The last time Judge Christopher Kulik experienced Armageddon was immediately following a visit to the NASA cafeteria.
For Love. For Honor. For Mankind.
The biggest hit of Summer 1998 now gets the Blu-ray treatment, but does the film hold up after all this time?
Facts of the Case
When NASA scientists, led by Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton, Eagle Eye), report to the President that an asteroid the size of Texas is heading towards Earth, they all scramble to find a solution. Their only saviors might be a band of rag-tag oil drillers, led by Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis, Live Free Or Die Hard) who agree to the mission only after a list of demands ("No more taxes…ever!"). The situation causes a great deal of grief for Stamper's daughter Grace (Liv Tyler, The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy), who's in love with A.J. (Ben Affleck, Hollywoodland), her father's right-hand man. Will they be able to destroy the asteroid so the human race can survive? Please…
Vitriolic messages will no doubt fill my email over the course of the week, but I don't care; Armageddon is a colossally bad, cliché-ridden time waster with no originality or intelligence at its disposal. Mammoth budget and all-star cast aside, the film follows the disaster-movie playbook to the letter. The stereotypical characters are right off the shelf; the visual effects, while considerably impressive back in its day, you've seen before; the love story is completely sappy and superficial; everything feels not only forced, but jammed down your throat…so much so it compels throw-up junior multiple times. All potential fun is thus diminished, and all that's left is excess galore. Seriously, I'm still floored by the fact Armageddon was one of the first films selected for the Criterion treatment. I hope the person responsible was eventually fired.
Let's not ignore the fact that Armageddon exists for only one reason: blowing sh*t up. Director Michael Bay has never been subtle with his noisy blockbusters, and his sledgehammer mentality is here in full force. The opening sequence, with numerous asteroids destroying a portion of New York, is meant to be thrilling and attention-grabbing. Now, it simply turns one's stomach considering what has happened to the city since then; the sequence ends with one of the Twin Towers in flames. By the time we get into space, it's often difficult to tell what's going on because Bay is only concerned about explosions and placing the characters in constant peril. The effects may look cool, but now they seem dated and pointless. Scientific fact is pathetically flushed down the toilet for the sake of people being killed and last-second heroics. You would think NASA would have a better plan than sending a bunch of smart-ass oil-drillers who've done more harm to the planet than good into space. You would think.
Reportedly, nine screenwriters were responsible for this irresponsible dud. What's jaw-dropping is that one of them is Tony Gilroy, who later wrote the Bourne trilogy and is now a successful director (Michael Clayton). Another perpetrator is JJ Abrams, the man responsible for Lost and the sensational reboot of Star Trek (2009). However, much of the blame has to be placed on the shoulders of Jonathan Hensleigh (The Punisher), given both story and screenwriting credits. His terminally stupid dialogue is reminiscent of one of those low-budget B-thrillers from the 1970s, like Day Of The Animals and Night Of The Lepus. Comic relief, especially, is overblown to the Nth degree, which only renders the characters as nothing more than jokey puppets; few of them seem to be taking the doomsday scenario seriously. The result is zero tension, ultimately eliminating any reason to care.
The needlessly overlong script is chock full of obnoxious filler: unnecessary movie references, juvenile attitudes, strip-club visits, sloppy sentiment, contrived arguments, narrow escapes, and—get this—animal cracker soliloquies! Probably the worst element is the romance between Tyler and Affleck; not only is it passionless (you'd think they would be French-kissing by now), but it's handled in heavy-handed fashion, substituting chemistry for cheesecake. Armageddon predictably attempts to push emotional buttons, and it makes one feel like they're chugging a whole bottle of Log Cabin syrup. Adding to the torture is another thoroughly unmemorable, lyric-repetitive love song ("I Don't Want To Miss A Thing") written by the Queen Of Sap herself, Diane Warren. The whole raison d'etre for rock band Aerosmith helming the melody is because of Tyler being lead singer Steven's daughter. As a result, their credibility drops to a whole new low; they sound like Air Supply on crack.
Now we come to the cast, all wasted beyond comprehension. This is especially true of Billy Bob Thornton, the only one who achieves any level of credibility. As for the oil drillers, they're nothing more than one-dimensional pawns, constantly yakking out "hip, funny" dialogue in a desperate attempt for the audience to embrace them. William Fichtner (The Dark Night), Peter Stormare (Fargo), and Will Patton (The Fourth Kind) give it the old college try, but all they do is give the audience a heads up on the story every now and then. Affleck becomes nothing more than a whiny man-baby who embarrassingly attempts to lighten the mood through crooning John Denver songs. As for Tyler, her only purpose is to be sexy and open her shirt for drooling teenagers who couldn't get enough of her underwear shots in Empire Records. Finally, Willis is just dull; come back, McClane, come back!
It must be noted that the Blu-ray does not contain the 153-minute unrated "director's cut" from the Criterion disc. All we have is the 151-minute theatrical version, presented in 2.35:1 1080p widescreen. Picture quality is above average, but disappointing because certain scenes suffer from heavy amounts of darkness (Michael Clarke Duncan's face is so blacked-out he looks like a ghost) and occasionally muted colors. Still, the sharp flesh tones and lack of grain/dirt is a big plus. The opening sequence and space footage does boast visual spark more often than not. Touchstone has supplied optional surround tracks in French and Spanish. Still, considering the HD upgrade, Armageddon is nothing to make a fuss over; the small polish simply isn't worth trading in your old DVD for.
Audio-wise, everything is terrific. The DTS-HD 5.1 mix, recorded in 24-bit, 48 khz, booms and shakes your speakers so much it's a little creepy; the bass alone is so powerful it will make you think an earthquake is brewing. Pops and cracks are nonexistent, and the dialogue is clearly heard. Touchstone has also graciously included subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. Armageddon truly sounds great, but one word of warning: you might want to have the aspirin or Ibuprofen on standby.
Unfortunately, the extras—or lack thereof—practically destroys this Blu-ray. None of the extras present on the Criterion disc, including commentaries, storyboards, interviews, and deleted scenes, are provided here (presumably due to rights issues). All we get is Aerosmith's music video and a couple of trailers from the 1999 Touchstone disc. You can almost smell the greed coming from the studio.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Whatever entertainment value I found in Armageddon 12 years ago has since been nuked to oblivion. I can see why younger audiences might dig it, as there's enough ear and eye candy to make them forget to use their brain. If it wasn't for them, the film wouldn't have had near the same box office results.
Arguably, the one shooting star of this whole galactic fiasco is Steve Buscemi, one of the great character actors who can somehow take the goofiest of roles and make it work to his advantage. As the so-called "genius" of the group, his one-liners are the only ones that manage to generate some guffaws; he should have been the only source of comic relief. Then again, back in the day, I was the only one in my local theater who got the Slim Pickens reference (from Dr. Strangelove).
You know a movie is worthless, when you're rooting for the asteroid.
Guilty of giving the viewer a massive migraine! Touchstone is charged with releasing a cash-grab Blu-ray.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
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