Contains spoilers for an 15 year old film
I unashamedly enjoy Michael Bay’s 1998 disaster opus Armageddon. I’m sure a lot of this has to do with the age I was when it was released, and it being, for a period, one of the very few VHS’s (remember those?) my parents had in my house. It was a smash hit upon release, but has never been viewed particularly highly by critics. Looking back, the film can easily be faulted, and is clearly a pure product of the commercial Hollywood studio machine, but I still have great fondness for it; here are a few reasons why.
It marks the End of an Era
Like I said, Armageddon is very clearly a product of the Hollywood studio system, you can tell that numerous writers have contributed to it, and various points are probably the result of studio executives assertions and focus group results, but hey, it works. Armageddon is also now, in retrospect, very much a product of its time. The eighties and nineties action blockbuster is a recognizable type of movie, and Armageddon in some ways represents the epitome of it. Massive Sci-Fi action blockbusters are continuing to dominate our multiplexes, but now they’re all sequels, or comic or book adaptations, reboots, remakes etc. The end of the nineties was the last time really when major studios would invest in a giant film based on an idea, not an existing property, with no name recognition and no potential for a sequel or spin-off. While Armageddon went for a PG-13, rather than an R rating, signalling where major action films were headed, it still fits most of the criteria, and is one of the last major films to do so. It was the highest grossing film worldwide of 1998, in every year since then; the top spot has gone to a franchise property. The only subsequent no. 1 film based on an original screenplay was Avatar, and that was intended to have sequels, and is now getting 3 of them. I think I can say with serious confidence that there’s not going to be an Armageddon 2.
The Supporting Cast
There are so many fantastic actors in this movie, really, look at this list: In addition to Willis and Affleck as the leads we have Billy Bob Thornton, Owen Wilson, Keith David, Peter Stormare, Michael Clarke Duncan, Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, William Fichtner, Jason Isaacs, (see below), even Udo Keir pops up. Every one of them has a memorable and interesting character.
Trevor Rabin’s score for Armageddon is quite like the film itself. It’s not original, challenging, or technically musical excellence by any measure, but it’s damn effective, right from the Hans Zimmer-inspired school of nineties action film scoring, and perfectly suited to its purpose. I’ve heard it re-used in numerous promos in the years since the film’s release.
The Smartest Guy on the Planet
Like any typical Hollywood global disaster movie, the focus is primarily on the good ol’ USA. However, I’ve always liked that NASA employee, Dr Quincy, referred to as ‘pretty much the smartest man on the planet’ was not only a non-American, but a well-spoken Brit (played by Jason Isaacs). There must just be something about the accent that sounds more intelligent. Also his ideas are in contrast to those of the arrogant military advisers.
There are very few films that have made me cry, and when they do, it’s usually because of genuine tragedy to the story rather than shameless emotional manipulation. This film seems to be the exception. I was struggling to fight off the tears when I first saw it, and when re-watching it, even when thinking about a few key scenes, I can still feel myself welling up. It’s not necessarily the obvious parts like Bruce Willis’s actual death scene or the queasy lovey-dovey parts. There are a couple of specific moments, first, after Affleck has drawn the short straw, Bruce takes him down to the air lock, as they get reach the door, Bruce suddenly tears out Affleck’s oxygen and shoves him back inside. Affleck wails in protest,“No, Harry!, You can’t do this to me! It’s my job!” . Bruce turns to him; “You go take care of my little girl now. That’s your job”. Fromage par excellence
Secondly, after the shuttle touches back down on Earth, Bruce’s right hand man, Chappel (Will Patton) exits to find his estranged wife awaiting him. Running toward him is his son, whom his wife told he was a salesman when he tried to visit prior to the mission. It’s a real emotional payoff for a secondary character the film could have forgotten about.
I know what the film I’ve seen the most number of times is, it’s Jurassic Park (I’m a nineties kid),second to that it’s either The Lion King or Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but, as I was thinking about this article, I realised Armageddon’s definitely up there. It’s quite possibly top 10. And I’d happily watch it again any time, preferably post-pub though mind.
The Total Nonsense
This film is incredibly stupid in many ways. In the DVD commentary, Ben Affleck reveals that, during filming he asked Michael Bay why it would not be simpler to train astronauts to drill than to train drillers to be astronauts. In response he was told to ‘shut the fuck up!’, exactly, it’s sacrificing common sense in the name of entertainment. In fact, this film is so scientifically inaccurate that NASA now shows the film as part of its management training program, inviting applicants to point out as many errors as they can. That’s right, this movie is actually used by NASA as part of its training, how many other movies can claim such a (dubious) honour? It just makes me like it even more.
The Emotional Rollercoaster
Again, it may well be an obvious product of the Hollywood studio system, but this film really does take you through a whirlwind of emotions. It’s at various points, thrilling, suspenseful, exciting, exhilarating, and triumphant. In other places amusing, laugh-out-loud funny, then grating, nauseating and cringe-worthy. And of course, as I already mentioned, tragic, tear-jerking and sentimental. The adjectives you could apply to this film are virtually limitless.
The Power Ballad
Because if there was anything this bombastic, over-the-top cheese-pie needed to ram itself forever into your memory, it’s a corny, over-dramatic power ballad at the end, and it gets possibly the king (or queen) of them, all together now; “every moment spent with you-u-u is a moment I treasuuuuuuuuuuuuuuure!”
It Overcomes its Flaws
Now I’ve mostly been writing about positive things in Armageddon, but I could easily list some of its many, many flaws if I was so inclined, like its insipid romantic subplot (shoehorned in after Titanic‘s success), awful dialogue (JJ Abrams is a credited screenwriter (!), bloated story, and ADD-infused editing. I didn’t however, I even turned some potential negative points into positive ones, and that’s this ludicrous film for me, if taken apart, there are many aspects of it that, technically speaking, are bad, but the film as a whole overcomes (nearly) all of this, to be a ridiculously enjoyable experience.