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by Jack Sommersby

"Passable Disaster Picture"
3 stars

A generic screenplay is somewhat alleviated by a good star perfomance and par-for-the-course direction.

Meteor is a fine entry in the disaster-movie subgenre. It doesn't have the number of entertaining scenes that graced The Poseiden Adventure, but it's thankfully devoid of the grinding unpleasantness of The Towering Inferno and eye-rolling banality of When Time Ran Out. The director, Ronald Neame, who helmed Poseiden, isn't much of a visually expressive storyteller, but he's a fair enough technician at staging the kind of special-effects-laden action sequences audiences have come to expect. Instead of a giant tidal wave or afire skyscraper or lava-spewing volcano, the culrpit is a five-mile-wide meteor on a direct course toward Earth that's set to strike in six days with a catastrophic impact the equivalent of two-and-a-half-million megatons of TNT. The hero is one Dr. Paul Bradley (Sean Connery), an MIT astrophysist instructor who resigned from NASA five years prior over the government taking military command over his Herculeas project, a ballistic-missile meteor-deterring weapon in space that was turned into a nuclear weapon with the missiles pointing toward the planet rather than away from it. He's summoned back to duty because his pet project is the only hope of destroying the twenty-miles-in-diameter monstrosity, though he meets heated resistance from the ranking Army general worried that the American people will deduce the peace-treaty-violating intention he's earmarked for it. It's the Cold War, and because there aren't enough missiles to do the job according to Bradley's calculations, Russia's similar Herculeas device, named Peter the Great, which Bradley knows they possess (its missiles are pointed at the United States just like ours are pointed at them), is also needed, and the ultra-paranoiac general feverishly opposes any bi-country cooperation. (Martin Landau, grossly overacting the role of the general, forever shouting and bulging his veins, nevertheless convinces that of the ever-distrusting, warmongering Republican American -- he makes General Patton look like a pacifist.) The Soviet Union's own leading astrophysisist (appealing played by the always-welcome Brian Keith) arrives in New York with his trusty translator (an adequate Natalie Wood), with all sorts of negotiations needing to be made before the requisite red tape can be broken through. With the end-of-mankind extremities are on the brink, as much as we'd like to initially reject these manufactured hostilities, the moviemakers aptly get across that they're not exactly implausible.

Connery is something of a marvel in giving Bradley the necessary humanism so we have an adequate protagonist on hand -- though he must've been tempted, he avoids the typical boat-payment performance we usually get in this kind of thing. Still harboring a grudge over the way he was betrayed, Bradley is both idealistic and stubborn, and Connery fills in just enough so we respond to him amid all the disposable dialogue and flimsy characterizations. He's not challenging himself, that's for sure (he's participating for the sole sake of a big paycheck), but he doesn't lay down on the job, either. Neither does Keith, who speaks fluent Russian and uses his face for canny effect -- he manages to suggest a man who's learned to keep himself amused as a way of staying sane behind something as freedoms-restrictive as the Iron Curtain. And Karl Malden, as Bradley's former supervisor and friendly cohort, also makes an indelible impression. But the majority of those going into Meteor will be more concerned with the action, which Neame adequately executes. The crosscutting between the meteor approaching Earth and the goings-on in attempting to stop it are well done -- using inventive sound effects, Neame even manages to give the rock something of a menacing personality as it's hurtling forward at thirty-thousand miles per hour. To lend variety to the proceedings the screenwriters have invented meteor "splinters" that hit in parts of the planet before the big one arrives, from Siberia to Italy to Switzerland to Hong Kong; and in carrying these out Neame does something uncommonly humane by leading into each sequence with the focus on a certain person of that locale right before destruction strikes -- he's refusing to mechanically pile on mayhem just for cheap sensationalistic effect. (This won't come as a surprise who saw his 1974 spy thriller The Odessa File, which, with a galvanizing star performance by Jon Voight, was dramatically fluid.) Oh, I wish the timing were more acute with the staging of the rockets deploying and approaching their target (it's the only time things are amateurishly fake-looking), and a splinter just happening to crash in the Big Apple at the last minute where Bradley and others are operating out of an underground bunker is piling on another level of conflict too conveniently (not to mention, it flies in the face of the supposed impenetrability of this kind of installation). Overall, though, Meteor delivers the goods. And if it doesn't do so as elegantly and stylishly as one would like, at least it gives us reason not to shrug off its overworked type altogether.

Inferior to "Armageddon," superior to "Deep Impact."

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12185&reviewer=327
originally posted: 04/12/13 09:06:10
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User Comments

11/16/07 Jack Sommersby Surprisingly entertaining given its stale story premise. 3 stars
2/05/07 action movie fan okay 1970.s disaster flick but not in league with the cassandra crossing 3 stars
5/14/05 Jeff Anderson About as shoddily made & poor as 1979's CITY ON FIRE! The great cast redeems it GENEROUSLY! 2 stars
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  19-Oct-1979 (PG)
  DVD: 14-Aug-2001

  19-Dec-1979 (PG)

  19-Dec-1979 (PG)

Directed by
  Ronald Neame

Written by
  Stanley Mann
  Edmund H. North

  Sean Connery
  Natalie Wood
  Karl Malden
  Brian Keith
  Henry Fonda
  Martin Landau

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