Worth A Look: 9.88%
Just Average: 13.95%
Pretty Crappy: 21.51%
9 reviews, 118 user ratings
by Andrew Howe
Deep Impact could have been a great film, but a few poor decisions on the part of its creators have left us with an average film with occasional flashes of inspiration. It's not a dead loss, but, like the film's characters, it makes you weep for what might have been.When I was a kid the weekends were the most wonderful creation on God's green earth. Released from the mundane activities which blight our adult years (grocery shopping, entertaining the in-laws, hangovers, et al) I was at liberty to spend two days running wild and free. My memories of that time are filled with escapades too numerous to mention - armed with my trusty pushbike (and could even a modern-day Harley ever hold such a mystic appeal?) I rode through a land which still held a little of the magic we lose once our youth passes into the realms of sepia memory.
"John Donne, Won't You Please Come Home?"
And, of course, at the centre of the whole magical mystery tour was the Saturday afternoon movie. It is true that the majority of those films will never be considered classics, but to a ten year-old they were simply astounding, filling the mind with dreams of interplanetary travel, duels to the death on castle stairways, and shootouts in frontier towns in the old and wild west. I think I lost something the first time I decided that one of those films lacked solid characterisation, or failed to achieve the requisite level of snappy dialogue, and it should therefore come as no surprise that my favourite movies today are the ones which rouse the same level of passion and wonder in my adult soul as the ones I watched on that old portable television so many years ago.
So it was that as I watched Deep Impact I heard the call of the past echoing through the channels of my subconscious. Following the thread, I found a young boy who looked a lot like me thrilling to a film called When Worlds Collide. Said film revolved around the notion that a large planetary body was on a collision course with earth, and charted the efforts of humanity to build a spacecraft which would enable a select few to escape the impending threat. I haven't seen that film in a good twenty years, and I'm sure if I watched it today I would be less than impressed, but even after all this time I can still remember key scenes and dialogue. I think it's because even at that age the thought of such a grim occurrence was deeply unsettling, and if I'd known about the legend of the Sword of Damocles perhaps I would have understood why.
Deep Impact, then, has a similar theme, one which is nothing particularly new to anyone who reads science-fiction or watched Armageddon in the same year. What is new is that special effects have reached the stage where such a catastrophe can be believably depicted, and so we are left with the promise of scenes of mass destruction on a grand scale (and this revelation is certainly not a spoiler, given that the film's marketers saw fit to include scenes from the climax in the trailer and on the front cover of the video. Bad move, guys.)
For a film which purports to be a blockbuster, Deep Impact takes itself surprisingly seriously. There is no levity whatsoever, which is probably reasonable given that the total destruction of life as we know it is not one of the all-time great party jokes. The film chooses instead to map the progress of a disparate group of protagonists against a backdrop of ever-rising hopelessness, and does such a fine job of creating an oppressive atmosphere that by the final twenty minutes I was reaching for the anti-depressants which I'd been saving for the next Batman sequel.
The problem with this film is that it doesn't have enough time at its disposal to give the story the attention it deserves. There are a *lot* of characters in this film, and in choosing to concentrate on Téa Leoni's reporter and the crew of the shuttle sent to nullify the threat the film's authors ensure that every other character comes across as somewhat underwritten. What is worse is that we get very little insight into the way humanity at large is coping with the impending catastrophe, an intriguing concept which the authors discard in favour of more theatrics from Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski (a subplot which was probably shoehorned in to attract the teenage crowd, but which inevitably arouses zero interest due to the total lack of chemistry between the two actors). Not only that, but Jon Favreau makes one of the most unexpectedly sudden exits since Steven Seagal in Executive Decision, which is a damn shame since he deserves his screen time more than most of the other actors in this flick.
As a result, the fractured narrative and compressed feel of this film scuttle any chance Deep Impact had of rising above the average. That being said, however, I cannot deny that there is still much to like. Let us not forget that within this film's 120 minutes you will witness
- a touching, bittersweet scene where Robert Duvall reads a book to a fellow astronaut;
- a subdued performance from Morgan Freeman as the US president, which is still better than most actors' best; and
- a state of the nation address at the end of the line which, with its understated delivery, is a darn sight more terrifying than the high point of your average horror movie.
And finally, there's a scene at the end involving Téa Leone and Maximilian Schell on a beach which will tear the heart out of anyone who has ever meditated upon the transience of human existence, and single-handedly defies Hollywood convention to boot. It's worth seeing the film just for this moment alone, but only if you don't mind being punched in the gut for your trouble.
So what we have here is a fairly run-of-the-mill film which occasionally manages to sing far above its range. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a flawed masterpiece, but it's worth sitting through just to catch those moments when it connects with the basic humanity within us all.
And if you must ask for whom the bell tolls, you'll find the answer here.This film has its moments, and is worth seeing on their strength alone. Just don't expect miracles.
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originally posted: 11/25/99 08:21:10