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Aroused by Armageddon?

A Potpourri of Comments from the Aisle Seat

By Andy Dursin

I didn't feel like spending $7.75 on LETHAL WEAPON 4, and while MADELINE got positive reviews, I think I'll wait for the video (and avoid the screaming kids). SMALL SOLDIERS also opened and looked as appealing as DR. DOLITTLE, so this past weekend, I spent the time catching up on a few videos and rummaging through the various comments I received from last week's Aisle Seat, not to mention indulging in a few non-FSM activities, like the beach! (Yessir, a free accidental rhyme to start things off here).

There are a couple of things I need to address before we get things started. First, if you send off an email to me, and DON'T want to have it printed, or wish to use a pseudonym, please let me know. Also, I don't intend for this to be a weekly "critique the critic" feature (i.e. "you're wrong, the movie was great!"), but rather I hope to include a lot of constructive comments that, whether they happen to agree or disagree with my own analysis, hopefully will shed some additional insight on the movies we discuss. Finally, after some deliberation, I will now include--after each movie review--a brief analysis of the film score as it works in the film, with a * to **** star rating. This will not be anything in-depth, nor will it be a review of the soundtrack album, simply a brief sentence or two on how the music works within the context of the film. That's it, something brief. But at least some of you will not get so hasty in clicking off the site when an Aisle Seat column appears from now on! (and you know who you are...)

Now that we've gotten those formalities out of the way, onto this week's activities. I have to say that I received far more comments than usual concerning last week's column, where I slammed ARMAGEDDON. Truth be told, the majority of the comments I received thought this movie was far more entertaining than I did, which is fine--you folks are certainly entitled to your opinions as much as I am, though I will say that the movie's cool reception from critics and lackluster box-office performance seemed to hint that this movie is in severe trouble (McDonald's "Armageddon Fries" promotion notwithstanding). Since I promised some feedback on this one, let's see what some of you thought about this mess... err, sorry, movie, starting with a comment that ran through a lot of the emails I received:

From Jeff Commings:

    I can't believe you thought Armageddon was a bad film! I can't think of a disaster film that has wrung so much emotion out of me since the Irwin Allen days of The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. And how could you not care about Bruce risking his life to save humankind? I don't think any person could sit through that scene and not get just a little bit choked up (Liv Tyler sitting in front of a screen of static after she says goodbye was a good touch). And yes, the lines by the actors were very good, and none seemed unintentional or cheesy; these guys just have a great sense of humor. Unlike Deep Impact, Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay want you to remember that you're there to have fun and go on this exciting ride. You've got to have a little humor in the face of danger, right?

    I thought the scenes on the asteroid were phenomenal. Yes, it was a little loud, but what do you expect? And I have been in much louder films than this, so I have a feeling that the theater you attended had the volume up too high. One more thing: just because we don't really care too much either way about the Earth being blown up doesn't mean that the ending is superficial. We just end up caring more about what happens on the asteroid than what is going on at NASA headquarters (though I did enjoy Billy Bob a lot). After all, we have spent two-plus hours with these guys and it's only natural that our concern is more with them than what Paris, Hong Kong and New York is going through. I don't think that your arguments have much support. Just because something looks unoriginal on the surface doesn't mean that it has no new elements of suspense (which this had a lot of) or witty lines (which this had plenty of, thanks to Buscemi). I think you need to get your ears checked and your sensibilities examined.

Jeff didn't want me to make him sound stupid by responding with a witty comment, so I won't.

From John in North Attleboro:

    I have to say it's too bad you didn't enjoy the flick that much. I went into the movie with certain expectations, and I have to say- of course one has to suspend their realistic point of view, I mean it is a movie for crying out loud- that I was blown away by the special effects. It was a thoroughly entertaining movie, a real popcorn cruncher. Maybe a little loud, but I am all for great sound systems. I havent been to a movie in quite some time where their has been audience participation- people clapped and cheered at the end, and most actually waited for the credits to finish! Maybe the filmmakers didn't want to waste much time on dwelling on people whining about the end of the world because of the film's bloated running time. Considering the other asteroid movie this summer, Deep Impact, I think the filmmakers wanted to release a whole different animal, and not a re- hash of the world's population contemplating the end of the world. I think the very opening shot of the film set the entire picture up for it's impending doom- the precredit sequence of 35 million years ago.

    I don't normally respond to reviews, but I liked the picture. Maybe it's not as artsy as Cannes would have liked, but for me it was the most entertaining film so far this summer...

In response to all the pro-ARMAGEDDON comments, I am always willing to suspend my disbelief in a movie like this. I don't usually quibble with plot logic in disaster movies, either, UNLESS the execution is lacking. That's where I think ARMAGEDDON fails, in that the execution, the direction, and the writing were all substandard. I've seen better movies like this before (in fact I've seen one in the last two months), and I've seen better action sequences in virtually any other genre film of late. The scene on the Space Station Mir (or whatever Russian space station they visit) was, for me, the one sequence that really showed how poor the filmmaking in this particular movie was. The scenario was almost completely incomprehensible, with every character running around screaming dialogue while Bay's shaking camera utterly failed to inform the audience what all the fuss was all about. One criteria for a successful action scene is that the director properly sets the table for the forthcoming "event" by showing us what's happening, where it's happening, and what could happen next in terms of suspense. Here, there's nothing but a lot of yelling and quick-cutting, and the next thing you know, the station blows up. This is where the movie really began to fall apart for me. (I know, I'm bordering on repeating myself, so I will stop here!).

But again, that's just my take. Thankfully, a few others of you echoed my sentiments...

From Henrik Jordan:

    I was delighted that you again pointed out how superfluous and shallow films like ARMAGEDDON really are. As it is the case with all of the latest Bruckheimer movies, this seems to be a film without ideas and without heart and soul.

    Luckily, I was able to catch that sixty minute "Cannes Compilation" which was also shown here in Berlin. After that, I decided that I had definetely seen and heard enough and I don't have to watch the other ninety (!) minutes of this offensive humbug.

    Don't get me wrong, I don't mind watching films with hilarious storylines or larger-than-life characters, as it is the case with most James Bond movies, for example. But these have heart, they're stylish and witty and any of these features are missing in most of today's blockbuster films.

    To my mind, the Bruckheimer films mark a sort of end point in the arts of filmmaking. Everything is thrown in to please the crowd of sensation hungry people which are completely over stimulated with loud, aggressive advertisement and TV spots and are unable to react to more subtle and intelligent ideas.

    But those films do even more damage and put the reaction levels of the already mindless crowd even higher. Act, and don't think. Scream, and don't talk. The poster artwork for Con-Air did symbolize this very perfectly: Cage, Cusack and Malkovich posing as three deliberately "interesting" looking guys in front of one big explosion.

    But the characters with the Bruckheimer films are in fact not at all interesting or special; they're merely designed to be that way. I don't know in which direction blockbuster films possibly can go further. It's time to turn the volume down a bit.

Amen, Henrik. Again, as I said, I enjoy all kinds of action movies and am willing to suspend my disbelief provided they are made with panache and style. Some of the sillier James Bond movies are a perfect example (the '70s Roger Moore films), and so are a few of John Woo's pictures, particularly BROKEN ARROW. I enjoyed that movie's humor and the craftsmanship of Woo's action sequences, even if the plot wasn't on the level of, say, the superior FACE/OFF. That's where I think the Bruckheimer/Bay school falls far short of the mark.

From Michele Lellouche:

    Right on!

    Sorry to start with a cliche--still have a hangover from the movie. I actually sat next to people who thought the ending was suspenseful. Gee, would they save the Earth? Of course, when my friends and I trashed it during the closing credits, a teenager in front of us stood up after listening to us for five minutes and told us to keep our bleeping comments to ourselves. Guess there's no accounting for taste.

    I'll admit, I booed. I just couldn't take it. I spent the last hour looking at my watch, wondering when the hell this movie was going to be over (and I'm sorry, every critic who has said that there's no way Mulder could do what he did in THE X-FILES should check out ARMAGEDDON. NO human could've survived any event in that movie. BTW, I think Liv and Ben should get some kind of award for keeping a straight face during that ludicrous animal cracker bit). Of course it's aimed at 15 year olds--it's not MTV editing, it's blender editing. I couldn't figure out that whole bit on Mir--I had no idea who was on the ship and who wasn't. Let's not even talk about the destruction of NYC not even drawing a minute of press coverage. Did a meteor take out Dan, Tom and Peter?

    BTW, my personal theory is the destruction of Paris was added after the Cannes reaction. (EDITOR'S NOTE: See below response). I love your site--keep up the excellent work!

The Paris sequence, as it turns out, WAS added late, as our next email attests...

From "Professor X":

    Hi, Andy.

    A couple of things about Armageddon I thought you might find interesting. First, you were right about the Paris scene. It was inserted at the last minute. In fact, this Deep Impact-ish sequence was created about a month before release solely for the sake of the ads. I read an article about the ad campaign for this picture, and how it was altered in response to Deep Impact's success and Godzilla's lack of success. This fascinating, if gruesome, article included the detail that in May, Buena Vista spent 3 mil. on some last minute special effects to pad the commercials with some new imagery. Specifically this included the asteroid crashing into union station at the beginning, the stuff with Asia getting it, and the Paris shots. You called it. If only you had known the depths of artistic darkness that went into those sequences.

    Also, I caught a 55 minute version of this film that was put together for Sho-West by Mr. Bay himself. It was temp-tracked with (in addition to some of the non-Aerosmith songs used in the finished movie) music from Midnight Run which has been all but copied in those same sequences in the film itself. I'll wager that those who know this music could pick the tracks while watching the film.

    Just thought you'd like to know.

Thanks for all your comments. Back next week with THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and THE MASK OF ZORRO (and I can tell you right now, James Horner fans will not be disappointed). Emails--with nothing more to do with ARMAGEDDON, please!--can be sent to Until then, Excelsior!

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