Sunday, July 11, 2010

Armageddon

Our last Owen Wilson film for the foreseeable future is Armageddon. Wilson played Oscar, one of the least colorful characters in an adventure which lacked a lot of color in the first place. No one will blame you if you forgot he was even in it.

Armageddon came along in 1998 when Hollywood had been grasping to find on-controversial, but still compelling villains. The Cold War was over, Nazis had been played out, and political correctness eliminated just about every other possibility. Movies of the time period were filled with terminators, dinosaurs, bland aliens, and, finally, killer asteroids. The result was largely style over substance. Lots of neat special effects, but tin narrative glue holding them together.

Armageddon is a perfect example. A asteroid the size of Texas dubbed a planet killer is hurtling towards Earth. NASA, apparently having seen the far superior The Abyss, call on a crew of misfit oil rig workers to receive astronaut training, land on the asteroid, and blow it off its trajectory in order to save Earth.

The human element--what little there is--is the romance between AJ Frost (Ben Affleck) and Grace Stamper (Liv Tyler), the daughter of the main character, Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis.) Harry does not want his daughter marrying a roughneck like himself, but he comes around in the end in predictably heroic fashion for a movie like this. AJ and Grace have the only real relationship.

I probably would not feel that way I the editing of Armageddon was not so lightning fast. Scenes are brief and manic, many exist only for a punch line which oten isnot funny, and are disconnected from one another. There is very little narrative flow. The whole thing is cut like an extended trailer rom some other movie.

The action sequences towards the end are fun to watch on the big screen. They lose something on television. I have mixed emotions telling you that. Armageddon was the loudest, most intense experience I ever had in a theater. Most unpleasant, really, because I was not prepared for the roller coaster ride. Yet the television experience diminishes the action. I cannot be satisfied either way, which tells me there is a flaw within Armageddon’s execution.

Along with the special effects, I am going to give some props to Billy Bob Thornton as the NASA administrator. This guy can convincingly play a brain damaged redneck and the head of NASA convincingly without ever relying on stereotypes to complete the character. Kudos to him.

But not to much else. With the pacing, I had a difficult time building up any sympathy for the characters. I never doubted AJ and Grace would wind up together even in the best relationship presented. There was no time to feel a sense of dread for Earth’s doom. I cannot describe the personalities of the characters who died. By the time we got to the most heartfelt, bittersweet moment, I was just ready to leave the theater and have a quiet moment so my ears would stop ringing.

Michael Bay is a terrible director of mindless shlock. By making Armageddon a hit, moviegoers doomed us to a decade and counting of more of the same mindless junk. I cannot imagine J. J. Abrams, the mind behind Felicity, Lost, and Fringe, intended for his script to turn into a jumbled music mess with no heart, but that it what it is.

I am goig to give Armageddon three stars regardless of all the criticism. If you are an action movie fan, it is good for one viewing. But a little goes a long way. There is nothing to merit a repeat viewing. All you will ever remember about it is a favorite special effects shot or two--assuming you were quick enough to catch it before before they rapidly went unto something else.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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