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Armageddon (1998)

June 28th, 2007 · 8 Comments

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Tags: End of the world · Military

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Burbanked // Jun 28, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    I am more on the edge of my chair waiting for your next Michael Bay installments than I was for the entirety of Armageddon’s bloated running time.

    But a personal admission: I am like a beaten dog when it comes to this movie. I know I hate it and I know that it will treat me poorly. But every frigging time it’s on TV and I’m, oh, emptying the dishwasher or perhaps mixing up some homemade kerosene, I WILL SIT THERE AND WATCH THIS F***KING MOVIE. I can’t help myself. I forget each time how much it sucks, how abused I feel by the staccato, machine-gun pace of every wretched non-scene.

    And when it’s finished I, like Harry Knowles, am brought to tears – but not for the same reason. I want to cry because I’ve been duped again, because my sense of hope and optimism that the movie isn’t quite as bad as I remembered it to be has again proven false. And I loathe myself for being tricked by Michael Bay again.

    This was why I’ve never seen The Island. Because eventually even the dumbest beaten dog learns to turn away.

  • 2 Joseph R. Valdez // Jun 29, 2007 at 7:52 am

    This was a super review indeed. If only the movie could have been of the same caliber. Whatever they pay you, it’s not enough! Being a native Houstonion, you gotta love NASA, the oil bidness, and be interestd in large things dropping down on you from the sky – all part and parcel of this movie. So…what happened? Scrambled script with your toast sir?

  • 3 Damian // Jun 29, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    I have gotten to a point in my life now where whenever someone asks me what the greatest movie I’ve ever seen is, I say Schindler’s List. When they ask me what the worst movie I’ve ever seen is, guess what I answer?

    Unlike Burbanked (who really ought to have that condition looked into) I have no problem whatever not watching this movie ever again. I saw it in tne theatre with my dad and that was more than enough. Once I caught a few minutes of it on TV (the scene where they jump the chasm on the asteroid with their drill) and I felt all of my inner rage and sadness welling back up in me again. I quickly shut it off before it ruined the rest of my day.

    BTW I wil freely admit to liking the first Home Alone.

  • 4 Mystery Man // Jun 30, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    Great post. I was not aware of all that background about the script. Does not surprise me for a project like that, not at all. It’s part of the biz, unfortunately.

    -MM

  • 5 Pat // Jun 30, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    I’m glad to see a general bashing of Michael Bay and Armageddon and The Rock in particular. Hiring a person because he has made music videos probably tells you most of what you need to know about what vision the producer has for a movie. The thing about Bay’s style is that I don’t find his action scenes in the least exciting. Mostly I just want to shut my eyes and mute the tv until they go away.

    Strangely, bizarrely, Transformers is at 88% at Rotten Tomatoes, but not that many reviews are out yet.

  • 6 Joe Valdez // Jun 30, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    Alan: Your comments made me laugh, but I also feel a dose of sympathy for your condition. Maybe you watch this movie over and over again in the hope that Bay gets fired one week into filming and is replaced by Ridley Scott?

    Damian: After reading your comment, I watched my laserdisc version of Schindler’s List, which is no different than the DVD version, except I had to get up three times to flip the discs over. I needed some filmmaking craftsmanship and beauty to get Michael Bay out of my system, so thanks for that!

    Mystery Man: What was even more unusual than the WGA ruling was that on the press junket, Bruckheimer promoted the fact that 9 writers wrote this. He was actually proud of it, like 9 writers meant a movie 9 times as big. Most of the reviews at the time mention this.

    Pat: I wouldn’t put much stock in the reader polls Rotten Tomatoes or the IMDB offer. Metacritic rocks because it tracks critics and awards movies, TV shows, CDs and video games a number grade on that basis. You can read exactly who is praising or slamming a movie and what their credentials are.

  • 7 Damian // Jul 1, 2007 at 1:31 am

    You’re welcome, Joe. I wouldn’t expect Schindler’s List to mean as much to everyone else as it does to me personally (there are certainly some legitimate criticisms that can, and have been, directed at the film) but if you need to cleanse the palate after a Michael Bay debacle, it will certainly do the trick.

    I remember that I once got into a discussion with someone on a movie board who said… *takes deep breath* that Steven Spielberg is really no better a filmmaker than Michael Bay and that Schindler’s List is ultimately no different than Pearl Harbor. All I can say is that I’m glad that discussion took place over the internet or the police would still be looking for the body.

  • 8 Hans Gruber // Sep 6, 2014 at 8:31 am

    I’m late to the party here, but about the nuclear bomb not being powerful enough to damage the asteroid:

    That depends entirely on the nuclear bomb. Sure the biggest ever exploded was 50 megatons, but we have theoretical devices yield 12,000 megatons. There are really no limits to the yield – you just add more fusion fuel- it’s just not practical here on earth to go over 100 megatons because we lose any extra yield in space. But for blowing up asteroids? There’s no reason we can’t produce and deploy a single device that could crack an asteroid “the size of Texas”.

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