Deep Impact
Rating -

Disaster (US); 1998; Rated PG-13; 120 Minutes

Cast
Robert Duvall: Spurgeon Tanner
Tea Leoni: Jenny Lerner
Elijah Wood: Leo Biederman
Vanessa Redgrave: Robin Lerner
Morgan Freeman: President Beck
Leelee Sobieski: Sara Hotchner
Maximillian Schell: Jason Lerner
James Cromwell: Alan Rittenhouse

Produced by John Bradshaw, David Brown, D. Scott Easton, Walter F Darkes, Steven Spielberg and Richard D. Zanuck; Directed by Mimi Leder; Screenwritten by Bruce Jel Rubin and Michael Tolkin

Review Uploaded
12/11/98

Written by DAVID KEYES

"Deep Impact" violates one of the oldest rules as far as disaster films are concerned. The common bond for these types of pictures involves a large, threatening natural disturbance as the center of focus--a disaster that geologists, scientists, philosophers, etc. fear will bring on an apocalypse for humanity. The disaster acts as the villain of the picture, and creates a looming atmosphere over the heads of our people that prompts worldwide panic. In the end, however, humanity is always saved at the cost of few lives; the disaster is sidetracked by the people it threatens. Mankind, in these pictures, prevails.

Almost assuredly, the humans in the picture are concentrated on very vaguely, for the natural force itself is always the center of attention. It's normal for the characters and subplots to get sidetracked because they can't outweigh the natural disaster itself. People go to see these movies for the special effects, not the characters and plot twists. Why else would they call it a disaster film?

This is the setup that "Deep Impact" starts to follow, and then modifies greatly halfway between the beginning and the end. The unique approach involves a large, deadly comet set on a collision course with earth, and the people who live with the fear that their lives could soon come to an end. This is a movie to "Armageddon" as "Dante's Peak" was to "Volcano"--in other words, here we get to see the disaster, and experience the lives of the people who are threatened by it, instead of examining the standard special effects festivities usually provoked by disaster movies. There is human element so noticeable here that our emotions and hope to prevail outweigh the need to see the neat and realistic visual effects. It is not just a natural disaster movie. It is a human disaster as well.

A movie about comets ready to collide with earth is, of course, a difficult subject to tackle in the first place. The comet/meteor usually comes in a size larger than what we imagined, and if it collides with our planet, humanity is at an end. But if it doesn't, and we the people succeed, what will become of the picture? After all, we won't get to see all those fancy special effects that we expect to witness. So how does one determine in this situation if we can have our cake and eat it, too?

The answer is not easy. Here, the script builds up a complex situation in which the comet is at first split into two different-sized separations, and the smaller one, being of large importance in itself, hits the Atlantic ocean and destroys all in sight along the Atlantic coasts of the globe. The larger one, still prone to destroying humanity, is prevented from collision. Yes, there would be mass devastation, but, as in the words of Morgan Freeman, the star of the movie, "we will prevail."

The movie manages this process well. The comet is accidentally split into the two different sized ones, and the smaller one impacts with earth. They recover from that. They can't from the other. So, as a last-resort, a team of astronauts sacrifice their lives to blow the comet up so that humanity can survive. To manage such a process, the script forms several subplots and relationships between the disaster sequences that easily take our minds off the disaster or makes us feel sorry for the people. At the beginning, for instance, a teenage kid and his girlfriend discover the comet, and report it to one of NASA's telescopes. The NASA technician prepares to take his evidence to the government, but is halted when a truck forces him off the road. The car he is in blows up and destroys all the evidence.

A year passes, and the next major plot-point begins to surface. We meet a television anchor named Jenny Lerner, played by Tea Leoni, who is convinced that she has just come across some sort of presidential scandal. She speaks to a White House representative who claims that she overheard the president talking to someone named "Elsie" on the phone privately in the oval office. Jenny suspects instantly that the president is having some sort of love affair. However, after captured by federal agents and taken to the White House, she fatefully learns that Elsie is no love interest for the president. Elsie is the comet.

But by the time we get wind of the situation, the government has already prepared. They summon topnotch astronauts to go up in space and blow the comet up. The president addresses the world on the situation and what is at risk. There is global panic. There is despair in society. Every time you turn around, there's something new showing up in the internal conflict. And that's okay with us. When the disaster is not the main focus, we have the characters to observe in all these painstaking situations. They are real people in a real world doomed by nature. They have emotions and fears, and here, they are demonstrated just as you'd expect them to be.

Everything comes together in the end, and by the time the last words are spoken, we, the audience, have been sent down a road of despair and triumph. The final speech given by Morgan Freeman is the best scene in the movie; he tells the people of the world of how we will recover and succeed from the tragedy. Like a phoenix from the ashes, we will emerge bigger and stronger than ever before. The scene, which is written with convincing dialogue, is a brave, direct, and emotional recreation of how to stay brave even after all the catastrophe that has been caused by mother nature.

This, to put it bluntly, is an awe-inspiring movie--one of such sheer epic proportions that its nostalgic of early disaster movies. A genre like this one normally doesn't tend to provide us with fresh approaches in the formula, but "Deep Impact" remedies that tedious concept. If this doesn't provoke a recovery for the current relapse of decent disaster films, then nothing will.


1998, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
 
 
           
     
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