Our review of Meteor (1979) (Blu-ray), published September 19th, 2014, is also available.
There's No Place On Earth To Hide!
Before television, we had live theater. Before telephones we had two Dixie cups and a string. Before Armageddon, we had Meteor. Yes, we still have live theater, Dixie cups, and string; they've just been built on by something more technologically advanced. And so it is with Meteor. Not a film for the lactose intolerant, it has more cheese than Wisconsin. A 1970s disaster flick masquerading as a science fiction film, it fails at both genres. And all coming from the studio that considers widescreen a special feature, MGM. Still, a campy movie that I liked on a certain level.
I'll get this off my chest now. MGM is really starting to irritate me. Apparently the motto over there is "if it ain't Bond, it ain't sh…err…worthy." The discs they attempt to foist on the public from their catalog titles (except the aforementioned British spy) should be a crime. Yes, you can point to a good disc here and there. They've got a great catalog of titles, but choose to come out with the likes of Meteor instead. At least it's widescreen, if not anamorphic. And it has some big stars in it; Sean Connery, Natalie Wood (in one of her last roles), Karl Malden, Brian Keith, and Martin Landau. It even has Henry Fonda playing the president, in what is little more than a cameo role. None of them were able to make this movie work, and were far better than the material allowed.
The story goes, surprisingly, that a big rock in space is going to hit Earth. I told you that you'd be surprised. So Sean Connery and a team of redneck oil drillers are sent into space to…oh wait, wrong movie. Sean Connery is a scientist who developed a nuclear missile tipped space platform for just such a contingency, but quit NASA in disgust after the military decided the missiles would be better off pointed toward Russia. But now that the Big Kahuna is really coming, they need him and pull him off his sailboat. However, it turns out that the 14 100 megaton warheads on the platform (called Hercules) isn't enough to knock out the meteor. Never mind no 100-megaton warheads have ever been built, especially since that inconsistency is the least of our worries. Take a look at this pic of Hercules: Orbital missile platform or the latest toothbrush from Oral B? You decide.
At any rate, this brings us to the Cold War subplot. Apparently this big toothbrush in the sky is a highly secret weapon, never minding that anybody with a telescope could see it easily. We can't admit that we have such a weapon in space, because that would make us nasty warmongers and stuff, which we apparently were. And there is the added problem that we don't have enough missiles on this platform to actually knock out the meteor. Fortunately the Russians also have an orbiting missile platform just like ours, except the missiles have red tips and red stars. So we enlist their aid to combine missile forces to blow up the big rock. But first we need a ton of meetings where we decide if it's worth saving the earth if we have to admit to having this weapon in space. Ultimately it's worth it though, and the Russians send their scientist Dr. Alexei Dubov (Keith) and his lovely translator Tatiana (Wood) to coordinate the efforts. I will give some brief kudos here in that real Russian was being spoken and that Natalie Wood was cast in part for her ability to speak the language.
Here we abandon the science fiction part of the movie for a while, and get right into disaster epic. We could expect no less from director Ronald Neame, who also did the much better Poseidon Adventure. See the meteor has a lot of smaller rocks ahead of it, each of which are big enough to create their own disaster movie. Giant avalanches, tidal waves, and many stock footage scenes of buildings collapsing result. The last one lands practically on top of our heroes sending off the missiles to blow up the rock, and now we get our own mini version of the film Daylight where they have to make their way out through a subway tunnel with the river rushing in. For the last 15 minutes or so, we see the actors getting covered in mud, which the other critics and I continue to throw at them to this day.
The last thing I can say positively about the film is that it works in a campy, funny way. The film takes itself very seriously, but you shouldn't if you want to enjoy it at all. The flat dialogue, half-baked characters, cheesy special effects, and then getting to see a bunch of stars covered in mud is good for an unintended laugh or two.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have to mention the things in that last paragraph again, except the mud, my favorite part. The film is just bad. You even get a scene where if you look close you can see that Sean Connery is reading a printout upside down. The dialogue is garden variety '70s TV show quality. I do have to say there is one great line in the movie: Sean Connery tells the NASA boys "Why don't you just stick a broom up my ass? I can sweep the floor on my way out." And I swear to God that once or twice they have Sean Connery dressed up in a leisure suit. Martin Landau plays a general who whines and sulks his way through the picture, then leaves like a boy who has taken his ball and is going home because the Russians are allowed inside the lab. The special effects are just really bad. They don't even attempt to match up the colors and lighting of all the stock footage they used for buildings being destroyed, which all mysteriously seemed to cave in on themselves just like when real experts demo a building. The missiles and the meteors are obvious models and optical effects, respectively. One or two of the effects were better than the rest, but most of the time I found myself shaking my head and laughing at them.
The saddest part of this film, and this review actually, is that Meteor isn't any worse really than the special effects extravaganzas to follow. I don't have much of an opinion of either Armageddon or Deep Impact obviously.
Finally I'll get around to the disc. The non-anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is fair. It is almost certainly a rehash from the laserdisc, with a fair amount of shimmer and edge enhancement problems. Still, flesh tones and blacks are great. Shadow detail is a little murky, but there aren't that many dark scenes.
The sound is much worse than the video. A Dolby Digital 2 channel mono track does little to help this film. While dialogue remains clear throughout, the score comes off harsh and shrill, and too loud. The effects, explosions and other would-be loud sounds, are very understated, not giving my subwoofer even a look. Having 30 100-megaton warheads going off and being able to chat over the sound they make is just sad. MGM should be ashamed of themselves for not doing a sound remix.
Let's not forget the extras on this cavalcade of praise for MGM's efforts. The trailer and "collectible booklet." I have news for you marketing pukes over at MGM: A folded-over piece of paper making for two pages of writing doth not a collectible booklet make. The production notes inside are decent at least.
Another confession: part of my ire at MGM has to do with their recent decision not to use any of the Criterion supplements in releasing Princess Bride this summer. One of the most asked-for titles that they've taken their sweet time releasing, then change their mind after announcing the extras for a special edition. I can't wait to review that disc: "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my DVD. Prepare to die."
Back to the film at hand though. The lackluster treatment MGM has given this disc doesn't recommend purchase, but a rental. But only rent it if you like cheesy special effects and want to watch it like a comedy rather than real disaster flick. Expect very little and perhaps you will not be disappointed.
MGM is quickly earning my contempt. The James Bond discs are all that's saving them from a death penalty now. For now I'll just sentence a nice boiling in oil. The actors in this film should have known better than to do this one and get a slap on the wrist. The film itself is released due to its campy unintended humor.
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