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Disaster Du Jour: Meteor (1979)
By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
Until I watched it again a few weeks back, I don't think I'd seen the movie Meteor (1979) in 20+ years. From what I remember watching it years ago, Meteor was a decent disaster flick that was a bit slow at times. Watching it again today, I found that Meteor was a decent disaster flick that was actually paced quite well. It's not the best Earth vs. asteroid movie ever made, but it might be the most interesting one.
In Meteor, though it's never spelled out, it seems like the movie is set in the (then) near future where astronauts and cosmonauts are out separately exploring the solar system far beyond the Earth. On one of these expeditions out in the asteroid belt astronauts witness a cosmic collision that sends a gigantic meteor on a collision course with the Earth.
In just six days our planet is going to be hit, and it's up to scientist Paul Bradley (Sean Connery) to convince both the US and USSR to use their nuclear arsenals they have aimed at each other to destroy the incoming rock. But there are disagreements, of course, and some in the US military don't want to be unarmed afterwards against the red bear.
Will Bradley be able to convince the government that being alive is better than being dead but still having all your nukes safe in their silos? Will the Russians cooperate with the US? But, more importantly, will Bradley and Russian translator Tatiana Donskaya (Natalie Wood) ever cut through the sexual tension to have that first kiss?
What I found most interesting about watching Meteor was the idea that in a time of global crisis global enemies the US and the USSR could work together to avert disaster.
The time period Meteor was filmed wasn't the best time for US and USSR relations. All throughout the 1970s the Cold War had been building and building and the two superpowers were constructing and stockpiling more and more nuclear weapons that were aimed at each other. And all it would take was one little mistake that could mean nuclear Armageddon for all.
But there was also a bit of a thaw in the Cold War in the 1970s too. In 1975 the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project a US capsule docked with a Soviet one in orbit and the two countries ran scientific experiments together -- which wouldn't happen again until the 1990s when astronauts visited the Mir space station. I'm sure that it was in this spirit that Meteor was written.
In Meteor, Bradley learns that technology he developed to stop asteroids from colliding with the Earth was developed without his knowledge, except that rather than being pointed outward the system was pointed towards the USSR. And the Soviets had developed their own similar weapons system and aimed it at the US too.
Much of Meteor is spent with Bradley trying to get the Americans, who don't trust the motives of the Soviets, to work with the Soviets, who don't trust the motives of the Americans. And Bradley finds an ally in the most unexpected of places; with Soviet Dr. Dubov (Brian Keith) and his translator Donskaya.
I think it would have been easy to make Dubov the bad guy but instead he actually has the best interests of the planet at heart. If there's a villain of Meteor, other than, well, the meteor, that would have been General Adlon (Martin Landau) who's more fearful of the Soviets than any darn space rock and tries to derail the alliance whenever he can.
We do get the standard scenes of disaster in Meteor. Here, there are massive avalanches that take out a ski resort, a tsunami wiping out Hong Kong and the destruction of New York by a smaller pieces of the rock. While the special effects used in Meteor all have a certain level of charm, the low budget of Meteor shows through in these pieces that only serve to bring the movie down as a whole to modern eyes.
But the central idea of Meteor — that perhaps our massive arsenal of Armageddon weapons might be used to actually avert Armageddon — is actually very interesting and a bit subversive too for the time too. I guess the overall message of Meteor is that nuclear weapons are necessary, if they're in the right hands. Grade: C+
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