequences have as much intensity as a video game. The special effects are decent, but the music by Trevor Rabin is a jackhammer to the skull, while the inclusion of Aerosmith so many times over on the soundtrack is just bizarre. Trey Parker & Matt Stone were amused enough to base Team America: World Police on the sheer idiocy of this movie, giving the dialogue to puppets and turning it into a comedy.
Conclusion: The highest grossing film of 1998, and one for Satan’s DVD collection, along with Home Alone. However, few people admit to enjoying this movie today. I see God at work here.
“At no point during this film will you feel like you’re watching anything other than actors yelling, cameras tracking and spinning, or special effects loudly going off,” states The Agony Booth, whose seven contributors endured themselves to a scene-by-scene analysis of Armageddon.
“I can’t understand not loving this film, it’s just not in me to grasp it,” raves Harry Knowles at Ain’t It Cool News. Covering the film’s world premiere in exhaustive detail, he adds that the movie brought him to tears.
“For one thing, EVERYTHING is explosive. Everything. A space shuttle drops off an unneeded rocket? Boom. A meteor hits the ground in New York? Kablammo! I got the feeling that in this movie, a fire extinguisher could fall into a swimming pool and erupt into flames,” writes Kevin Cogger at It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Movie.