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The Criterion Collection version of Armageddon had set the standard by which all other special editions will be judged. Only recently has it been surpassed in overall quality and amount of extras by Columbia's excellent Ghostbusters disc.
The first thing one notices about Criterion's Armageddon is the thickness of the keepcase. This dual disc set is loaded with extras beyond what a dual-layered DVD can accommodate. Disc one, which is itself dual-layer, contains the 153-minute film spaced across 31 chapters, an audio commentary with Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck. A second commentary with cinematographer John Scharwtzman, NASA consultant Dr. Joe Allen and asteroid consultant Ivan Bekey also graces this disc. Disc two includes three detailed analyses of special effects sequences by visual effects supervisors Richard Hoover, Pat McClung and Hoyt Yeatman. It also includes storyboards and production design drawings, deleted scenes compiled by Michael Bay, a gag reel by Michael Bay, theatrical trailer and teaser, television spots, an Aerosmith music video (including interviews with the band) and a discussion with production designer Michael White. Now you know why it was the champ.
One thing you will notice about Criterion special editions is the difference between what I call a 'Criterion commentary' and an ordinary commentary track. Criterion spends an awful lot of time, effort and money ensuring their commentary tracks actually entertain the viewer. The way they go about this is to interweave many commentators on the same track. The constant back and forth keeps you focused on the words being spoken by the commentators. Moreover, the editing work done by Criterion improves both the pace and the content of the final track.
Ever since the demise of DIVX, we as an online DVD community have been searching for our next battle to wage. Some have focused on anamorphic enhancement of discs while others have focused on the retail pricing of DVDs. I believe our goal should be to hold the studios accountable for the level of extras (especially commentaries) they are including on their so-called Special Editions. Frankly, I think all of the major studios can afford to go the extra mile and produce commentaries along the lines of Criterion's. As of now, there are but a select few individuals who can carry a two plus hour commentary track by themselves—think Roger Ebert's commentary track on Dark City. Putting two or more people in a room and allowing them to blab amongst themselves while watching the film does not a commentary track make.
The video on this disc is truly outstanding for a non-anamorphic transfer. This director-approved transfer by Criterion is a small improvement over the original Disney release. Blacks are blacker and colors are more richly saturated. Despite the constant movement present in this film, the transfer suffers none of the common slings and arrows as many of its compatriots do. There is no blooming, bleeding or grain evident throughout the presentation. There is an improvement in detail over this disc's Disney counterpart. But the detail is still not as sharp as the best anamorphic transfers I have seen. The film simply lacks that last bit of three dimensionality afforded by an outstanding anamorphic transfer. As expected of a newer film, such as Armageddon, there are no nicks or scars present here.
I noticed little, if any, improvement in this audio track as compared to the Disney original. Not that this is a bad thing since Disney's track was so good. Dialogue is well-centered and full-bodied with natural sounding voices. As one would expect, the LFE track nearly takes over at times giving your subwoofer one heck of a ride across the room. There are plenty of directional effects including many pans from front to back as well as left to right. This track will certainly give your audio system a well-deserved test.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as I like the extras, the audio and the video on this disc, none of that can save the film itself. Unlike Jeanine Basinger, who wrote so glowingly of Michael Bay and Armageddon in Criterion's insert, I find this movie virtually unredeemable. The film tells the story of an unlikely group of oil drilling misfits who are selected by NASA to save the world from a killer asteroid. There. Now you know the story.
I found Michael Bay's direction in this film to be stomach-turning and headache-inducing. The cuts between scenes occur so frequently and quickly as to give me an annoying case of motion sickness. I wish I had popped my Dramamine prior to popping this disc into my player.
Bruce Willis is up to his old tricks here. He gives us little to work with other than a few moments of semi-comedy. There is little to like about his character and less to like of many of the others beside him. Ben Affleck creates a non-character while Steve Buscemi plays his character completely over the top. Unfortunately, none of them have been developed enough to make you care whether a single one of them lives or dies during their "mission." I would attribute this to poor writing and direction, but in the end this lays at the feet of the actors, at least to a degree.
If you liked this film more than I did, and do not yet own a copy of either disc, then this is the one to buy, if for no other reason than to introduce you to The Criterion Collection. It is well worth the $35 it can be had for on-line—and then some. The transfer is better than the Disney original and the gaggle of extras on this disc are worth the $35 alone.
The film is guilty of giving me a headache. The disc and Criterion are acquitted of all charges, even of making a Criterion Collection disc of such a horrific film.
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