Film review: Armageddon

31 March 2005


Heroes? Subtlety? Better films?

I've already reviewed Deep Impact for this site; I finally got round to watching Armageddon. Stuff gets blown up real good. Oh, you wanted a longer review?

This is a very loud film, even with the sound turned down. Ebert's description of it as a "150-minute trailer" is close, but I think just misses the mark; in fact this is a 150-minute music video. I don't think I caught a single shot lasting more than ten seconds after the pre-title sequence. (The IMDB claims the mean shot length is 1.5 seconds, and I can easily believe it.) What one takes away from the action sequences is not any sort of image of who is where, as better directors manage, but merely a jumbled mishmash of "stuff happened".

In spite of that, the film seems desperately padded. The bombardment of New York, in particular, is very drawn out; and the training sequences, while not bad of themselves, seem to have about twice as many actual segments as they need, each of which gets cut off before it can go anywhere interesting.

The production team (five credited writers by IMDB, and rumours of as many more) does get credit for minimal moppet factor, but that's about it. As usual with Big Stupid Summer Films, they try to work in a bit of everything - comedy (= slapstick), romance (= dewy eyes and a hero who can't tell a giraffe from a gazelle), drame (= every man a stereotype), action (= cutcutcutcutcut)...

As for the acting, nobody really gets much of a chance to show their talents (if any). Bruce Willis is a cut-rate John McClane; Liv Tyler is a generic trophy object for a Real Man to win (which I suppose beats being one the bitches or whores who apparently comprise the rest of female humanity); Ben Affleck produces what's probably his best performance to date. (This should scare you.) The sole good moments come from the NASA administrator - who'd have thought that a man called "Billy Bob" would provide the anchor of dignity?

In summary, it's a very subliminal sort of film; you know after each scene roughly what happened, but you can't describe how it got there or why. Ideal for playing in the background while you do something more interesting.

My Faithful Readers will of course want to know my thoughts on the X-71. A conventional Shuttle orbiter is not capable of effective operation in cislunar space; even with all payload replaced by fuel, it would not be able to attain more than about a 1200-mile-altitude highly elliptical orbit. Still, this is not a standard orbiter; it has something like two or three times the cargo capacity (including a ramp that pierces the aerodynamically-critical underside), two sets of retractable landing gear, and at least thrice (probably more) the delta-V, but can still be launched on top of a normal shuttle's SRB and ET stack. There is only one answer to this: clearly, the "auxiliary boosters" strapped above the wings are at the very least some form of highly efficient antimatter rocket. If they instead use some sort of miraculous cosmic power source, this might also explain the way in which they turn invisible during several of the shots in the launch sequence. The only remaining question is why the main engines are used at all.

Special Bonus: the Armageddon Drinking Game! Drink whenever: