Blu-ray Review: Armageddon (1998)

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I look at Michael Bay's success the same way I look at the breakout of the big blockbuster films by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg in the late '70s. He gives the audience exactly what they want, which is a big, splashy, mega-buck action extravaganza that raises your heart-rate to the optimal popcorn chewing level. But ultimately one detail is left out of the fine print and that is for every big Bay release, dozens of far superior littler movies are left tossed by the wayside.

While Lucas and Spielberg embraced the box office and made stories we would remember with their various franchise pictures before Spielberg turned into a versatile artist who could move back and forth from Jurassic Park to Schindler's List like the pro that he is, essentially Michael Bay became a one-note man.

From his earliest efforts up through the Transformers vehicles that are built around selling more action figures, he delivers glossy movies that play like advertisements with shots lasting a mere second or two as the roller-coaster set-up is designed to continually top itself one sequence at a time, logic or character development be damned.

It's a shame that he's never branched out either since he has so much raw talent and an unmistakable director's eye that he probably is capable of knocking our socks off with the right material but much like his ads for Victoria's Secret, Bay's all about the “wham bam, thank you ma'am,” or rather “dude."

Bay's works are often comprised of fast cars, scantily clad women, a blue collar group of outsiders who would've been chosen for The Dirty Dozen decades ago and a high concept plot centering around a potentially world altering disaster with enough plot-holes that you can drive a super-sized Bay truck through it.

And although it's at least more watchable than his awful Transformers offerings, Armageddon is one disaster of a disaster movie that's just aching for a commentary track from the guys of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fame, making me wonder just how on Earth the otherwise faultless Criterion Collection decided to select Bay's movie for inclusion in their prestigious film series... unless it's as a tongue-in-cheek "can you believe this s***?" spectacle.

Accurately described as “the first 150 minute trailer” by Roger Ebert since all of the big moments are broken down into bite sized advertisement style montages, the movie's preposterous plot hinges on the potential end of civilization as we know it when an asteroid the size of Texas is sighted heading towards Earth within eighteen days.

Before you can shout “doomsday clock!” one of the countdown lighted only-in-Hollywood mechanisms is rigged and a dubious plan is hatched to send up two teams of expert oil workers led by Bruce Willis to drill a hole hundreds of feet into the asteroid and blow the damn thing apart by dropping a nuclear bomb right in the heart of the object set to turn Earth's civilians into extinct dinosaurs.

Referred to by NASA as the team with “the wrong stuff,” the men include Willis' former right hand man AJ (Ben Affleck) who's fallen out of favor since he became involved with the man's daughter (Liv Tyler) along with Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, Michael Clarke Duncan, Owen Wilson and more all working under the command of NASA head Billy Bob Thornton.

And even faster than you can stop to analyze how ludicrous the problem and its solution is scientifically, Murphy's Law sets in as the guys face a domino like chain of one serious problem after another in their exceedingly dangerous mission deep into space towards the heart of that state-sized asteroid.

Following the word-of-mouth success of Good Will Hunting, the movie became one of 1998's biggest box office hits as Aflleck's movie even managed to beat out Matt Damon's rival work Saving Private Ryan in terms of ticket sales before the year of Affleck continued. In '98, the film in which he played a small role -- Shakespeare in Love -- ended up besting all others when Oscar season rolled around and Shakespeare took home the top prize over Ryan and made all of Armageddon's Razzie nominations completely meaningless.

Following up James Cameron's Titanic, disaster movies came back in a big way and two world enders battled it out at the same time with similar plot lines as Mimi Leder's more serious take Deep Impact earned slightly more supportive reviews but lost the favor of moviegoers who couldn't wait to see Bay's polished blockbuster that was practically edited to be a two and a half hour music video to sync up to Aerosmith's award-winning “I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing” which became the hit of the summer.

While the Blu-ray looks and sounds just as riveting as the stupid but engrossing work was twelve years ago in theatres as you're jolted right out of your chair by the incredible high definition audio that comes pouring out of every speaker, ultimately, the movie hasn't improved any with time as the intellectually bankrupt, manipulative and just plain long-winded work seems that much more so now that it's able to be paused and discussed in the privacy of our own homes.

This being said, it still stands to reason that if the world is ending, I'd always call Die Hard's Bruce Willis myself. However, if the plan and execution of it is as overwrought and mindbogglingly dimwitted as this one is – complete with some of Bay's uncomfortable racially one-dimensional caricatures from the start -- then I'd rather just “miss [the] thing” and seek out the dozens of good movies left in its wake than suffer through Armageddon even after all these years.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.