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Mimi Leder
Robert Duvall, Tea Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan Freeman, Maximilian Schell, James Cromwell, Leelee Sobieski
Bruce Joel Rubin, Michael Tolkin

Oceans rise. Cities fall. Hope survives.
Box Office:
Budget $75 million.
Opening weekend $41.152 million on 3156 screens.
Domestic gross $140.459 million.
Rated PG-13 for intense disaster related elements and brief language.

Widescreen 2.35:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround
French Dolby Surround

Runtime: 121 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 12/15/1998

• None.

Score soundtrack

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Deep Impact (1998)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Occasionally Hollywood filmmakers exhibit some serious groupthink and produce a bunch of very similar movies in very short order. Usually one of these does well while the others tank. For example, in the late Eighties, Big struck it… uh… big, but the other “kid in an adult body” flicks from the era made little to no impact.

Periodically, none of the movies does well. Witness the onslaught of Mars flicks from the last couple of years. Mission to Mars, Red Planet and Ghosts Of Mars all did quite poorly. This is a rare event, though. Normally when Hollywood latches onto a concept, we find some success; it’s weird that all of the efforts in a particular line would bomb.

Perhaps even more unusual was what happened in 1998. That year we got two big-budget “destructive object from the sky” pictures that hit screens in fairly rapid succession. Deep Impact - which threatened Earth with a giant comet - came out first in May, while Armageddon - which sent a meteorite as large as Texas at us - appeared in early July. Few thought both would do well, but they did. Deep Impact snagged a not-too-shabby $140 million, which left it eighth among the year’s top moneymakers. On the other hand, Armageddon earned a tidy $201 million and ended up as the second biggest-grossing film of the year, not far behind the $216 million of Saving Private Ryan.

Ever since then, film fans have argued about the superiority of either flick. Granted, a lot of folks thought they both stunk, while a few really liked each of them. However, most people picked sides and preferred one or the other.

This occurred because the two were really fairly different films. Armageddon appealed more to the action crowd. Director Michael Bay went with a full-on war against the space rock, as deep-sea diggers and the military took on the threatening object. It highlighted flashy thrills and did so pretty well in my estimation. Armageddon isn’t a brilliant flick, but it delivered what it promised.

Deep Impact, on the other hand, tried to be Titanic with a comet. The movie hit screens less than five months after James Cameron’s smash arrived in theaters, and it seemed clear that the studio wanted to strike a same chord. The film’s posters accentuated the human relationships, and the picture itself more strongly followed those lines.

Because Impact featured less action, many tried to depict it as more intelligent than Armageddon. Balderdash, say I. Just because the movie lacked the same level of excitement didn’t mean it was deeper or more heartfelt. In my opinion, I just thought it was less interesting. The characters and events in Impact were just as superficial as those seen in Armageddon, but at least the latter had enough thrills to make it interesting. While Impact had its moments, it generally seemed fairly flat and bland.

At the start of Impact, TV reporter Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni ) lands a story about a scandal within the presidential administration. It turns out that prominent Cabinet member Alan Rittenhouse (James Cromwell) seems to be having an affair with someone named “Ellie”. However, after a lot of confusion, the president (Morgan Freeman) fesses up that the problem comes from E.L.E.: an “extinction level event”. That’s how they refer to the impending comet that will likely extinguish life.

As it happens, we’ve already seen the discovery of this comet. High school student Leo Beiderman (Elijah Wood) first saw it during an astronomy class. His teacher had a professional examine it, but that dude got into a fatal car wreck when he raced to report findings, so it took a while for the material to emerge.

Eventually Leo gets credit for his discovery, and this affords him a high level of status. The government plans to create an underground commune to keep society functioning at some level. A lottery will select most of the folks who’ll get to stay there, but those intimately involved with the effort - like Leo and his family and also Jenny - jump to the front of the line. However, this causes some problems with relatives and friends who don’t get to go. Jenny agonizes over her divorced parents Robin (Vanessa Redgrave) and Jason (Maximilian Schell), while Leo deals with his cute girlfriend Sarah (Leelee Sobieski). He even marries her to rescue her, but due to a snafu, her family can’t come along as promised. Why? So he’ll have to risk life and limb to physically retrieve her later, of course!

In the meantime, the US government actively tries to prevent catastrophe via a manned space mission. They’ll send astronauts to divert the comet and avoid the need for the underground lair. Headed by veteran Captain Tanner (Robert Duvall), they experience some generational tension - the younger participants think Tanner’s there for window-dressing - but they pull together as they face adversity.

So why exactly did I think Deep Impact failed to work as well as Armageddon? Because it didn’t follow through with what it promised. Armageddon promised lots of rock-‘em, sock-‘em action and it delivered. Impact remained far too touchy-feely for my liking. At times it seemed like an apocalyptic flick for the Lifetime Channel.

It also scattered its storylines too broadly. Armageddon focused on the team who would try to stop the asteroid and that was it. While the characters remained thin and stereotypical, at least we saw enough of them to develop genuine affection.

That didn’t occur during Impact. The movie flitted from Jenny to Leo to the astronauts and didn’t succeed with any of them. Instead, they just seemed like generic personalities to whom we felt little attachment. If we rooted for them, that occurred simply because we really don’t want to see the world come to an end.

Deep Impact foundered in other ways as well. It provided surprisingly cheesy special effects and showed an even weaker sense of logic and science and factual elements than did Armageddon; I never knew Richmond was quite so close to the ocean! While Impact featured a solid cast, none got much chance to excel. The usually excellent Freeman seemed wasted in his bit part as the president, though I did like the fact the movie never made an issue of a black commander in chief. Leoni actually managed to bring a little depth to Jenny, and Duvall lent an air of down-home charm to Tanner, but overall, the cast couldn’t make the movie memorable.

Honestly, I can’t say that I truly disliked Deep Impact. It had some moments, and it offered a moderate level of excitement and drama. However, I find it almost impossible to watch it and not compare it to Armageddon, and my preference for the latter taints the experience.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio A- / Bonus F

Deep Impact appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. That factor caused the most concerns with the picture, as otherwise it offered a pretty solid piece of work.

Sharpness generally appeared crisp and distinct. A few wider shots demonstrated a small amount of softness, but these concerns only appeared on rare occasions. For the most part, the movie seemed accurate and well defined. However, some jagged edges and moiré effects cropped up on occasion; for example, check out the shimmering displayed by James Cromwell’s shirt. In addition, a little edge enhancement occurred.

Print flaws stayed fairly minor. I saw occasional examples of modest grit and a few speckles, but nothing major appeared. Colors looked bright and vivid, and they displayed no problems related to bleeding, noise or other issues. Black levels seemed deep and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately opaque but not excessively thick. With anamorphic enhancement, a lot of the picture’s flaws probably would have disappeared. As it stood, the disc earned a good but unspectacular “B”.

I found the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Deep Impact to provide a consistently more satisfying affair. The soundfield offered a nicely active and involving piece of work. Music showed good stereo presence, while effects provided a good sense of environment. Between the space scenes and those with the explosions, Impact had a lot of chances for a killer mix, though it lacked the extremely high level of potential found during Armageddon. Nonetheless, the track used all five channels well and created a strong surround presence.

Audio quality seemed positive overall. The only negative I encountered related to speech, which occasionally showed light edginess. However, most of the dialogue lacked flaws, and the lines appeared intelligible and reasonably natural. Music sounded vivid and bright and showed good depth, while effects worked very well. Of course, the louder segments packed the greatest punch, as they provided the appropriate depth and power. Bass response seemed very solid, and the mix featured a lot of solid low-end response. Even with the minor edginess to speech, Deep Impact worked well enough to merit an “A-“ for audio.

The only area in which this DVD totally fell flat related to extras. Deep Impact came out back when Paramount almost never provided supplements for their discs, and we find absolutely nothing here. Now that the studio more strongly supports special editions, perhaps they’ll eventually revisit this one - and don’t forget the anamorphic transfer!

Not that either of those factors will make me like the movie any better. At times, Deep Impact offered a reasonably involving and dramatic disaster movie, but it focused too heavily on bland character drama. Since none of the roles received enough attention for us to care, this meant that the movie often fell flat. The DVD provides good but unexceptional picture along with strong audio and no supplements. If you’re a big fan of Deep Impact, the DVD presents the movie well enough for me to recommend it to you. However, anyone else should either skip it or hope for a reissue of the DVD with extras and a superior picture.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0555 Stars Number of Votes: 36
5 3:
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