Deep Impact (1998)
Film review #581
Director: Mimi Leder
SYNOPSIS: A reporter who is investigating the resignation of the Secretary of Defence stumbles on a much bigger story than she expected, and forces a public announcement from the President: A large comet is due to collide with the Earth and cause huge destruction. While a last-hope mission to the comet is being prepared, there are also plans to make sure humanity survives if the comet actually makes it to the planet…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Deep Impact is a 1988 sci-fi disaster film. It is perhaps most notable for being released in the same timeframe as Armageddon, a similar disaster film also about a comet heading for Earth. The two have slightly different angles and tone though as we shall see. The film opens up with journalist Jenny Lerner investigating the resignation of the Secretary of Defense. this leads to her discovering (inadvertently) that there is an Extinction Level Event threatening the planet, which forces the President to disclose to the world that a comet is on a collision course with Earth. It’s a fairly typical disaster film after that, with the film focusing on a mission to try and destroy the comet, and also balancing that with the human stories of the characters caught up in it. This film, more so than Armageddon, focuses on the latter, with the different characters roles and responses to the impending catastrophe being the primary focus. The main issue with this, however, is that it focuses on human drama, and it chooses the most boring of said drama to show us. The main character is constantly awful: the way she treats her dad for no real reason is childish and nasty, and even when she does something good and heroic, the way she does it hardly redeems her. probably the most interesting thing about the film is the space mission that is sent to destroy the comet, which provides a decent amount of action, but their mission ends half way through, and then their whole story arc just becomes irrelevant until the finale. In fact, the film pretty much runs out of steam at the halfway point, and just gives up at the same time that the characters give up trying to stop the comet. The film mentions a lottery that will choose the people that will be allowed to survive the impact, but doesn’t really explore the impact of this, and the usual riots and breakdown of society which usually occurs in these types of disaster films apparently just does not happen, or at least we never see on screen, which is odd to just gloss over, even if it’s something we expect and have seen many times before.
Apart from the main character, the rest of the cast are similarly uninteresting. The weirdest ones are the teenage couple who constantly act like they’re a middle aged couple. They get split up but then reunite later in a pointless diversion, and their whole characters just feel off. you could easily cut them out of the film and lose nothing. The crew aboard the “Messiah” spacecraft likewise don’t have that much development or interesting things happens to them on a character development level. Another aspect of the film that I thought was odd is the focus on journalism and the media at a time of catastrophe. I get it in part, because the main character is a reporter, but nearly everything is done through the media and TV stations, and the film feels like it wants to “glorify” the role of the media and journalism in times of disaster and it being almost the centre of importance, which just feels a bit…wrong and dirty in some way. Maybe the film had to emphasise the significance of the media because it got the rights to use the MSNBC likeness for the backdrop, but either way, it made the film feel like it was focusing on the wrong things, and if the film wanted to focus on the “human” element of catastrophe, then doing it through the lens of the media just obfuscates that.
There are some moments in the film which are decent: the comet striking Earth and the destruction scenes are well done, and it gets some of the emotional scenes right, but these often have no impact on the characters themselves. The science is a bit more accurate than a film like Armageddon, but I’m not sure how much that would matter to the average film-watcher.