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Review: 'Armageddon' lacks imagination, but not entertainment

July 09, 1998

Jason MyersBy Jason Myers

"Armageddon" begins with the voice of God; all right, if you want to dispute over semantics, it's the voice of Charlton Heston, but what's the difference? Director Michael Bay might think he has a claim at divinity as well.

Bay is a trash artist, but "Armageddon" is his cleanest, best movie yet. It has all the sleek, propulsive enervating energy of all his other pictures, and enough bravura and bravado to make "Deep Impact," this summer's previous doomsday dissertation on aggressive asteroids, seem like an Ingmar Bergman film about fate and family.

The style of "Armageddon" does not really differ from any of Bay's other migraines (how people enjoyed sitting through the agitations "Bad Boys" and "The Rock," is incomprehensible), but it deepens with the content.

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So there is still the reckless razzmatazz in which Bay swirls his camera around with all the finesse of a camcorder novice. There is nothing like clarity to the action when Bay gets into one of these nervous fits so much as you sense action is taking place because the screen is one jubilant jumble of images. But for decent lengths of time, he calms down and settles into a pattern of epic filmmaking with the confidence but not necessarily the creativity of Steven Spielberg.

The subject matter of "Arma-geddon" is and is not important.

The potenial end of the earth, to be caused by an asteroid the size of Texas, allows the movie a certain girth, but extinction is never dealt with in a serious or even sober fashion. The movie is a drunken, driving crash course through the pleasures of a large cast and a large budget.

Billy Bob Thorton gives a great little performance as a NASA brain.

In movies like "Armageddon," you know someone is intelligent if another character says "he's intelligent," not because the person ever says or does anything of intellectual impact. But you believe Thorton, because his eyes have composure, and he throws out his upper lip; I still have not figured out that upper lip, but I am certain it's a sign of intelligence.

It's also obvious Thorton knows a thing or two when, realizing the earth is about to end, he calls in Bruce Willis. Smart thing to do.

Willis owns his own oil rig out in the middle of the ocean, where he has been drilling for 20 years. What, you may ask, would a man like this have to offer? I just told you: He's Bruce Willis. The plan is to have him and his oily crew fly out to the asteroid, drill a hole into it, and deposit a nuclear warhead, to be detonated at a later date. This is the construct upon which Bay sustains a two-and-an-half-hour movie, which is a fearsome feat in and of itself.

"Armageddon" is nothing less than superb spectacle. There is not an intelligent nor an imaginative moment, but neither is there a dull one.

On what can we feast our eyes? Several close-ups of Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck - playing Willis' hotshot protege - and Liv Tyler - playing Willis' daughter and Affleck's lover; the sudden destruction of Paris, which is given no consideration nor thought; a more intimate view of the jagged teeth of Steve Buscemi - self-satisfied, amusing as a Willis compatriot - than I think anyone needed; and scenes from a Hallmark commercial as American flags and citizens drifting in 1/8 time. I do not mind sentiment - I don't minding saying I was moved by "Armageddon" - but don't these Saturday Evening Post portraits of families running into cellars after listening to old-fashioned radios seem a little dated? It makes it look as if the world were ending in the 1950s (perhaps this is Bay's mischievous way of ridiculing old movies, but I don't think he's clever enough to be mischievous).

On what can we feast our ears? Affleck describes the metaphysical properties of animal crackers; Buscemi brags of his I.Q.; but mostly, macho tough talk mixed with cloying conversations about mass mortality.

"Armageddon," visually, viscerally, has deep impact - isn't it cruel to be kind? For all of its shallowness and shortcomings, you get the feeling (with the intensity of sound and image, all you can do is feel) that this is the way movies are supposed to be made.

Jason Myers is a 1998 graduate of North Hagerstown High School.

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