Where it counts, Armageddon marks the zenith of Michael Bay's pre-Transformers career. I speak, of course, of profit, with the movie grossing in the neighborhood of $561 million. Artfulness doesn't exactly come into the picture, but for entertainment value (and even, amazingly, plausibility), Armageddon falls behind the relatively sublime nonsense of its predecessor, The Rock. Armageddon has the full weight of Bruce Willis' star power behind it, and the estimable support of Billy Bob Thornton, but it also has a dippy duo of ingénues in Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler.
Armageddon was a part of one of Hollywood's notorious big-budget showdowns, losing a "race for the screen" with Paramount's competing asteroid-disaster picture Deep Impact. Though Deep Impact was hardly a paragon of subtlety, it seems like Ibsen after Armageddon, the subtext of which seems to be "Oh yeah? I got your deep impact right here." King of movie macho Michael Bay lathers testosterone over Rockwellian Americana. Amber waves of grain, waving sunlit flags, and Midwestern boys playing baseball are what our heroes are fighting for: New York City and its liberal stongholds, not so much (an early scene finds asteroid chunks knocking about the Big Apple's skyscrapers, scaring and/or crushing jive-talking city folk like Eddie Griffin's bike messenger).
The plot concerns an international scramble to stave off destruction from an asteroid the size of Texas that's on a collision course with Earth. NASA head Dan Truman (Thornton) recruits top deep-core oil driller Harry Stamper (Willis) to straighten out the American effort to drill into the asteroid and implant explosive charges. Following the old adage "if you want it done right, do it yourself," Stamper ends up an astronaut in training, alongside the misfit team pulled off his oil rig: cocky A.J. (Affleck), recently discovered boinking Harry's daughter Grace (Tyler); old hand "Chick" (Will Patton), giant-sized "Bear" (Michael Clarke Duncan), wisecrackers Rockhound (Steve Buscemi) and Oscar (Owen Wilson) and assorted other stereotypes. They're the "oil" to the government's "water," the latter represented by Keith David's general and William Fichtner's colonel. Add Peter Stormare as a loony Cosmonaut, and you've got a recipe for hijinks!
With a lot of patience, Armageddon can be a fun movie in the turn-your-brain-off blockbuster vein. It's stupid, and operates with about the same sense of humor as a Three Stooges short, but it can be loud, dumb fun, and the stronger members of the cast go some way to making the picture variously involving or funny. The flick's biggest enemy is Bay, who—while inarguably an impressive impresario in command of so much chaos—overworks the picture's style to within an inch of its life. The color-corrected Life magazine pictorial-style imagery and excessive use of slo-mo are far more annoying than they are easy on the eyes, and the hyperactive editing is unbearable. I suppose creating tension is precisely Bay's point, but the rhythm is downright maddening: it's impossible to count to three without a cut (try it, if you have a strong hold on your sanity).
Fans of Bay's very expensive, very jingoistic action extravaganzas will love Armageddon on its own terms: as one of the biggest, loudest movies ever made. But it's also the subject of scorn among film buffs as the odd movie out in the DVD era of The Criterion Collection, purveyors of "important classic and contemporary films...cinema at its finest." Yep, Armageddon is spine number 40. The film's inclusion was rumored to be part of a trade of sorts for other titles in owned by Disney, but any way you slice it, you gotta hand it to Bay: the guy has clout to match his cojones.
Disney delivers an impressive hi-def payload for Amageddon's Blu-ray debut. The picture quality of the transfer is excellent, clearly maximizing the twelve-year-old source material: it's difficult to imagine the movie looking any better than it does here brought to strongly detailed, delicately textured, boldly colored life; the occasional hint of noise and the odd soft shot appear to owe to the film itself, not this technically proficient transfer. The blistering DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix offers the film's soundtrack in best-yet fidelity with solid immersion, excellent clarity and discrete separation of dialogue and effects.
Unfortunately, the bonus features are limited here to two "Trailers" (5:45, SD) and the "Aerosmith Music Video "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing'" (4:59, SD). Extensive bonus features have previously been available as part of a Criterion Collection DVD; no telling if they will ever reappear on the Blu-ray format.
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