Bruce Willis  Harry S. Stamper
Billy Bob Thornton 
Dan Truman
Ben Affleck A.J. Frost
Liv Tyler 
Grace Stamper
Will Patton "Chick'' Chapple

Directed by Michael Bay. Written by Jonathan Hensleigh and J.J. Abrams. 1998. Running time: 150 minutes.

If you're reading this, then it means that the world didn't end on 31 December 1999 as predicted by some religious and techno freaks. Apocalypse postponed in other words - but not because of a lack of interest. In fact, the End has never been this popular except maybe for in the Middle Ages when superstitious (and terrified) peasants were sincerely awaiting the Second Coming as predicted in the Bible. Back then (and now come t think of it) Armageddon meant the coming of the Anti-Christ, angels battling it out in the heaven, and so forth.

Natural disasters such as floods, volcano eruptions, etc. aside, it took science and man to provide humanity with a more secular and credible End Of The World As We Know It. The first inkling was to be found in the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima towards the end of World War II. Suddenly, the End of the World seemed very real indeed, especially as the Cold War heated up. The world and everything in it could indeed be destroyed by the full-scale exchange of nuclear weapons. 

 As more became known about the effects of the atom bomb with concepts such as "nuclear winter" and "long-term effects of radiation", the more terrifyingly real it seemed. All of this was of course reflected in science fiction and in sci-fi movies: Dr Strangelove saw the world being blown up by a "Doomsday Machine" as Vera Lynn intoned "We'll Meet Again" on the soundtrack. WarGames played with possibility of technology gone rampant (there had been quite a few false alarms during the Cold War). Terminator 2 featured extended dream sequences of entire cities being destroyed on Judgment Day. When the Wind Blows, The Day After, A Boy and His Dog and Testament showed the aftermath of nuclear war and how survivors would cope.

"The vermin have taken over the earth," the graffiti on the side of the big truck in The Road Warrior proclaims. Maybe we have some kind of unnatural attraction to chaos, hence our fascination with post-apocalyptic fare such as Mad Max and The Postman: all of these movies had survival of the fittest as its theme. How would we cope when the thin veneer of civilization has been torn off? The Trigger Effect cleverly showed how an extended power failure at a large city results in civil order being undermined. Would we also stock up on antibiotics and shells for the shotgun? Lurk behind the front door of our apartments, ready to blow away any intruder? Or are we already there?

Not all of man's nightmares were mushroom shaped however. Man had a few other horrors up its sleeve as well - namely: depletion of natural resources and wars (The Road Warrior), overpopulation (Soylent Green), germ warfare (The Omega Man), global warming (Waterworld, Split Second).

And there was still nature. Slipstream had the earth being buffeted by gale force winds after some unknown cataclysm, and there was a host of 1970s and 1990s disaster movies such as Twister, Dante's Peak, Earthquake, Volcano, etc. If the threat can't be found on earth, then maybe something from outer space will suffice such as viscous alien invaders (War of the Worlds, Independence Day) or, in the case of Armageddon and that other 1998 movie (Deep Impact) a meteor from outer space.

Meteors are rather fascinating stuff since they tie in with our fascination for dinosaurs, or rather the question of how such a dominant species on the planet has been simply wiped off the face of the earth. Dinosaurs have an edge over humans: they are big and mean with nasty claws and as Jurassic Park showed, humans are frightfully inadequate when pitted against them. How can we keep on surviving when the dinosaurs couldn't hack it? Sure, they weren't particularly clever, but then again our technology also gave us the means of our destruction (the atom bomb, etc.).

In Armageddon a real "global killer" the "size of Texas" is heading towards the Earth. And, as Moses', er, sorry, Charlton Heston's helpful introduction at the beginning of the movie reminded us, it was a meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs. Imagine the "worst bits of the Bible" the director of NASA played by Billy Bob Thornton tells Bruce Willis. But not to worry: we have Bruce Willis, Christ-like, to save us. And the Americans, in the guise of technological superiority (i.e. NASA) since the movie takes every opportunity to drape everything in the American flag, a lot like Independence Day a while back.

Interesting to note about Armageddon: the technology used to save the Earth is the same that can destroy it (the meteorite is nuked) in countless other sci-fi movies already mentioned. Some sort of guilt about Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the part of the filmmakers? We killed thousands of civilians Zeus-like with the Bomb, but we can also save the world with it. In the movie's second half it is technology and good old fearless American gung ho attitudes that saves the day - it's almost as if Armageddon was scripted by Ronald Reagan! (In reality the meteorite would probably have wiped out the earth as the shuttles sent to intercept it undergo countless launching delays . . .) In some scenes in the movie small town America is depicted in time warped 'Fifties stasis with brush cut boys playing with boxcars, etc. This harks back to some mythical American past when America was the saviors, long before Vietnam came along to muddy the picture.

Cynicism aside, there is a nugget of truth in all this. The only way forward for humanity is through science. There can be no turning back to some kind of medieval retro Eco utopia as some Green types are suggesting. Not with six billion people on the planet, not without retarding the living standards of every being on the planet. Life without our current science and technology would be pretty bleak and despairing. Besides, who really wants to die at age fifteen of an easily treatable disease like the flu?

(None of this however makes Armageddon a good movie. I watched it again on video lately (don't ask) and it plays better on the small screen than it does on the big screen mostly because my TV has a volume control. The first time I saw it I walked out of the cinema with a splitting headache that lasted me the rest of the evening: the soundtrack was simply too loud. However, in the pan 'n' scan (cutting off the edges of onscreen action) version I was beginning to suffer from the same "space dementia" as the Steve Buscemi character does. The movie felt more claustrophobic and the editing and frantic camera movements more hectic than on the big screen. The movie was making me seasick! This is besides the film's unoriginality (it steals from everything from The Dirty Dozen to The Empire Strikes Back and The Right Stuff), its implausibilities (fire in the vacuum of space, Earth-like gravity on the meteorite and lots more) and the sight of Bruce Willis smirking through the entire movie . . .)

Copyright © January 2000  James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page



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