Deep Impact (1998)

DVD Cover (Paramount Collector's Edition)
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Overall Rating 62%
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Ranked #799
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Robert Duvall
Robert Duvall
Téa Leoni
Téa Leoni
Elijah Wood
Elijah Wood
Vanessa Redgrave
Vanessa Redgrave
Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman
Review by Chad
Added: December 20, 2008
For some bizarre reason, the disaster film was the thing to make during the late nineties, and even more peculiarly, the "giant comet is going to hit Earth and wipe out mankind" storyline was picked up by not one but two summer blockbusters less than two months apart from one another. Deep Impact hadn't even finished its full theatrical run before Armageddon was starting its own run, and you know what? I was loving it. Much like animal attack flicks and zombie movies, I have a soft spot in my heart for movies dealing with natural disasters, and even though a lot of the material in these genres turns out to be garbage, I just can't say no when a new one comes out. So, here we are over ten years later with a look at the better of the two movies.

Obviously, the storyline centers around this giant comet (a comet the size of Mt. Everest) and its gradual descent to Earth. When it hits, scientists warn, it will be an E.L.E.: an Extinction Level Event that will rival or surpass whatever it was that killed off the dinosaurs. However, there's still hope for the human race as President Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) has announced the formation of "The Messiah Project", a collaboration between America and Russia to send a manned shuttle right up to the comet, drop off a couple of the world's finest - Capt. Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall), Dr. Oren Monash (Ron Eldard), Dr. Gus Partenza (Jon Favreau), Andy Baker (Mary McCormack), and Mark Simon (Blair Underwood) - and blow it to smithereens with a dozen nuclear bombs.

Will this plan work? Only time will tell, but while the world is waiting for an answer to that question, we at home get to watch as two separate groups of people react to this approaching catastrophe. We've got Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni), a reporter for MSNBC News who was directly responsible for this news getting out to the public and who is also having problems coping with the divorce of her father Jason (Maximilian Schell) and mother Robin (Vanessa Redgrave). In another part of the country, we've got teenage lovers Leo Beiderman (Elijah Wood) and Sarah Hotchner (Leelee Sobieski), two lovable young scamps who want nothing more than to simply be together, survive this event, and spend the rest of their days together and with their families. Again, their survival - and the survival of the human race - rests in the hands of those brave astronauts, but will their plan work?

As you can no doubt tell, the vast majority of the plot - save for the smallest of details - is quite similar to the storyline found in Armageddon. It's hard to accuse either movie of plagiarism as both were in production at the same time, but the fact remains that Deep Impact made it to theaters first, and thus, it has always had a special place in my collection of disaster flicks. It also doesn't hurt that, in my humble opinion, Deep Impact handles this material far better than Michael Bay could have ever hoped to. I enjoyed Bay's film, don't get me wrong, but it's really no contest; Armageddon is a cliché Hollywood summer blockbuster with comedic relief characters, witty one-liners, an upbeat ending, and of course, Bay's patented "explosions are more important than plot" mentality. Deep Impact, on the other hand, presents us with (mostly) realistic characters, scientific explanations which aren't quite grounded in reality but are far more believable than those found in Armageddon, and a chain of events that - save for one piece - seems much more plausible. While neither film is perfect, I firmly believe that one is clearly superior to the other.

Save for the teenagers (more on that in a moment), I also enjoyed the characters that we were presented with and I particularly liked how the different stories were kept separate. It seems that filmmakers all too often try to tie everything together in the end when working with a story like this, but that is not the case here; Jenny speaks with the President at the beginning of the film, but other than that, these two groups of survivors on Earth are kept completely separate from the astronauts in space and the President's interactions with his country. This approach worked quite nicely considering the very character-driven nature of the storyline as each story was given time to develop, and even though I can't say that everyone was perfect in their roles, nobody was bad enough to drag the film down.

I'm going to be fairly liberal with spoilers here as this is a movie that did big business during its theatrical run, and it's also a film that's over ten years old. Therefore, I think that most of you who had any interest in this have already seen it, but since there's undoubtedly a few of you who haven't, I'm not going to come right out and say what happens. I am going to go into more detail than newcomers would care to hear though, so if you're one of the few who hasn't seen it, you might want to just skip right on over the next paragraph.

My only complaint about the movie was the subplot of the two teenage lovers who overcome all odds to be with one another and then survive to tell the tale. What bugs me about this is how out of place it seems; the rest of the movie deals with catastrophe, people dying, and the main characters having to make sacrifices, but these two manage to survive and walk off into the sunset hand-in-hand. This subplot seems to have been thrown in solely to send the audience home happy ("you can't kill everyone", I assume the writers said), and though I have no problems with that outlook and have come to expect it, this piece of the story seemed tacked on and incredibly corny. I applaud the filmmakers for not giving the film an entirely happy ending, but this just did not work.

I had no issues with the film other than this minor little quibble and the overabundance of MSNBC promotions, and in fact, I enjoyed the hell out of the movie regardless of those issues. It delivers everything that a disaster flick should: it's believable even if it's not entirely realistic, it features likable characters, the special effects are pretty damned good for the time that the film was released (they aged nicely and still look good), and yes, it manages to pull a tear on more than one occasion. Again, I'd like to point out that I have a soft spot for movies like this and my final rating will obviously reflect that, so dock a few points if you're not as much of a fan of the genre as I am. 8/10.
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