Firing Scuds from the Aisle Seat
by Andy Dursin
As if the barrage of bad reviews that greeted the summer's other expensive
summer movie weren't enough, I decided to weigh in with my two cents. I
found it interesting that so many trusted, fellow on-line reviewers "weeped"
at this particular movie (it's like tearing up during BAD BOYS), while
a lot of people hated this picture with a passion. Of course, you'll see
it anyway, but don't say you weren't properly warned!
One note to those of you out there--I do pay to see my movies, unbelievable
as it may seem. If there's anybody with the knowledge of who to contact
in terms of getting into press screenings, and how one would go about that,
please let me know. I'm out in Rhode Island, however, so if any southern
New Englanders are reading, do drop me a line. You will have my gratitude!
ARMAGEDDON (*1/2): Everyone has their version of what the "perfect
American movie" would be. I suppose there's someone out there who
will think that ARMAGEDDON is that film, since it contains more patriotic
elements that any movie you'll see this year. After all, how much more
American can you get than to have a film featuring Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler,
NASA, Aerosmith on the soundtrack, and Old Glory flying in virtually every
As all of the movie poster quotes from pre-fab, no-name movie critics
would have you believe, the Fourth of July weekend was also the ideal time
for the release of ARMAGEDDON, the latest Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay
thriller, since the movie provides just as many explosions and fireworks
on-screen as any local celebration you witnessed this weekend. Unfortunately,
the REAL reason why this holiday was so appropriate is that the movie itself
is as big a bomb as anything launched around the U.S.A. on Saturday night.
Perhaps the loudest movie I've ever seen and heard in a theater, ARMAGEDDON
is a 150 minute, bloated, empty carcass of a movie, an assault on the senses
that will leave your ears ringing for hours on end afterwards. It has the
form of a disaster epic, done in the requisite Bruckheimer/Bay style, but
it doesn't have the heart to support it, much less the sense of impending
doom and disaster that the plot so desperately needs. (Even the 1979 belated
disaster entry METEOR, with Sean Connery, had that going for it). As far
as dragging out countless flag-waving elements to pander to the lowest
common American denominator goes, how's a slow-motion scene of small-town
kids running by a building with a JFK painting on it for you?
Bruce Willis stars as an oil foreman whose rag-tag team of rig workers
(think CON-AIR) are recruited by NASA to drill a nuclear missile into an
asteroid that is on a direct heading with Earth. Billy Bob Thornton plays
the requisite NASA man whose disability prevented him from taken flight
to the stars (every space movie has this character now, apparently), while
Liv Tyler is Willis's lovestruck daughter and Ben Affleck is the young
hotshot hero who has Tyler's heart. The assorted supporting roles are filled
out by a predictably eclectic group of actors, including FARGO's Steve
Buscemi and Peter Stomare, the latter ludicrously overplaying a Russian
cosmonaut stuck in a space station. Yet, for the most part, virtually all
of these characters are more stereotypical than real--we have the wise-cracking
nerd, the fat guy, a spaced-out "dude," and a big black man,
all parts that feel as if they were decided upon by the studio before the
script was even written.
After an early attack on New York, with effects that are so quickly
executed we have no time to grasp the horror of the situation, the movie
settles into a RIGHT STUFF inspired training film, filled with scenes we've
watched one too many times before. However, I didn't much mind this portion
of the picture, since a few of Buscemi's wisecracks are funny and the film
is setting us up for something truly spectacular to occur in its second
But that never happens. Once ARMAGEDDON takes flight to outer-space,
the picture never comes to life, and settles into an interminable set of
unsurprising, senseless situations with virtually every single word being
SCREAMED by the cast. (After much deliberation, I couldn't recall a movie
with so much screaming, not even a Sean S.Cunningham horror movie). Believe
me, Tylenol was the first thing I took when I got home after sitting through
this film. If that wasn't bad enough, the picture lumbers its way to the
finish line by incorporating a heavy amount of ersatz climaxes and one
particular plot twist--a totally unnecessary government "conspiracy"
back-up plan--that are paraded out in front of our eyes in order to pad
the running time. When one particular character decides to sacrifice himself
for the Greater Good of Mankind at the very end, we could care less about
the guy's fate since we know it will result in just another climax to prolong
the movie's bloated finale. Long before this point I was thinking, "enough
already! Blow the damn thing up!", while various audience members
around me blocked their ears in an attempt to hide from the sound (several
walked out, and the theater's sound level, during the first half, didn't
even seem to be all that loud to begin with).
The screenplay has its share of amusing lines early on, but also an
incredible amount of unintentional yucks, the likes of which manifest themselves
near the end of the film. To wit--after hearing Willis announce that the
asteroid seems to be acting up as it heads towards Earth, Will Patton responds
with the priceless line "that's because it knows we're going to kill
it." Liv Tyler also has her share of ridiculous sequences, no more
so than when she cries her eyes out in the NASA control room (for the second
time) after learning that the government, with barely a minute to spare,
has decided to blow up the asteroid itself in a last ditch attempt to save
humanity. It may be unfortunate that her boyfriend and dad are up on the
rock, but gee, don't you think she could care about anyone else on our
planet except herself? This sequence is more than likely what Cannes patrons
laughed off the screen a month ago at a preview, and I would think it will
receive the same reception from audiences here in the States.
After deluging us with wacky comedy and pseudo-disaster situations,
this picture even has the nerve to throw in absurd lines about God and
a laughable, teary-eyed "goodbye" sequence between Willis and
Tyler, which rings even more hollow given Trevor Rabin's by-the-numbers
"wall of sound" musical score and Michael Bay's motion-sickness
inducing direction. For once, though, I didn't particularly mind Bay's
rapid-fire cutting, at least not any more than I found it objectionable
in THE ROCK, but there's still nothing beneath all the pseudo-patriotic
banner in this movie except a director doing the same thing he's already
done before and a movie whose only motivation is to cash one gigantic check.
Again, the thing that's fatally missing from the core of ARMAGEDDON
is the sense of impending holocaust. The special effects of little meteorites
crashing into New York are underwhelming, and a single sequence showing
Paris getting hammered near the end of the film feels like it was inserted
at the last minute. Where the heck did the $120 million budget for this
movie go?Certainly not in the effects department, since DEEP IMPACT had
a far more elaborate set of effects sequences that were truly evocative
in their scope and believable in their execution.
In that movie, I also felt a connection with the characters because
the situation itself--that Earth is about to be destroyed and our way of
life erased from the planet--was so well exploited. The cause of humanity's
survival, and how people would react to the news of worldwide catastrophe,
was truly terrifying and tragic, and the end of the picture was that much
more meaningful and suspenseful because of it. I didn't feel any of that
in ARMAGEDDON, and maybe that's because the issue of Earth's survival is
addressed in no more than a series of "international location shots"
that closely resemble a long distance commercial for AT&T.
In retrospect, I should have known that ARMAGEDDON was in trouble early
on, at least from one little sequence that most viewers won't even recognize
as a cheap shot. Right at the beginning of the film, a little dog tears
into a collection of Godzilla figures on a sidewalk in New York. This scene
has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, and was obviously thrown
in by the filmmakers as a knock against GODZILLA, the summer's first blockbuster
(and also not the last) that failed to live up to expectations. If there's
anything worse than a movie that disappoints, it's a group of smug filmmakers
who have made a movie that they believe to be better than someone else's.
Too bad for them that that scene, meant as an in-joke, was more a case
of foreshadowing for ARMAGEDDON than a sign of bragging rights to the summer
movie crown. (PG-13, 150 mins.)
AISLE SEAT READER BAG
A few assorted comments worth mentioning this time around...
From Roger Feigenblatt:
While I concur that reviewing the film along with the music can
help the reader grasp what the composer and the score are trying to do,
I find that you go into too much detail regarding the plot and who is in
front of and behind the camera. You also have a penchant for dry, satirical
comments which are usually the signs of a frustrated outsider who must
take potshots at "those who can". This site and the mag are suppossed
to be devoted to film music and are not designed to show off how witty
(or not) your capsule reviews appear.
Please don't take any of the following personally. It is nearly
impossible to write about music since it is such a personal response, but
Thanks Roger (I guess). A few people (read: three) have been confused
about what The Aisle Seat is all about sometimes, particularly because
it appears here on a film music website.
But the bottom line is this--my reviews are MOVIE reviews. I would think
this would be obvious to anyone who reads one of my columns. First and
foremost, I'm reviewing the movie, since when I go to the cinema, I usually
watch the film and judge it on its merits as a film. The musical score
is, to me, secondary in most cases. This is because my orientation is towards
watching the movie and writing about the film, and IF the film has a particularly
interesting or noteworthy score, I'll mention it. If it doesn't, it's impossible
for me--in writing one of my reviews--to bring up the score in the context
of a FILM REVIEW just for the sake of doing so. After all, how many movie
reviews discuss film scores to begin with? That's not to say that most
critics don't overlook film music, because I believe they do, but when
so many movies have marginal or serviceable scores, there's no need to
bring the music up just because we're on-line at a movie music site. In
the context of reviewing a movie soundtrack, naturally the music is the
main point of interest, but that's not what I'm doing in my columns.
Secondly, who's to say what content belongs and doesn't belong on this
site? To me, movies are such an inseparable part of experiencing movie
music that devoting a day, or a column--either from me, Lukas or Jeff Bond
or whoever--simply to the movies themselves is NOT at all inappropriate
in our forum. And if you don't want to read the reviews, then don't. Simply
come back tomorrow.
Finally, I'm far from frustrated or point fingers at "those who
can." (Incidentally, have you actually calculated the ratio of good
reviews to bad ones in my columns? Don't forget that I'm one of five people
in North America who didn't think GODZILLA was all that bad!). This is
the same fallacy that used to dominate the arguments about soundtrack reviews
in FSM, where someone would inevitably say, "you aren't a composer
so what right do you have to judge film music?" My response is, even
better here, what right do filmmakers have to say that people who watch
movies CAN'T judge them? After all, filmmakers are only making movies for
the AUDIENCE who PAYS to see them! Movies are meant to make money, for
the most part. Few directors just grab a crew and some actors for the thrill
of it and go out and make a movie if nobody is going to see it. What it
all comes down to is a movie's execution and craftsmanship, and if there's
a semblance of thought or style behind the main motivation for the film's
release.Subsequently, criticism is, if anything, even more valid when related
to movies. Everyone who views a movie is a critic and justifiably so, since
if there wasn't an audience supporting most filmmakers, this entire industry
wouldn't exist in the first place!
And as for sarcasm, I personally don't think my comments are anywhere
near as cynical as others that appear both in the print and on-line FSM
(insert predictable sarcastic comment here. Just kidding).
From Eric Wemmer:
I am with you, I loved this X-Files movie and can't wait to see
it again. You said one thing that was really integral on something that
I believe, too. You said that this movie came in with confidence and was
itself, and didn't try to be anything other than X-Files. This, unlike,
the recent Star Trek films, which have lacked all of the good things this
film has. Things like good writing, good stories, being true to itself
(this criticism goes for all of Star Trek now), and what not. So, yes,
I am excited about this X-Files movie and where the future is for this
series. I think it is safe to say that the X-Files might be the "new
Star Trek" so to speak. Anyhow, it's always good to read your articles.
I always look forward to them.
Gracias, Eric. I agree that the X-FILES movie works because it doesn't
do anything different than what the show is known for, though our next
comment does have something interesting to note...
From Josh Gizelt:
Although I did enjoy THE X FILES, I have to say that I disagree
with some of the assumptions made regarding audience reaction to the film,
and, subsequently, the series.
I found that THE X FILES probably will lose momentum once the series
fans and casual watchers of the series lose interest.When I saw the film,
I was acutely aware of the fact that many of the best moments in it would
not make sense to anyone that has not followed the series. I also found
that the conspiracy situation was treated somewhat oafishly in the movie;
way too much information is revealed at once, and way too soon at that.
I think that any people who watch the series following the film
will be annoyed when they see that information is rarely given freely in
the show, and all the good stuff occurs at the season finale, when you
have to wait six months to find out what's happening.
The handling of the Mulder and Scully characters is also something
that probably won't carry on so well for someone who watches the show after
having seen the movie; cinematic romance and that of television work on
It was nice seeing Blythe Danner show up for no reason, though.
One of the things that always bugged me with the show was that, as you
said, Josh, you wait six months for something to happen--there's always
a lot of running in circles on the show, so to speak. But that's how a
lot of plot-heavy series work, you always wait for the "Big Episodes,"
the ones that alter the course of the program, and that's how THE X-FILES
movie works. That said, your points about what will happen to the show
now--whether or not it will simply fall back on its old, sometimes frustrating
plot developments--are valid. My take is this--the movie seems to give
the conspiracies, the running around, etc., a whole new, specific purpose,
one which the show has been lacking for a while. If they can keep up a
couple of seasons more on TV, THE X-FILES ought to have a solid cinematic
future ahead of itself, and in terms of Mulder & Scully, you can turn
down the heat for a while and have the relationship develop more when the
"Big Episodes," or movies (if it turns out to be in theaters),
come about. I'll give Chris Carter the benefit of the doubt that he'll
be able to pull it off. He did a good job on this film, after all.
MORE NEXT WEEK! email at firstname.lastname@example.org