Armageddon [Blu-ray] (1998)(Animated) Blu-Ray

Actors: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Will Patton
Director: Michael Bay
Writers: J.J. Abrams, Jonathan Hensleigh, Robert Roy Pool, Shane Salerno, Tony Gilroy
Producers: Barry H. Waldman, Chad Oman
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Touchstone / Disney
DVD Release Date: April 27, 2010
Run Time: 150 minutes



armag3.jpg (11790 bytes)Of all the Michael Bay films out there, Armageddon is the Michael Bayest. Big noises, loud explosions, rampant jingoism, and the end of the world as popular entertainment . . . everything's here in its proper place.

Of course, Armageddon also tries to sell us on its characters and heart: a big mistake considering that the heroes embody a loutish frat boy approach to life and the central couple has about as much chemistry as week-old fish.

Yet its punishing, resolute earnestness never wavers, insisting that we take its scenario seriously by painting it in the most overtly button-pushing terms imaginable. Strangely enough, its unapologetic nature actually serves as a selling point. Like so many Bay films, you can't accuse it of false advertising, and while its shortcomings are copious, its roller coaster thrills prove surprisingly durable.

If you want to tear it down, of course, it doesn't take much. Bay lacks even the most basic sense of dramatic pacing; as his scenario unfolds, he hits his audience as hard as he can and never stops. NASA spots an asteroid the size of Texas on a collision course with Earth, prompting shouted conversations of the "get me the President" variety.

Bruce Willis and his scruffy gang of oil drillers are summoned to blow the rock up, evoking slow motion shots of men striding purposefully across the tarmac. Dewy-eyed Midwesterners stare hopefully at the sky as Old Glory waves in the background, intercut with a few mosques and Irish churches to remind us that other people in the world may be marginally affected as well. And all of this comes before the big explosions, dulling our senses and leaving us utterly helpless before the cacophony of sound and noise which constitutes the final half of the film.

As goofy as the action plays, however, it feels like Dostoyevsky when compared to the child-like efforts to develop the characters at the center of it all. Willis scuffles with protégé Ben Affleck over the latter's love for daughter Liv Tyler, embracing every cliché of the Well Meaning Father Who Just Doesn't Understand school. The Tyler-Affeck romance is legendary for its tin ear, highlighted by a "quiet" moment in a field which Bay underscores with an Aerosmith power ballad to make sure we catch the gist.

The film's unfortunate bouts of humor register just as poorly (Steve Buscemi trots off with the choicest morsels like a cat with a mouse in his teeth), and the film's sneering swipes at Blue State targets like Greenpeace feel supremely mean-spirited in their casualness.

Furthermore, Armageddon simply can't turn the volume down to save its life. As the oil drillers shoot off in a modified space shuttle to land on the asteroid, Bay pushes every threat to the limits of dramatic conceit. The danger is constantly world shattering, the obstacles requiring superhuman efforts to overcome. Every time, our heroes succeed by the thinnest of all possible margins, screaming and pounding their way to a contrived escape before the next overwhelming challenges come hurtling their way.

There's nothing wrong with this - it's a summer action film after all - but without any variation in tone, the results become a hash. The big climax is essentially identical to the dangers which arrived an hour and half before it; you could swap the reels and the movie would feel no different. Bay might have gotten away with that had he not insisted on trying to make us care, but tugging at our heart strings in the midst of the hurricane borders on the insulting.

Yet for all of those problems, I have to note one surprising bit of optimism: this film hasn't aged a day. The visual effects in Armageddon remain breathtakingly impressive, especially considering that they emerged a full twelve years ago. (If Avatar looks half this good after half that time, it should get down on its billion-dollar knees in gratitude.) Longevity has merit, and as crude and as laughable as Armageddon may be, its creator built it to last. Its stupidity defies the reach of time, but so too does its mindless popcorn appeal. That grants the proceedings a certain shabby dignity, which Bay films wear like a cloak of honor. Take it for what it is; it's all the likes of Armageddon will give you.

THE DISC: At first glance, the Blu-Ray looks like a slap-dash stab at a fast buck. No new cover, no sexy documentaries, and a pitiful list of special features limited to the film's original trailers and a video for the Aerosmith song. That opinion changes the minute you pop the film into the drive. Touchstone orchestrated a gorgeous audio-video transfer, sharpening the picture and rendering the sound in stunning clarity. The onscreen menus are clever and user friendly, allowing rapid scene searches and jumps from chapter to chapter.

WORTH IT? Fans of the film have a reliable product in the new Blu-Ray - a solid step up in visual quality from the DVD - provided they don't need any bells and whistles beyond the movie itself.

RECOMMENDATION: By now, you probably know what you're in for with this movie. If you've seen it and want to own it, the Blu-Ray is your horse. If you're not a big fan, the Blu-Ray won't change your mind, though the visual effects continue to impress over a decade later.

- Rob Vaux



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