Armageddon: Never before has a film so massively succeeded and failed so massively.
What on earth is good about it?
Can we start with the bad? It’s easier for me.
Uh, sure. Why not. What is so bad about Armageddon?
Firstly, every single thing Roger Ebert says is absolutely true, and there is still more wrong with Armageddon. I’ll leave the basic wrongs to Ebert (read what he wrote; it is good) and instead concentrate on the subtler aspects of the horror. Admittedly I was looking for it, but the ASL (Average Shot Length) is honestly 2.3 seconds. Some of our more cinephile forum trolls (by the way, join our forum. It’s good) pointed this out after I panned the film Dark City. And sorry guys, Dark City is still the all time hyper-robot seizure champ with an ASL of 1.8 seconds. The effect that these extremely short ASLs have is to force the viewer into a state of flurry. Nothing can be reflected upon, nothing can be digested. All applicable faculties (except for deep thought/contemplation) are continually engaged throughout. It is an exhaustive experience and leaves the viewer worn, but unsure as to exactly why. What did I just witness? How do I feel about it? These are questions that are difficult to answer after just a single viewing. Really, when the credits roll (and the third motherfucking Aerosmith song cues–vomit) all you want is a glass of water, a cigarette and a nap. Luckily for you this is probably the tenth time I have watched Armageddon so I am uniquely qualified–and probably alone in the world–to answer.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on there, tiger. You’ve watched Armageddon ten times?
And possibly more, yes.
When I lived with Jaquay in New York, not only was I heavily into drugs (heavy drugs, at that) but we had cable. The other roommate (He Who Should Not Be Named) and I would very typically get smashed the fuck up and watch Tom Berenger films. For an unknown reason, the cable company in New York would have a Tom Berenger movie playing on five separate channels at any given time. This was nearly a constant. But when we couldn’t find The Substitute or Sniper, sure as shit, Armageddon was on. And we watched it. Hey, we were twisted out of skulls. So high in fact that we tried four times to watch Costner’s The Post Man. We never successfully made it through that one. But Armageddon got watched a bunch. Honestly, I probably would have only watched it four or five times, but I took such pleasure in the hatred and rage produced by Jaquay when he would get home and find us semi-conscious and whooping at Bruce Willis and crew that we kept watching. Out of spite! I left New York in 2000 and haven’t seen it since. Until now…
OK, that’s sort of an acceptable answer. Now, get back to the bad
Some might find this odd, but the American-centricness of the film is just nauseating. In case you don’t know the plot, the world is 18 days away from being destroyed by an asteroid and NASA is going to save humanity. Which very well might even be what would happen if a doomsday scenario like this ever took place. Still, the very thought of another country doing anything at all to help themselves is totally absent. Instead (and repeatedly) “other” peoples of the world are shown sitting around and waiting for the great white father to save them. According to the film, no other nationality on the planet has a single citizen that is capable of contributing anything to the cause. It is like pure Cold War propaganda, with the addition of a huge middle finger raised up at our friends and allies. Furthermore, when Paris and Shanghai get wiped out, no one so much as comments. Sure, New York City gets it, too, but watch carefully and you will se that while the two previously mentioned cities are annihilated, New York is a little scratched. In fact, Eddie Griffin is standing two feet (or less) from this big Somoan dude who gets hit by a meteor and Griffin is unscathed. Also, in the wake of 9/11 (not really the film’s fault) the scenes of chaos and destruction look positively pedestrian. Way too clean.
Keep it coming
This is a Bruckheimer film, so Poochie-fied characters all with unbelievable and annoying quirks abound. And of course they break out in song ala Top Gun. I’m still not sure why the latter always must take place, but it does. And frankly, I hate it. When Harry Stamper (Willis) demands that his crew of “roughnecks” are to be the ones to fly into space, land on the asteroid, blow it up and save humanity, NASA relents. Totally unnecessary. The film would have been more successful and far more captivating if a group of actual astronauts and military dudes were sent up not to crack jokes and ham it up, but to SAVE THE FUCKING WORLD!! Dudes, that’s a great premise! Run with it. Instead, we are treated to the equivalent of the Normandy invasion with clowns. As far as the personalities of the various members of Stamper’s team go, think PG-tough guys. One guy is big and black and rides a motorcycle and he won’t stop for the police, what a rebel! Another guy is skinny and white and rides a horse and he won’t stop for the police, either! Another guy spends $100,000 on strippers. and he tells the FBI guy something mean! Look, about that last one, Buscemi’s character is called “Rockhound.” He’s actually a pussy-hound, but, well, even when the world is going to end, you still can’t say “pussy.” George Carlin is so smart. Anyhow, his character is “horny,” that’s his quirk (every character has one, and only one quirk). Yet we are too believe that a man who’s only motivation in life is vagina is going to spent possibly his last night on earth with strippers? Prostitutes, hookers, ladies of the night–motherloving, butt-fucking whores is what he would spending one hundred large on. A fifty woman orgy, at least. And for those of you naïve enough to think that strippers are whores, let me reiterate what a very wise man once said: THERE’S NO SEX IN THE CHAMPAGNE ROOM, man! Regardless, the flatness of the characters does nothing to heighten the drama–which is what a film like this should be all about. Instead we get a constant onslaught of wise-cracking comic relief. As General Kimsey (Keith David) says, “The fate of the planet is in the hands of a bunch of retards I wouldn’t trust with a potato gun.” Well put.
I didn’t say stop
Sigh… Ben Affleck. Does a creature less deserving of love exist on earth? Puppies hate him. Even Adam Sandler goes out of his way to at least give us the illusion of range (pissed off, violent retard or stupid, bumbling retard). Not Affleck. No other actor in history is so totally incapable of getting into a character. Besides being really in love with a girl (snore), what motivates the man? He has no apparent interests (besides hair plugs), no philosophy, no insight–nothing. He’s simply a spastic jerkoff incapable of doing anything but shouting and mucking about. And lest you think I am confusing his A.J. Frost (who the fuck is named “Frost?”) with the human playing the part, I’m not. In every film he has ever appeared in, Affleck constantly violates the fourth wall by continually reminding us that a talking condom stuffed with bacon grease is mouthing his lines. Drama and viewer involvement are simply impossible; he is an animated People Magazine cover.
Willis is better, but he is totally undermined by the weak points of the script. I’ll get to that but first I have to mention two things; The first is that when the film starts, Stamper is sporting a Texas accent. Thirty-three minutes later he’s back to his Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker mode of speaking. The height of filmmaking laziness. Also, he looks disturbingly like William Shatner in the openeing scenes. OK, the dialogue he is made to utter… I guess you could blame it on the fact that you have NINE writers who worked over the script, each desperately trying to out-Poochie the other. But that’s a copout. Jaws had about as many pens going and it worked just swell. No, the “Truth” of the film, the motivation behind what the writers were trying to express is the reason for the awful lines. For see, no film in history has ever relied upon the crutch of family so heavily. The abysmal Revenge of the Sith tried desperately to, but missed the mark (come on, it is asserted that Anakin only goes over to the Dark Side because he wants to save what’s her face–vomit). Why is Willis agreeing to go on this insane and life-threatening mission? To save the world? Naw, he just loves his daughter (the plaster-faced Liv Tyler) so much. It shows an anarcho-infantilism on the writer’s part; solipsism in it’s worst form, too. Bordering on nihilism, really.
That is what I found so horribly wrong with Armageddon. Not what Ebert said, for that is all just standard plot criticism, no. The writers had one of the most golden opportunities in film-history to tell a riveting tale of the human will to life with a multi-zillion dollar budget and instead chose to drown the whole thing in maudlin gravy. Few of the characters motivations are truly meaningful; nothing is sacrosanct, nothing is real. Truman (Thornton) seems to be the only person involved who actually cares about the “end of all things.” Case in point; during one of the twenty-five times that NASA mistakenly thinks the mission has failed, the President decides to detonate the bomb remotely. All in the room are fully aware that doing so on the surface of the asteroid is futile–the reason Willis’s team is up there in the first place is that they have to drill into the rock 800 feet. Grace (Tyler) freaks out because detonating the bomb will kill her family. Not for one second does she consider that, fuck her family, LIFE AS WE KNOW IT WILL FUCKING END! But no, she just loves her daddy so much. I found this simply infuriating. Yes, I know that millions of people exist in the world that are this self-possessed, this unthinking and this clueless. Still, it burns my hide that the writers chose to show us this ugly side of humanity, for again (and I’ll cover it more fully in a second), the great part of this film is the dramatization of mankind’s struggle for existence. And it is not just Grace, but Stamper and A.J., too.
Can we hear some of those lines you are talking about?
Where to begin? I guess the most stomach churning is after Stamper has wrested control of the mission away from Col. Sharp (William Fichtner) and he addresses Houston:
“Houston, you have a problem. You see, I promised my little girl that I was coming home. Now I don’t know WHAT you people are doing down there, but we’ve got a hole to dig up here!”
Again, the world? Fuck it. But his daughter, well, that justifies all. *Shudder* Meh. That’s plenty.
Aw, come on man, the people want to hear more!
Really? Naw, they get the idea.
No, really, the people are dumb. This film grossed hundreds of millions.
Good point. OK, so Stamper has disarmed Col. Sharp (Actually, Chick (William Patton) at this point gives one of the only sensible lines of this film, “Man, what are you doing with a gun in space?”) and now has the man locked into a pair of ice-tongs (don’t ask), Sharp relents that maybe Stamper has a point; maybe fulfilling the mission and finishing the dig is a good idea. He states:
“Do you swear on your daughter’s life, on my family’s life, that you can hit that mark?”
Unbelievable! More, please
OK, but this is the last one of these. There is lot’s more shit to cover.
Before you continue, are you aware that you have at this point written over 2,000 words about Armageddon?
God… maybe I should just stop?
No, no. Keep going; I insist
I hate you.
The remote detonation thingy on the nuke got damaged, so somebody is going to have to stay behind and press the button. After much kerfuffle, Stamper turns out to be the unlucky man. Instead of just saving the world, he decides to have one more heart-to-heart with his daughter. I supposed reiteration on my part is unnecessary at this point, but for reals; the fate of every fucking thing hangs in the balance of Stamper’s selfless act, yet instead of getting himself into position and checking the equipment or saying anything relevant to the harrowing situation, the following exchange occurs;
Stamper: Grace, I know I promised you I was coming home.
Grace: I don’t understand.
Stamper: Looks like I’m going to have to break that promise.
What could matter less than whether or not some fucking twat understands? The World! The World! The fate of the fucking World hangs in the balance. One of the army dudes should have shot her through the head. And why the fuck was she allowed in Mission Control in the first place? You know what? Fuck Grace, shoot the writers! Simply untenable. My intellect is still recoiling in shock and horror.
Rest assured the entire film is liberally peppered all kinds of horrendous dialogue. And not just this family values pap, either. For instance during a psych exam, Owen Wilson’s useless character chirps, “I tell you one thing that really drives me nuts, is people who think that Jethro Tull is just a person in a band.” Get it? Oh, from the bottom of my heart Hollywood, FUCK YOU!
OK, well, in the interest of the average person possessing an attention span of 237 seconds, what do you like about Armageddon?
Three things, basically. The first is, as I have hinted at, one of the essential underlying truths of the film is that humanity is worth saving. Sure, around Ruthless you will find lots of “Kill ’em All” type talk and while some is definitely sophomoric (or even moronic), most of it is said out of frustration with the path the world seems to be following. Still; the world is filled with beauty and deserves, no, must exist. And as Herzog says, “The moon is dull. Mother Nature doesn´t call, doesn´t speak to you, although a glacier eventually farts. And don´t you listen to the Song of Life.” Humanity is what I am talking about, warts and all. It is wonderful. Life, and others, are a treat. Sure, many are inhuman scumbags, but just as many if not more are full of magic, grace and potential. For what does “I don’t agree with a thing you say, but I’ll fight to the death to defend your right to say it” mean if not that at the basest level, people have a right to existence? Humanity is worth fighting for; not caring is absurd.
Curiously, one of the scenes that most affected me in Armageddon was the pre-9/11 New York skyline. And this is not because of any patriotism or even because I lived there. Those buildings were a marvel; monuments to the greatness of mankind. Absofrickinglutely worth saving! The film highlighted, despite its burning desire not to, what is best about man. This is why the parable of the second World War is so powerful–all of humanity rose to defeat that which was threatening our very lives. Quibble over details, fine–everything is worthy of analysis–but as I said it is the parable of it that gets the blood pumping. The righteousness. And that is exactly what is on display in Armageddon, despite the worst efforts of all involved. Holy shit! You’re going to fly two shuttles up to an asteroid, drill dwon 800 feet and then blow it in half with a nuke? Fuck a fucking aye! DO IT! I just wish it had been more of a unified effort, for mankind transcends the USA.
But what about the Russian guy?
Peter Stormare? Hideous comic relief. Nothing more. Back to what is good. I also really dug visuals on the Asteroid itself. Sure, it was jump cut after jump cut and none of the science employed made sense in the slightest. I don’t care. It was new and foreign and I always love that. Plus, the X-71 top-secret shuttles were cool. Which leads me to the final thing I liked about Armageddon: Rockhound’s freak out. Forget everything I said above about humanity being redeemable and worth saving and all that shit. The poetic genius of wanting to stand on the bow of an asteroid the size of Texas as it collides with earth… is staggering! Who the fuck ever thought that shit up? Simply marvelous. Honetly, just shut your eyes and imagine.
I think you should go eat or lie down or something.
Not yet. Seriously, he is just embracing the absurdity of it all. And no I am not talking about the film, but of life. There’s a key scene–which they of course fuck up–where Rockhound is riding the nuke Slim Pickens style. He even says as much. I found it… I don’t know. Just beautiful. As Rockhound says, “Guess what guys, it’s time to embrace the horror! Look, we’ve got front row tickets to the end of the earth!” Fuck yeah.
OK. Well, I just want to thank you for your time and…
Hold on a second.
Come on dude, I’ve got other shit to do!
Bullshit. Anyhow, I just need to add one more great thing about Armageddon: it highlights the triumph of logic and reason over superstition and faith. This is very key and I applaud the movie for it. The world is ending–for sure–and who does humanity turn to? Scientists. Not preachers, not professional liars (er, I mean, politicians), no. As the President says:
“The human thirst for excellence, knowledge; every step up the ladder of science; every adventurous reach into space; all of our combined technologies and imaginations; even the wars that we’ve fought have provided us the tools to wage this terrible battle.”
And he’s right.
Yeah, but doesn’t that speech get interrupted by some little puke screaming to his mommy, “There’s Daddy!”?
Of course, it’s a fucking Bruckheimer/Bay film.