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Disaster Du Jour #3: Deep Impact
By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
The summer of 1998 was a particularly good one when it came to movies. I remember looking forward to Saving Private Ryan and The X Files and Godzilla to name just a few. But the movie I was looking forward to most that year was the disaster film Deep Impact.
Deep Impact was the first of two comet/asteroid disaster films that summer with Armageddon arriving (ha-ha) a few months later. While Armageddon was a super-charged, more action-than-disaster flick, Deep Impact was sold as the thinking person's end of the world film. Even the taglines for the two movies played these differences. Armageddon ran “Earth, it was fun while it lasted” while Deep Impact had a level of seriousness with, “Heaven and Earth are about to collide.”
But don't let the marketing fool you. While Deep Impact might be a bit more cerebral than Armageddon, it's a traditional disaster film at its core with a little more emotion and pathos thrown in for flavor.
Deep Impact follows several groups of characters all living under the shadow of a comet on its way to smash into the Earth and wipe out all life on the planet. The first group are astronauts on a mission to destroy the comet before it gets here. The second is of the teen discoverer of the comet Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood) and his friends and family as they prepare for the disaster. The final set of characters is of a MSNBC news team covering the immanent disaster and everyone coming to terms with living in the end times.
For a while I was seriously devoted to this film. I downloaded every movie trailer I could find for it on a pre-pubescent Internet. I saw Deep Impact in the theater, the first DVD I ever bought was of Deep Impact, I developed micro-websites devoted to Deep Impact, I collected Deep Impact memorabilia and on and on. But honestly, it's been some time since the last time I watched the film and I have to say that while it's not as good as I remember, the movie mostly works.
I found the story interesting and the characters of Deep Impact well drawn. Two characters are particularly memorabilia; retired astronaut returned to the fray because of his experience on a Moon landing Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall) and the first African American President of the United States Beck (Morgan Freeman). I remember at the time how unique it was to have a movie with an African-American as the President. Who could have guessed that a decade later there really would be a person of color on the White House?
Where Deep Impact falls flat is when the creators of the movie try a bit too hard to be serious and mine for serious emotions from the story and character. There's the dad trying to reconnect with his adult daughter, the astronauts on the mission missing their families, Biederman trying to use his fame to get his girlfriend and her family into a government shelter, the single mom not sure what to do as the comet approaches…And this list goes on and on. It's like the creators of Deep Impact were embarrassed that people might call their film a disaster movie and tried everything they could think of from separating their film from other disaster films.
However, no matter how many sappy speeches, hugs or crying that might accompany the first two-thirds of Deep Impact, there's a lot to be said for the last third of the movie when a piece of the comet does hit the Earth. The special effects in the movie of the ocean swelling to engulf the east coast of the US and the astronauts fighting to stop a bigger piece from impacting were amazing and stand up even today.
When I first saw Deep Impact in the theater back in '98 I remember getting a little choked up in the theater at the end of the movie, and it got me again watching it a few weeks back. Sniff. I need a tissue. Grade B-.
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