Armageddon (1998)

2016 #133
Michael Bay | 145 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

ArmageddonSometimes you have to wait to see a film because it’s not accessible for some reason (no one’s put it out yet, or it’s out of print and costs a fortune, or whatever). Other times… maybe it’s just me, but there are some films that I wait years to watch for no particular reason. Not wait in the sense of “drumming my fingers waiting for the chance”, but in the sense that I’ll get to it someday, it’s just not a priority, for whatever reason. And then one day, with nothing apparently having changed, the time comes when it’s that movie’s turn.

So it was for me with Armageddon, Michael Bay’s 1998 sci-fi disaster epic. It’s a film I’ve been aware of since it came out (how could you not be?) but never cared enough to actually watch, other than a general feeling I’d get round to it one day because (a) it’s the kind of movie everyone else has seen, and (b) when Michael Bay’s good, he is good (at what he does), so it’s at least worth a look. It’s a pretty readily available film — the kind of thing I regularly see in TV listings or on streaming services and consider watching and end up deciding “nah, not today” — so quite what made me finally watch it now — what made me see it in a list and go “actually, yes, today” — I’m not sure. Such are the mysteries of life. Or of my brain, at any rate.

For the few people who haven’t seen it, then, it’s about a giant asteroid heading towards Earth, where its impact will cause an extinction-level event, and NASA deciding the only way to stop it is to send up a couple of spaceships to land on the asteroid, drop nukes inside, and blow it up (it’s a Michael Bay movie, of course the solution is “blow it up”). To learn about the kind of deep drilling this would require, they bring in the best driller around, Bruce Willis, to train the astronauts. But drilling isn’t something you can learn in a couple of weeks — unlike “how to be an astronaut”, apparently, because it’s decided it will be easier to train drillers to be astronauts than train astronauts to use a drill.

At least they know which way space isIf you’re a reader from outside the UK, I guess you’ve probably not heard of Tim Peake. He’s (quite rightly) been big news here for the last year or so because he was our first (official) astronaut. That it’s taken until now for there to be a British astronaut seems remarkable, but there you go. I guess we always let other people do the initial exploring, then come along later to own the place — I mean, that Columbus fella was Italian, and is Italian the official language of America? No it is not. Anyway, Peake is a qualified helicopter pilot and instructor, has a degree in Flight Dynamics and Evaluation, was selected to be an astronaut in a process that involved academic tests, fitness assessments, and several interviews, and then received six years of training, including a mission as an aquanaut, before he went into space. But no, you can totally train a group of drillers to do that in a fortnight.

Many Hollywood blockbusters have ludicrous concepts, but Armageddon feels designed to plow new furrows of ridiculousness. Apparently NASA show the film to new managers and ask them to spot the errors. There are at least 168. It only takes a few minutes before it’s already so OTT that it seems like a spoof of Bay — I mean, the title card explodes for crying out loud. When the president makes a speech just before the launch, the quaint shots of the world listening in make it look like the film’s set in the 1950s. Despite being a full two-and-a-half hours long, Bay manages to make the whole film feel like a plot-summarising montage. The average shot length must be Moulin Rouge-level crazy, though where that film weighs super-fast-cut scenes against more measured ones, I think Armageddon is out-of-control-freight-train fast for every last second. Bay is so impatient, the credits start rolling before the film has even finished! And why the fuck does the drilling vehicle have a fucking great machine gun on it?!

Bruce Willis flashesApparently Michael Bay thinks it’s his worst film. In 2013, he said, “I will apologise for Armageddon, because we had to do the whole movie in 16 weeks. It was a massive undertaking. That was not fair to the movie. I would redo the entire third act if I could.” The problems stretch further than that, Michael.

Believe it or not, it’s not all bad. The bit where Bruce Willis’ life flashes before his eyes is actually really good — ten seconds of artistic moviemaking in a 150-minute movie! Visually it looks great throughout, meaning DoP John Schwartzman is possibly the only person who comes out of the whole thing entirely unscathed. The special effects are excellent for 1998. I thought Independence Day’s were still effective when I re-watched it earlier this year, but Armageddon’s feel much less dated, and it was only made two years later. As an effects showcase, it absolutely still holds up today. That said, the top of the Chrysler building falling off, complete with plummeting screaming people, is considerably less palatable since 9/11. And just a minute later there’s a shot of the World Trade Center with burning holes in it. It’s a wonder it hasn’t been re-edited to remove those shots, especially as it’s a Disney-owned movie and they have a history of self-censoring stuff that is no longer considered acceptable.

Armageddon was, famously, released the same year as Deep Impact, which I watched many years ago but remember as a character-driven drama about an asteroid threatening the end of the world. Armageddon’s action-packed bluster was more successful at the box office, of course, but Deep Impact was the more mature movie. SPACE EXPLOSION!Maybe I’m wrong — it has a lower rating on IMDb. But then, that is IMDb. I should probably watch it again, but even without doing that I feel pretty confident saying it’s the better film.

If Michael Bay knew he was making a comedy, Armageddon might be a great movie. But he didn’t. While it’s definitely bad, I did kind of enjoy it… but mainly to laugh at. Make of that what you will.

2 out of 5

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9 thoughts on “Armageddon (1998)

  1. Very pithy review – we watched it again recently, to show to The Boy. I have to say we had great fun, mainly through poking fun at it, because what else is there? I don’t think it tries to be anything more or less than it actually is, there’s no sense of credibility creeping in, and that’s fine providing you accept it on those merits. But there’s a part of me that absolutely hates it, not least because I saw DEEP IMPACT at the cinema all the way back in 1998 and, while not aiming to be as exciting as this one, enjoyed it as an intelligent drama and, as you say, one based on relationships. Seems a big shame that this is the one people remember.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s quite a schizophrenic viewing experience in that respect — both a lot of fun and mind-numbingly terrible, sometimes for the same reason! It would be nice if Deep Impact had come to overshadow it, but I guess the time for that has passed.

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  2. Have you heard any of the commentary available on Armageddon’s DVD? We bought a copy solely for it- you can tell Ben Affleck thought it was a ridiculous movie and he questions why oil drillers are preferenced over NASA astronauts too only to be shot down by Michael Bay. Absolutely superb viewing for the schlocky campy fun mixed with Bay’s 1998 conviction that explosions make it the best movie ever.

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  3. Armageddon is, funnily enough, one of my most-watched films of the past twenty years (thats a weird way of saying that I’ve watched it several times since first seeing it at the cinema). Its not that I’m a fan of the film, its just that it is so fascinatingly bad. Try watching it again. There is something strange that happens when you re-watch it.

    The awful ‘lets explain what is happening again’ dialogue, the terrible characters, the diabolical non-science, the crass stupidity of the plot. Its like a monumental achievement in Bad Moviemaking. But its much more fun, and watchable, than Bay’s later Transformers films. There’s just something about Armageddon, like its a Monty Python disaster epic. It even has Charlton Heston, Ben Hur for crying out loud, threatening ‘It Will Happen Again’ in the films prologue (is he threatening another global extinction or a remake of Armageddon?). Briiliantly bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I can see that. Dark of the Moon pissed me off with its ineptitude — it’s not just a bad film, it’s a badly made film. Armageddon, conversely, is actually really well made, it’s just so daft.

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      • Thats an issue I have with many ‘franchise’ films- once established as a franchise, theres an impression that the film will make money anyway, so why make any effort other than ensuring its faster/louder/bigger? There doesn’t seem any effort on making ‘better’ films. That applies to the POTC films as well as Transformers and others. The franchise sells itself rather than the individual film, which clearly just delivers more of the same, and according to the boxoffice, the fans are content with that.

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