Armageddon (1998) (part 1 of 13)
The critics rave about Armageddon!
| “The first 150-minute trailer… An assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained. No matter what they’re charging to get in, it’s worth more to get out.”
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“There isn’t a scene in the film that exists on any level except as a hard sell. If this movie-as-trailer thing really catches on, it’s the death of storytelling—not to mention grace, subtlety, coherence, character development, beauty. It’s Armageddon all right.”
“It looks like a TV ad, or 200 of them strung together, with the same kind of gaudy virtuosity, lavish technique and expensive self-mockery tinging every shot.”
“So predictable it could have been written by a chimp who’s watched too much TV, the huge movie is as dumb as it is loud, and it’s way too loud. Watching it is like putting your head in a tin washbucket while weightlifters whack it with golf clubs.”
“How do I hate Armageddon? Let me count the ways.”
“An ejaculatory great time!”
I never thought this day would come. But here it is. I’m finally diving headfirst into the dark, soul-sucking abyss otherwise known as Michael Bay’s Armageddon. And, sick son of a bitch that I am, I’m taking six other innocent people down with me.
If you’ve seen this movie, then you already know why this is going to be the longest recap ever posted to this website (at least, so far). Accordingly, I’ll try to keep my usually long-winded introductory remarks to a minimum this time around.
After all, what can I tell you about the origins of Armageddon that you don’t already know? Surely you don’t need me to explain that this movie was developed just to cash in on the late 90’s trend of overproduced, gaudy action spectacles (or that it followed in the big, dumb footsteps of Twister, Independence Day, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Batman & Robin, and Godzilla).
And you don’t need me to tell you about the unholy directing-producing alliance of Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay, or about their uncanny ability to turn everything they touch into shit.
To prove I’m not totally biased, I’ll admit that—on his own at least—Jerry Bruckheimer’s produced some good movies, like Beverly Hills Cop, Crimson Tide, Black Hawk Down, and his most recent achievement, Pirates of the Caribbean: Does Anybody Remember This Movie’s Useless Subtitle? And that’s not even getting into his ventures into the TV realm, like the monster hit CSI or fan favorite The Amazing Race.
But when left alone with Michael Bay, believed by many to be the Antichrist of big name Hollywood directors, his track record is simply appalling. The list of films they’ve made together reads like a damning federal indictment. The Rock. Bad Boys. Pearl Harbor. Bad Boys II.
You know exactly what kind of film we’re talking about here, and you know exactly the directing style involved. All scenes photographed like over-produced Mountain Dew ads. No shot lasting longer than three seconds. And everything in these movies, I mean everything filmed like an action sequence. Even people sitting around talking is given that same Michael Bay ADD, over-edited, migraine-inducing, hyperactive treatment.
And Armageddon doesn’t just fit the mold of these movies, it is the mold for all things Bay-Heimer. It is their crowning acheivment, and the epitome of everything that was wrong with action movies in the late 90’s.
It was produced from a script with no less than seven credited writers, and it certainly shows. In fact, the movie is crammed with so many disparate story elements that one could easily believe every single line of dialogue was written by somebody different.
But hey, maybe I’m being unfair. Really, who goes to see a Michael Bay film for the script? We all know what really matters on a movie like this: the ad campaign!
Remember back in ’98, seeing those damn posters at like, every single bus stop in the country for ten months straight? I sure do. There was one poster for every member of this completely wasted ensemble, each poster emblazoned with slogans like, “He’s doing it for his country”, or “He’s doing it for his son”, or “He’s doing it for a Hot Pocket and a pack of smokes”.
Unfortunately, the whole campaign was one big lie. Which is to say, the poster taglines themselves contained more nuance and character development than anything seen in the actual movie.
(Two funny things about those posters. First, Liv Tyler’s poster read, “She’s doing it for love.” If you’ve seen the film, you know why this is funny, because her character does absolutely nothing. Secondly, there was a poster of Steve Buscemi which keenly noted, “He’s doing it for the money.” Well, no shit, fellas.)
Truth be told, this is one of the few films on this site that a lot of people love. The quote above from Harry Knowles is just the tip of the iceberg (the man actually admitting to crying—crying—several times during this movie). Armageddon was the highest grossing film of 1998, and as of this writing, it’s sitting at #21 on the list of biggest moneymakers of all time.
This is one of those films that marks a clear divide in society. Either you feel a fierce devotion to this movie, or you feel a fierce devotion to tearing it apart. This entire planet could be easily separated into Those Who Love It and Those Who Despise It.
Considering what kind of website this is, it shouldn’t come as a surprise which side I’m on. As those who frequent the forums will know, this is one of the few films in my entire life that I wasn’t able to sit through all the way the first time I tried to watch it. And given some of the other movies on this website, that’s saying a lot.
All throughout the movie, I kept saying to myself, “Look, you made it through ‘Manos’ The Hands of Fate. You made it through Red Zone Cuba. You made it through Monster A-Go Go. You even made it through Night of Horror in one sitting. You can make it through this.”
Sadly, I learned the truth: I could not make it through this. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until I began the process of writing this recap that I actually found out how the movie ended. Not that I couldn’t have easily predicted it anyway.
I knew that any movie that could so repeatedly defy my attempts to finish it would have to be featured on this website one day. But I also knew this meant that a totally new way to recap a movie would have to be invented. I could never cover this entire movie all by myself, so I turned to several guest contributors to help me out. I enlisted past contributors Ryan, Jessica, and Ed, along with brand new contributors Rebecca, Amanda, and Torgo’s Hand, all to help take on this massive eyesore of a movie.
This was the pitch I made to them: Over the course of several weeks, we’d take turns writing this recap, each one of us covering fifteen minutes at a time (which is surely the most any sane human being can tolerate of this movie in one sitting). Amazingly, they all agreed to this, and threats of bodily harm or the release of incriminating videotape were never required.
And so, I recapped the first fifteen minutes and passed it on to Rebecca. She covered the next fifteen minutes and passed it on to Ed. Ed did his part and passed it on to Jessica, and so on, and so forth, until we finally reached the end. It was a protracted, arduous struggle, and there were times when we thought we weren’t going to make it. But ultimately, Team Agony Booth prevailed.
So, throughout this recap, you’ll see labels that let you know which person wrote which part. And even though he didn’t recap any of the movie, I want to recognize the incredible contribution of Torgo’s Hand in making most of the screen captures and writing the funny captions that go along with them. (And yet, I still don’t know his real name. I guess I’ll just have to call him “Mr. Hand” for now. Aloha!) In addition, some of these captions were also provided by Ryan, Ed, and one of this website’s first regular visitors, Jason Sartin.
I should note that I’m already aware of a Criterion Collection expanded edition DVD of Armageddon floating around out there. For this recap, we chose to stick with the standard theatrical version. For one thing, with seven people involved we had to use the version that everyone could easily gain access to. For another, there was no way in hell that any of us were going to sit through an even longer version of a movie that already lasts half our lifetimes.
Okay sure, I suppose that for research purposes, I personally could have bought the Criterion DVD just to hear the commentary tracks and watch the “making of” featurettes and get a sense of what (if anything) was going on in the minds of the filmmakers. Thanks, but no thanks. First of all, life is too short. Second of all, I already bought this movie once, and if you ask me, that was one time too many.
During the process of putting everyone’s contributions together, I had plenty of time to ponder exactly what makes this movie so godforsaken awful. See, unlike the terrible movies I mentioned earlier, you can’t accuse this film of being completely inept. Nobody forgets their lines on screen. No one bumps into the camera while it’s filming. There’s no obviously overdubbed dialogue, and nobody simulates the sound of a phone ringing with his or her mouth. From a purely technical standpoint, this movie is very well done, if not flawless.
But I’d rather watch a hundred no-budget bottom-of-the-barrel exploitation drive-in movies than sit through any thirty seconds of Armageddon. As bad as some of those old Z-grade movies are, they’re at least able to generate the one thing that Armageddon doesn’t have a clue about: The suspension of disbelief.
You will never suspend your disbelief while watching Armageddon. Never. At no point during this film will you feel like you’re watching anything other than actors yelling, cameras tracking and spinning, or special effects loudly going off. This is supposed to be a movie about people desperately trying to prevent the end of the world, but at no time will you ever feel like the earth is even remotely in danger.
Somehow, some way, Michael Bay over-directed this movie to the point where it lost all trace of the one thing that all movies have taken great pains to cultivate since the dawn of cinema. You can call it a long music video. You can call it a two and a half hour commercial. Call it a 150-minute trailer if you like. But in my mind, Armageddon has no right to call itself a movie.
So much for avoiding that long-winded introductory spiel, I guess. Now let’s get to it!