Armageddon (1998) dir. Michael Bay
Starring: Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Will Patton, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
By Alan Bacchus
Hell yes, I said, I like ‘Armageddon’ (As Alan gets pummelled by rotten fruit). I think there is a place for Michael Bay in cinema. And there is a place for 'Armageddon'. This preposterous high concept actioner, likely born from a night of heavy drinking wherein Jerry Bruckheimer, was likely dared into making a movie about oil drillers who fly into space, drill in a nuclear bomb and blow up an asteroid hurdling toward earth. I imagine the first draft likely appeared on a cocktail napkin from Spagos.
What the final film turns out to be from this one-liner pitch concept is Hollywood excess at its worst and best. Though it’s Michael Bay’s film, it takes a good producer to put together a film of such absurd magnitude to make it work. First of all, check out the number of writers involved: Jonathan Hensleigh, Tony Gilroy, Robert Ray Pool, Shane Salerno, and yep, J.J. Abrams. And with all the uncredited polishes involved, including a rumoured Robert Towne, it could be double that number. Such is the Hollywood way, the ability of a super producer like Jerry Bruckheimer to coalesce the writings of the cacophony of voices into a unified direction, however preposterous.
This film succeeded so admirably because it knew it’s audience and fine tuned it to hit the Red Stated Nascar bible belt demographic right on it noggin like that mole-wacker game in penny arcades. From the opening narration the film panders to the conservative right – hell, even NRA spokesman CHARLTON HESTON narrates the backstory – the death of the dinosaurs via a giant asteroid, which inevitably will hit earth at some point again in the future. It's characters are well-defined as working class American heroes surmounting their humble, classless or physically challenged meagre lives.
Billy Bob Thornton, for example, who plays 'Truman’, the NASA team leader and good ol’ boy with penchant for breaking down the complicated science talk into simple metaphors like ‘it’s about the size of Texas’ exudes the same George W. Bush naive charm. And the idea that a bunch of working class oil drillers saving the world and besting their ubermensche Astronaut equivalents and the academic elite is underdog screenwriting 101.
And for a pre 9/11 film the flag waving patriotism is as extreme as anything Hollywood has produced - a conscious we’re-number-one attitude we hadn’t seen since the 80’s when Hollywood had to dumb down its politics to Democracy-good, Communism-bad simplicity.
At every turn the film is remarkably consistent with this tone and knowing its target audience. 'Armageddon' actually benefits from this simplicity, never attempting to be more serious than the mushy emotions of it's characters - the journey into space serving to get the characters to confront their fears and achieve the latent potential which 'real life' has stunted for them, as well as to craft a good montage scene or two.
Michael Bay’s rat-a-tat style which extends from his music video visuals, to his hectic editing style, to his dialogue creates a rhythm of hurried pace allows us to skim over the implausibilities, clichés, bad lines, and overwrought melodrama and unnecessary rah-rah patriotism. So for good and bad ‘Armageddon’ is astoundingly ambitious and for the brash, amphetamine-style cinema-brain of Michael Bay, this film will likely become his defining film.
‘Armageddon’ is available on Blu-Ray from Disney Studios Home Entertainment