Countdown

July 1998


Meteor Logo
    You got it baby.  The first "giant meteor slamming into the planet" flick made. I thought that it was time to review this film and give it the credit that it is due seeing as there has been all of this hype over the already released Deep Impact and the upcoming Armageddon.
Video Tape Box  We're talking about the star studded, 103 minute long, Academy Award nominated (for sound) film made in 1979 and directed by Ronald Neame, the same man who directed the king of all sinking boat flicks, The Poseidon Adventure. Here was a man who knew how to direct a destructo-fest film, and trusted his work so much that he even acted in the film.  This was probably the last of the great seventies disaster flicks like the Airport series, or Earthquake or the Towering Inferno. This film calls the ball right, "There's No Place On Earth To Hide."
    And star studded is an understatement.  First off it has the man, Sean Connery, a man whose film legacy need not be covered here other than noting that I feel that Outland was a great film that deserves more credit than it gets (I guess they can't forgive him for Zardoz). He plays Dr. Paul Bradley, a guy who apparently left NASA to sail ships and because they wouldn't listen to his warnings of disaster (typical).
I'm Sean Connery  Backing up the man are several big names from the disaster flick genre and other big names who should be mentioned because they are big.  First off we have Karl Malden as Harry Sherwood, the American Express dude with the big nose who also starred in Beyond The Poseidon Adventure. Then we have Brian Keith, the guy from Hardcastle and McCormick, but was in my favorite non Clint Eastwood western, Hallelujah Trail.  He plays this Russian scientist Doctor Dubov, but I will get into that later. Playing a paranoid General Adlon is Martin Landau who was in the coolest TV show of the seventies, Space: 1999 and was also in Hallelujah Trail.
    The dudes are assisted by a Russian chick played by Natalie Wood in one of her last roles before becoming driftwood. She is best remembered for her role in Brainstorm, but if you want to see her when she was really hot, check out the Great Race with Tony Curtis. The only other chick worth mentioning is one that had a pretty small role in the film, but is very important to the genre we all worship . . . the chicks in prison genre.  Yes I am talking about Sybil Danning, the chick with the big breasts in Battle Beyond The StarsYes!
    Oh, and Henry Fonda is also in the film.

    Anyway, this never before seen comet is heading for the asteroid belt and we immediately get jump cut to the credits and Sean Connery sailing his boat in some competition where the Coast Guard takes him to NASA and we are given some background material.
The Hubble Space Telescope Finally Pays Off  Seems that NASA sent their Mars Probe, called Challenger II to check out the comet as it passes through the asteroid belt.  They they park near this big asteroid Orpheus and watch the deal.  I don't know about you but this doesn't sound like such a cool idea, but then again that's why we don't have a manned space station yet. The comet hits the asteroid and the asteroid explodes, breaking up in to many pieces, and destroying the probe in the process. The drama here is high in that the general at NASA had a son who was on the probe. It just goes to show you that NASA should stay away from calling things Challenger.
So This Is The SDI System  Needless to say, a big chunk 5 miles wide is heading for Earth and they talk about a system named Hercules which is a satellite loaded with nuclear missiles that was designed by Sean for this very purpose, but apparently the military dudes had other plans for. So its off to Washington D.C. for some character development and a heated argument where Martin Landau's character is firmly defined as the one-track minded military guy who is more worried about the Soviets than saving the earth. What results is that the President Henry Fonda) makes an announcement of our system and calls for the Russians to help us with their system.  Pretty damn slick.
Where's McCormick?  So it's off to New York where the nerve center controlling Hercules is located. The Russians are coming to meet them and we are introduced to a representative in Hong Kong, which you know is gonna have the hammer dropped on it, otherwise it wouldn't have been mentioned. They meet Brian Keith and Natalie Wood and start getting down to business.  We get some Russian U.S. bantering and discover the Soviets call theirs Peter The Great. I have to say that Brian Keith doesn't speak a word of English in this entire film, only Russian, which is pretty damn impressive if you ask me.
    A smaller chunk of the meteor slams into Siberia but there is no damage footage.  Kind of a gyp. Commander Koenig!Then we get some more meteor storms coming in over Italy, but they all evaporate, ripped off again.  Martin Landau goes off on a rant. When he leaves, Brian Keith goes off on a rant as well.  Everyone is going off.  Earlier both Karl and Sean had gone off on each other and in the Pentagon.  Everyone in this film is pissed off. But apparently all of this ranting causes the Russian government to admit to their satellite and now the mutual assistance pact is official.
    Oh and we find out the Russian chick is single and Sean is interested.

    So we go through the procedure for realigning the satellites.  Then we jump cut to a skiing village in Austria where we get to see a young Miss Danning.  A large meteor fragment impacts and takes the top off of a mountain and we have some groovy "town getting covered by an avalanche" action, including people crushed by buildings.  Great moment in the film where, thanks to a bunch of cross-country skiers, we have a massive body count of at least . . .wait for it . . .

N12,000N

    No problem finding a cold beer there.
    So we are getting close to the time to fire the missiles and it is at this point that I notice that the impact day is December 7th.  Was this supposed to be some kind of metaphor.  While we are waiting, we get some more Connery trying to pick up on the chick, and Miss wood speaks pretty good Russian as well.  Goddamn character development always gets in the way of massive destruction.
Don't Panic, It's Only A Tidal Wave  Just as I was starting to get worked up by all of the waiting, we get what we came for. A meteor fragment hit the sea and has created a tidal wave over 100 feet high.  This puppy is going to put the lock on Hong Kong.  Its a great sequence with Chinese dudes scurrying around like in a Godzilla film and they even go for the guy goes back to save the dog bit.  Even Asian people are stupid enough to value the life of an animal more than their own. Anyway, I can only estimate the death tool based on 1992 population figures to be over 5 million, but I'll be generous and say 2 million were able to swim or somehow get out of the way. That still leaves 3 million corpses floating on in the water. This is a movie that went for large numbers of dead people in a distant fashion instead of the "kill a couple, but let the customers gawk at it" fashion.
    So the Russian missiles are launched and 40 minutes later the American missiles are to be launched.  Two minutes before they launch they get word that a huge meteor splinter is heading into the general area of where the command center is at. Again, as has been the case so many times in the Mayor Gulliani's Plan To Clean Up New York Goes Wrongpast, New York is gonna get a little urban renewal. I love it.  No matter how many times that hole gets nuked, burned, shook, stomped, diseased, flooded and in general trashed, I smile.  It's kind of like justice.  Granted it feels good to see Los Angeles get smeared, but it's never as satisfying as seeing that little island of greed and corruption get smoked.
    And here is where you get your true Irwin Allen-esque disaster movie.  The whole command center is collapsing and you know you're gonna have some human drama because most of the place is located under the Hudson river. Place your bets on who you think is gonna die. Yeah, we've got collapsing buildings and fires and explosions. Granted, much of the destruction of buildings is shown through stock footage, but it's destruction none the less. Conversely, the route out of the command center is destroyed which means they are going to have to find another way out.  Oh, and General Adlon is dead . . . boo hoo.
    Now the survivors have to get out using the subway tunnel.  This is the part of the film where they start thinning the herd.  It is a patented disaster movie bit where survivors of the main disaster have to fight their way through other stupid, life threatening incidents to make it the the end of the flick. Translated, this means more people are going to die, and some of those who die will be main characters . . . but this film doesn't really stoop to that, even though the fact that they are under the Hudson river could make for some great herd thinning.  Only one old guy dies and he wasn't even a recognized character. While they are trying to get out, the missiles strike the meteor and the world is saved. Yay!
    Then they cut to a farewell scene where the Russians are headed back home. Brian Keith gets a baseball bat and Sean Connery kisses Natalie Wood and that is it.  Oh an they let us know that some cats at MIT developed a plan in 1968 preparing for the possibility of a giant meteor slamming into the planet called Project Icarus.
    Now there are a couple of web sites that relate to this.  The first is the Asteroid/Comet Impact Hazard page, a site devoted to the true scientific analysis and preparation for this kind of thing, I mean it's freaking NASA. The other is the Armageddon page, a vastly superior movie to Deep Impact in that there is more destruction and less "human drama" to get in the way.



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