A restored and revitalized "Gone With the Wind" opened at
about the same time as "Argmageddon," and surprisingly
enough, the two films share common ideas. Thematically,
both are about the will to survive in the face of disaster. In
the former story, Scarlett O'Hara has been reduced to poverty
by the devastation of the Civil War and must use her wiles to
subsist. In the latter, the Harry S. Stamper (Bruce Willis)
must use his cunning in a rendezvous with an asteroid whose
trajectory threatens to destroy the planet. Now, if someone
fairly ordinary like Scarlett can prevail against all odds, do you
doubt that Bruce is capable of saving the world?
One big question that's raised by any mind in the
"Armageddon" audience still unnumbed from the frenetic
assault on the senses. Which story has more clout--one
about an individual using her artfulness to marry a rich guy, or
one about an individual responsible for the continued
existence of six billion lives? Common sense would tell you
that a story of epic, global scope would rivet our attention
better than one involving a single woman and a small circle of
admirers. But if you go to the movies quite a bit you may be
surprised to find the smaller narratives can be far more
appealing. Why? Because we're all human beings and as
such relate more easily to stories that are on a human level.
To be on a human level means that if you're dealing with a
romance, the two performers must be believable and must
convey a realistic passion or chemistry. If you're dealing with
a crime, you must care what happens to the people involved,
whether perpetrators or victims. (Think of our sympathy for
George Clooney's character in "Out of Sight" or our
involvement with the psyche of the Michael Douglas character
in "A Perfect Murder.") And a comedy should make you
smile; a satire should have you watch with glee as the big
bad corporation gets its comeuppance. (Think of Michael
Moore's wiping the floor with the suited downsizers in "The
Disaster movies that have no human enemy to hate, not
even a hero we can truly care deeply about are difficult to
bring off. Humankind vs. nature, then, is the most arduous of
conflicts. Whom to hate when a tidal wave threatens to
engulf Staten Island? When lava from Mt. Teidie overflows
on the island of Tenerife? When an earthquake cracks the
New York City into five sections?
Which brings us to "Armageddon," a difficult tale to bring off
because there is no human enemy. Michael Bay's movie is
frenetic from start to its conclusion two-and-one half long
hours later, leaving the audience scarcely a moment to catch
its breath. Even when members of the cast are simply
talking, the conversation is agitated, overwrought, jittery, as
though the individuals are trying to communicate over a
pulsating disco beat (which may not be so far off, considering
the decibels evoked by music supervisor Trevor Rabin).
Writers Hensleight and Abrams--the two credited for a movie
which may have had as many as nine scribes--ignore a basic
rule: to sustain involvement, a plot must be developed with
highs and lows lest the audience be simply desensitized by
frenzy. The special effects are satisfactory, but then again
with the state of current technology and the millions which
were available to carry the usual Jerry "Con Air" Bruckheimer
production values to the fans, why not?
Much of this criticism could be tempered if "Armageddon"
had any originality, but unfortunately the dialogue apes that of
similar movies ("We're not leaving them behind" and "The
clock is ticking") and the sentiment is not only banal but false
(as when Bruce Willis tells Ben Affleck "I always considered
you like a son" despite Willis's every action to the contrary).
The story is much the same as that of "Deep Impact,"
except that there, director Mimi Leder gave a needed
woman's touch in making us care about the folks to be
obliterated by an asteroid. "Armageddon" opens on the world
65 million years ago (that's quite a bit older than the globe of
the movie "The X-Files") where scholar Charlton Heston
educates us that the planet earth had been despoiled by an
asteroid--one which kicked up so much dirt that the sun
couldn't shine (even on California) for the next thousand
years. (History might be dull, but prehistory!)
Cut to the South China sea where business owner Harry S.
Stamper (Bruce Willis) leads his dirty dozen oil drillers while
he casually drives golf balls presumably into Sumatra.
Approached by an unsmiling general, he is solicited to
volunteer himself and his men to become instant astronauts--
to travel into space after a short period of training, exit the
ship on an asteroid the size of Texas which is plummeting
toward the earth, dig a 250-foot hole into the mean rock, and
blow it up with a nuclear device. Figuring this is a good way
to get young A.J. (Ben Affleck) away from his beautiful
daughter Grace (Liv Tyler), he accepts the mission. With
Rockhound (Steve Buscemi) on board to provide comic relief
and a motel crew that includes at least two people whose
brains must have rattled once too often while drilling, Harry is
off to save the world. The men are accorded such hero
status that even Chick Chapple (Will Patton), whose ex-wife
has refused to tell their small boy that Chick is the father, now
instructs the kid with pride on his paternity.
The witticisms are sadly not all on the level of Grace's: When
she demands that her father treat her like an adult and Harry
wants to know when she became one, she retorts, "Since I
reached the age of ten and became older than you." When a
NASA official looks at Harry's crew coming out for training, he
exclaims, "They look like the wrong stuff."
The film is loaded with logistic flaws. For example, when
the ship's colonel acts to defuse a bomb, he breaks into a
sweat trying to decide whether to cut the blue wire or the red
wire. Isn't defusing a bomb part of a military man's training?
Worst of all, when the crew prances about the Texas-size
asteroid zooming across space, the rock appears to have the
same gravitational pull as Texas. And while we know how to
send men to the moon, NASA leader Dan Truman (Billy Bob
Thornton) does not even know how to shave himself.
Some individuals try to leave the planet a little better than
what it was when they arrived. Harry S. Stamper gets a
chance single-handedly to save the world--which would,
perhaps, leave it better. This grandiose theme should evoke
breathtaking responses in the audience. Maybe it does. But
it could also lead intelligent people with an appetite to see
Spalding Gray deliver a one-man monologue on a small stage
in an intimate theater.
Copyright © 2000 Harvey Karten