Armageddon (Collector's Edition) Review

(reviewed by Andy Morris)
This is one of those films. You know the ones – films with the kind of plot, pacing and character depth that cannot help but invoke a perspiring, over-excited exec hurriedly flogging the concept to the studio faster than you can say ‘opening weekend.’

“There’s this asteroid, right,” he would say. “And it’s going to destroy the Earth. So we send up Bruce Willis, the world’s finest deep-core oil driller, into space to save the world. Chuck a few rednecks in for comedy relief and we’re laughing.”

As is evident, a plot summary would be somewhat redundant; we’re talking about a Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer film here, and its done to the Nth degree. The film’s use of a ticking digital clock counting down the final days, hours and minutes of the Earth to create tension is belied by the constant jump-cutting and general disregard for restraint and chronology: at no point in the film is nothing happening, and the action progresses minute-by minute as we watch hours pass in seconds. No fades, wipes or pauses of any kind here, and one often gets the feeling of watching a two-hours-plus TV commercial or a rock video compilation. Still, sometimes the adverts are better than the programmes and there’s always a place for films like Armageddon when in the right mood.

What the film sacrifices in tension, it compensates for in action and entertainment of the least demanding kind. Simply pop your brain in the fridge with one hand whilst removing several cans of lager with the other, close the curtains and hit ‘play’. Many of us will find our cinematic sensibilities affronted by the flag-waving histrionics, as Willis chews scenery (and with scenery like this, that’s a load of chewing) while spouting lines of the “Come on, God, just a little help” calibre. Despite this, the film’s tongue is never far from its cheek, thanks in main to Steve Buscemi’s perverted, demented Rockhound who seems to have just wandered on set to ridicule the script. However, if you really don’t think your constitution is strong enough to enjoy a film in which Ben Affleck turns to a Russian (Peter Stormare, also offering relief from the stoic heroics) and informs him that “this is how we do things in my country” before machine-gunning down the wall of a crashed space-shuttle, then avoid this like the plague.

The film’s effects, while stunningly rendered, suffer from the fast pace and overstated nature of the film. The asteroid itself should look like an actual rock: a jagged, spinning, heaving behemoth. Actually it fails to look threatening at all, and is far too ethereal, wispy and vaporous. Aside from a lacklustre cameo by the Moon, which seems to have been plucked from cinema’s first ever all-CGI sequence in The Wrath of Kahn, the rest of the effects are outstanding if overdone and far too quickly cut.

Another disappointment is the score. When it could have contributed to the exhilaration and hysteria, the synth-heavy faux-orchestral score that is the cheap staple of colossal action films these days barely diverts your attention. Still, you don’t expect Morricone to score a Gillette commercial and that has clearly been taken on board.

The film is presented as a director’s cut, but this is something of a fallacy as the additions consist of one scene (Willis visiting his father before the mission begins) and one line (Willis again, admitting he is scared) that contribute very little to the film overall. Some of the deleted scenes included on disc two would have been more worthy additions.

If you wanted Citizen Kane then, I expect, you already own it and wouldn’t waste your time reading this. But those of us who find enjoyment in an untaxing, undemanding lobotomy-flick that will happily take a poke at its own ridiculousness will find this a somewhat guilty pleasure. It’s one of those films.

(reviewed by Andy Hall)
The original region 1 version of this disc had a non-anamorphic picture (which was still a good transfer), but for region 2 we have been given a full anamorphic image, and it is simply first rate. Colours are rich, images are crystal clear, definition is sharp. Excellent.

(reviewed by Andy Hall)
Likewise the sound quality on this disc is top notch. This is a loud movie... sorry, this is a VERY LOUD movie, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 track belts out both the multitude of sound effects and Trevor Rabin's powerful score with extreme clarity and force. Although this is derived from a disc that is from 1999, I haven't seen (or rather, heard) a Dolby Digital based disc that can better it.

The technical reviewer (Andy Hall) would just like to point out here that he disagrees with the movie reviewer regarding the musical soundtrack. Ex-Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin’s score is powerful, and hits just the right emotions for a “heroes-save-the-day” blockbuster such as this.

(reviewed by Andy Hall & Andy Morris)
Back in the early days of region 2 there was a lot of complaints over the poor presentation of discs as against their North American counterparts. A great deal of feature-rich discs from region 1 were offered up here as movie-only flipper discs. One such disc was the original release of Armageddon, even leading to a campaign that reached BBC's Watchdog causing the then distributor Warner to let disgruntled punters send back their flippers to be replaced with dual layer discs. It was still a disc devoid of features, however. In 2000 Buena Vista took over their own region 2 distribution from Warner and promised to re-release some of the more notorious discs from their range. This promise has been realised to an extent, as for instance Starship Troopers is now on par with the American release, and here Armageddon has been given a much needed spruce up. This double disc set is effectively the same as the Criterion package that was released in region 1 way back in 1999. If you look on the side of the disc box you will even see the Criterion name. The only differences between this version and the region 1 are the gaining of an anamorphic image but the loss of a "gag reel" of out-takes. Being a two disc set would initially give the impression that this is up there with the best of all DVD packages, and DVD Times supremo Colin Polonowski looked at the region 1 version when it was originally released and was impressed with it. However, that was 1999 and the quality of DVD packages has moved on since then. Many single disc movies have been released that far outpace this set, and as a Criterion package, it is not one of their most feature-rich. But this is not to say that this isn't a welcome region 2 release with some worthy extra features.

Disc 1 contains the following extras:

The standout is the first of two commentaries that accompany the film on the first disc. This is taken from the Criterion Edition, and the commentary features director Michael Bay, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and actors Willis and Affleck. Each contributor has recorded separate tracks which have been edited together, so unfortunately there is no Fight-Clubby interaction. Despite this, the commentary is outstanding, always compelling enough to keep your attention from drifting to the on-screen action or dialogue.

Bay takes the reins for most of the commentary, guiding us through the decision-making process by which the film’s focus changed from the Willis and Thornton characters and their relationship to the Affleck-Tyler love story, which was tacked on to boost audiences thanks to a certain cruise-liner disaster flick. It is interesting to note just how incomplete the story and script was throughout production, and how much of the comedy and dialogue was ad-libbed by a cast consisting predominantly of writers. Bay also provides some amusing prima dona moments which give you a good impression of what he is really like: a good example is when he talks early in the film of the happy co-existence between Armageddon and Deep Impact, only later to petulantly slag off Impact's special effects in comparison to his own.

Bruckheimer adds little of interest and his contribution is kept to a minimum. Willis, also sparsely heard, sounds bored at first, but eventually a few glimpses of dry humour show through. But there is no doubt that the star here is Affleck.

Affleck functions in the commentary in much the same way as Buscemi in the film: whenever the contributors begin taking themselves too seriously or believing the film to be more than it actually is, Affleck steps in with some fine sarcasm and humour, from his gruff southern impression of Billy-Bob Thornton to his wry comments that every main character in these sort of films is “The Best” at something. Affleck is insightful, honest, funny, self-mocking, occasionally humble and very refreshing.

The second commentary, from NASA consultant Dr Joe Allen, asteroid consultant Ivan Beckey and director of photography John Schwartsmann, is less entertaining and more cerebral. It is for this reason, perhaps, that it does not hold one’s attention after such a lobotomising film. However, the scientific contributions are certainly worth listening to, continuously picking holes in the realism (or lack of it) of scenes throughout the movie, and Schwartsmann provides enlightening anecdotes about the sets, filming styles and special effects when there is no science on-screen.

Onto disc 2 which contains the following:

There are five deleted scenes which the box states were "compiled by director Michael Bay". Clearly this was not a big job of work for Bay as they are non-anamorphic, run as a continuous stream without a menu, have no commentary, and are under four minutes in total. Two scenes in particular could have been added to the director’s cut: a hilarious ad-lib from Buscemi that I won’t spoil, and a tension-mounting scene where Thornton explains to his captain just how bloody impossible their mission is going to be.

The special effects section is broken into three pieces, which are in turn accessible as a whole or via chapter stops. The first features visual effects supervisor Richard Hoover who narrates a sixteen-minute featurette on the special effects design and construction of the asteroid sequences, both in models and CGI. The second features another visual effects supervisor - Hoyt Yeatman - and is a nine-minute piece on the way the Paris destruction scenes were built and filmed. Finally, visual effects supervisor number three Pat McClung spends about eight minutes talking more generally about the special effects for the whole movie, before concentrating on scenes featuring the shuttles and the Mir space station. All three are informative and not at all "promo".

Production Design is an eight minute sequence unsurprisingly featuring the production designer Michael White discussing the aspects of the look of the movie. This section also includes a design gallery featuring numerous pieces of pre-production artwork and conceptual designs.

The storyboards section features boards from two sequences in the movie, these being firstly the Armadillo vehicle jump on the asteroid, and secondly the rock storm sequence.

The music video is Aerosmith's I don't want to miss a thing featured on the movie soundtrack. There's a little more here, as the video is introduced by the band members who also talk about how they got involved with providing the song for the movie.

Finally the theatrical trailer is here, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.

There are no DVD-ROM extras present on either disc.

(by Andy Hall)
It's good to see a decent DVD of this flag-waving but watchable Bruckheimer / Bay blockbuster released in region 2. Even though it's on two discs it's not an amazingly feature packed set - it's really only a double set for no other reason than the length of the film (with two commentaries), which causes it to spill over onto a second disc. However, the extras are worth seeing, and with absolutely first rate sound and vision, if you have no other copies of the disc already it's clearly the version of choice to own.

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