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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 1/3/99



Armageddon
1998 (1999) - Hollywood Pictures (Buena Vista)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Armageddon Film Rating: F+
I'm a fan of director Michael Bay, but this flick really bites. And I mean big-time. If you want a much more intelligent asteroid / doomsday flick, go watch Deep Impact. And if you're looking for better Michael Bay action, see The Rock. This cheesy train wreck has gotta be among the worst films of 1998.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A+/C-
The video is generally good for non-anamorphic widescreen. The audio is first-rate - this is a great Dolby Digital surround sound mix. Unfortunately, the extras are somewhat less than pleasing.

Overall Rating: C+
I can't recommend this DVD. I mean, if you really liked the film, you'll be quite happy I'm sure. The quality is decent, and the audio really delivers. But for me, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard. Take it or leave it.

Specs and Features

151 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 71:10, right at the end of chapter 13), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, teaser trailer, Aerosmith I Don't Want to Miss a Thing music video, Sony Music soundtrack commercial, film-themed menus, scene access (27 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

Review

OK, here's the quick summary: After a space shuttle explodes in orbit, and New York City is hammered by a meteor shower, NASA discovers that a massive, planet-killing asteroid is going to collide with the Earth in just 18 days. A quick review of available plans of action leads to just one: send a team of drillers to the asteroid to detonate a nuclear warhead deep in its core. With any luck, the rock will be split in half, and both pieces will be deflected away from the Earth. Enter Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis). He and his motley crew are the best deep-core drillers the world has to offer. But when it comes to spaceflight, they've definitely got the Wrong Stuff.

I'm not gonna wade too deeply into the quagmire here - suffice it to say that Armageddon really tanks. OK, I liked about 30 minutes of it - 15 minutes at the beginning, when the meteor shower was destroying lots of stuff ('cause the effects were terrific), and 15 minutes right around the launch of the shuttles ('cause, having recently been to a shuttle launch myself, I just really dig the 'can-do' astronaut stuff). But there are two things that really irk me in a movie: 1) scenes that are staged solely for the purpose of tugging heart strings and pushing emotional buttons, and 2) events that are so implausible that they defy my ability to suspend belief, even in a big-budget Hollywood action movie. Armageddon shamelessly and repeatedly does both.

I swear, if I see Liv Tyler's doe-eyed and downcast expression in a movie one more time, I'm gonna lose my lunch. Gotta love those patriotic shots of happy little kids riding their space shuttle go-carts around in the happy little heartland of America (one of them even runs, shuttle toy in hand, past a picture of John F. Kennedy). Or how about the sappy montage of his life that passes before Willis' eyes at the end of the film? Bleech! Anybody find it hard to believe, that with only 17 days left until doomsday, NASA would waste time giving physical and psychological exams to the only people capable of saving the Earth? "I'm sorry Mr. Stamper. You and your men are our only hope, but you failed your Rorshack tests, so I guess we're all screwed." And what was with that Evil Knievel Snake River Canyon jump on the asteroid, anyway? Ouch.

So why the '+' in my F+ Film Rating? All right, I confess, Steve Buscemi cracks me up in just about everything he's in, and he does so again here. And there was one really funny line. One of Stamper's men (played by Owen Wilson) asks just how bad conditions on the surface of the asteroid will be, and when he's told the facts, he replies, "OK, the scariest environment imaginable. That's all you gotta say, the scariest environment imaginable...."

So let's talk DVD quality. The letterboxed widescreen image is generally pretty good, although there's some noticeable ringing and edge noise at times. The color is incredibly solid, however, and the contrast is excellent. The worst appearing images are generally the effects shots involving the asteroid (and its debris cloud) in space. These shots are very murky, with lots of diffuse gas and debris, and lots of motion - a real test for MPEG-2 compression. Some occasional artifacting can be seen. The layer switch really stands out - it's very poorly placed (see the specs above for the location). My biggest complaint, however, is that Buena Vista continues to give the cold shoulder to DVD's anamorphic capability. Armageddon would have been an obvious choice for 16x9 enhancement. Shame on the Mouse.

The audio, on the other hand, is absolutely outstanding. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix here is terrific, creating a sound stage with great depth. There's lots of good use of directional sound too - very active rear channels, with appropriately thunderous bass. This has got to rank right up there with the best DVD sound mixes I've yet heard. For those who prefer it, 5.1 audio is also provided in French - a nice touch.

As for extras, Buena Vista has seen fit to include both the theatrical trailer, and a teaser trailer - I have to give them that much credit. And if you like Aerosmith (which I don't), you'll be happy to find the complete music video for I Don't Want to Miss a Thing (I'm just a bit Top 40 radioed out on it, myself). But here's a great extra (add ironic tone): the Sony Music commercial for the soundtrack CD?! I'm sure that will really have Armageddon fans dancing in their living rooms. The least the Mouse could have provided, would have been a commentary track. I, for one, would have loved to hear director Michael Bay trying to justify his work on this film. What about a behind-the-scenes featurette, or a 'making of the special effects' reel? Most of the effects were pretty good, and I was interested to see what went into them. Guess we'll have to wait for that Criterion Collection DVD version that's in the works.

Bottom line

If you dug this film, then by all means, run out and buy the DVD. You will be very happy. For everyone else, well... it's your call. As DVDs go, there isn't anything here that you can't find elsewhere. And as films go... Armageddon just eeks out Godzilla as my pick for the worst film of 1998. I suspect that a few decades from now, film historians will look back and point to Armageddon as the shinning example of what went wrong with the Hollywood movie industry in the 1990s. Enough said.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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