Not the worst movie ever, but possibly the stupidest!

Full Disclosure: I used to work for NASA–in Mission Control, no less. I played point guard for the astronauts’ basketball team. I’ve had the privilege of watching two shuttle launches from the Cape. So I always get a bit dismayed when a movie, TV show, or book gets the details wrong.*

But this . . . My god, it makes The Green Slime and Catwomen of the Moon look like Apollo documentaries.

I saw Armaggedon during it’s theatrical release. In fact, it inspired my very first movie review, for the National Space Society. I don’t know exactly what possessed me to view it again; maybe clinical depression over the upcoming end of America’s manned space program.

(I will not mention the technical things the movie got wrong. The Internet isn’t large enough.)

Plot Summary: The largest asteroid in the entire solar system, somehow undiscovered until it is approaching Earth, has been spotted by a redneck amateur astronomer who has evidently built his own Palomar telescope (one of only nine in the world that can see an object that would be visible to the naked eye). He tells NASA it’s coming straight at us! and plans are made to save the planet by sending a bunch of unqualified yahoos into space aboard two space shuttles armed with nuclear warheads. And they must accomplish this in 18 days.

Story: This is gonna hurt, but here goes. Forget scientists or engineers; to save the earth, NASA needs someone who can drill. They consult oil man Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), who has just attempted the second-degree murder of his best friend A.J. Frost (Ben Affleck). A.J., you see, is dropping an unauthorized shaft of his own–into Arwen Evenstar, Harry’s daughter.

Surrounded by NASA’s famous fleet of B-2 bombers and SR-71 spy planes, Harry convinces NASA honcho Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) to let him and his gang of riggers save the planet. “Drilling,” he explains, “is a science.” Unlike, oh I dunno, spaceflight?

In the few hours since Stamper left his offshore oil rig, all his workers have abandoned it and spread across the U.S. like a drinking, womanizing form of swine flu. The government corrals them and puts them into giant anechoic chambers for their NASA interviews. (I went through the same thing.) We find that NASA, in evil partnership with the Dept. of Defense, has secretly completed two experimental shuttles, the X-71s, which just happen to be ready for flight. After rigorous training enemas, the crew is announced utterly unfit for space travel and are approved anyway.

Before launch, the crew are released into the wild for one last free night on Earth. “Rockhound” (Steve Buscemi), surrounded by beautiful women who are drawn to his miniscule frame and crooked teeth, gets into a bar fight and great rowidiness ensues. Meanwhile, A.J. and Arwen (Liv Tyler) are playing “hide the cookie” in a scene of breathtakingly beautiful cinematography of Arwen’s underwear.

Still, all arrive on time for the Big Launch. They suit up and join together in a rendition of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” that should have led to a Congressional ban on music. “Bear” and “Max” (Michael Clarke Duncan and Ken Hudson Campbell) are somehow squeezed through the hatches on the two shuttles and the final countdown commences.

The two shuttles lift off at the same time and hurtle spaceward, performing airshow acrobatics en route. By now, the Killer Rock of Death is only a day away! First, they must dock with the Russian Space Station (call sign, “Theese eez the Roosian Space Station”) to get more fuel. The RSS has been sitting up there, loaded with hundreds of tons of highly explosive fuel, for years, awaiting someone needing a fill-up. Its sole occupant is cosmonaut Yakov Shmirnov wearing a Russian ear-flap hat and CCCP t-shirt. Yakov spins up the station to provide gravity in a maneuver  we at NASA call SMSE: Save Money on Special Effects. Yakov announces “I yam haveeng gravity!” and the two shuttle dock to take on fuel.

Well, turns out the RSS leaks fluids like a ’52 Ford. The leak causes the pump pressure to skyrocket (?) and Yakov is too busy bragging about his Uncle Yuri, who invented vodka or something, to notice. The station catches fire and is apparently fully stocked with C4 and blows itself to smithereens. Yakov and A.J. were trapped on the station and, I’m grieved to say, escape.

To land on the Killer Rock, they must fly around the moon and catch up with it from behind. (Don’t ask me; I’m just a rocket scientist.) This means flying the shuttles at 9 1/2 g for 11 minutes to reach 25,000 mph. (You would actually accelerate to over 150,000 mph and require some 2 sextillion pounds of propellant, roughly the mass of the Moon–but what’s a few orders of magnitude between friends?) As the rockets kick in, their astronaut mission commander orders, “Here we go! Time to suck it up!” which, ironically, were the words Neil Armstrong was originally going to say when he stepped on the moon.

They reach the asteroid, which is a mass of rocks and clouds (?). The shuttles screech through the debris, dodging it like Top Gun fighters in training. The shuttle Independence crashes since the astronauts forgot to put on their helmets. Tragically most, not all, of the crew are killed.

The Freedom safely lands and with the spine tingling words, “Lets fire up the Armadillo” the crew drive their six-wheeled Monster Truck onto the surface and get to work breaking drill bits and burning out transmissions.

Meanwhile, back on the Independence, we realize the tragedy is worse than we feared: A.J. has survived. He realizes the only way to get out of the crashed and burning (?) shuttle is to, what else, fire up the Gattling gun! (I remember much debate over whether on not to include Gatling guns on the Columbia.) A.J. rips holes in the shuttle, enabling him and Yakov to drive their own Armadillo through the shuttle’s side and set off in search of the distant Freedom. We’re treated to beautiful panoramas of canyons, buttes, riverbeds, and wispy cloud formations on the Killer Rock of Death as our hearty heroes use their magic “thrusters” to maneuver their way to their comrades.

Meanwhile, trouble! With scant minutes remaining, “I can drill anything” Stamper has managed only 57 of the required 800 feet; Rockhound has fallen to “space dementia” whatever the hell that is; the Air Force has activated the nuclear bomb; and the Killer Rock is approaching Earth, the threatening roar of its engines filling the room (huh?), all prompting one of the crew to lament, “This is all wrong!”

No shit.

Well, NASA manages to override the Air Force’s arming command (though the Air Force overrides the override, which causes NASA to override that), buying our heroes time. A.J. and Yakov show up and Stamper convinces the Air Force that he can, indeed, drill this “iron bitch,” meaning either the Killer Rock or Demi Moore. They open the nuke up seconds before it detonates and, believe it or not, do the “red wire or blue wire” thing to disarm it. Whew, the suspense!

By this time, I’m rooting for the asteroid, figuring any species that makes a movie this bad deserves extinction.

Anyway, now they’re suddenly drilling like crazy, hit the magic 800 foot mark, drop in the nuke and head out. Only, the nuke has to be detonated by hand! Someone must stay behind! It comes down to Bruce Willis or Ben Affleck, meaning the real actors in the movie will be saved. Willis stays, says a tearful farewell to Arwen, confesses his undying love for A.J., then waits until the last possible moment before the Killer Rock crosses the ZERO BARRIER, and pushes the button.

The Killer Rock magically splits in two, both sides pass the earth, and all the smaller, pieces are mysteriously “vaporized.” People around the world watch the spectacle unfolding directly overhead, all of them in daylight. I guess the producers haven’t bought into this “spherical Earth” concept.

Well, moments later the shuttle Freedom lands at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where all the folk from Houston are awaiting them. Arwen is laughing and smiling now that her overbearing father is vaporized, and the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team soars overhead.

Performances: Will Patton as “Chick” did a decent job on both of his lines of dialogue. And William Fichtner as the Air Force shuttle commander was watchable. Otherwise, this was a giant movie cesspool that sucked many otherwise good actors (plus Willis and Affleck) down into a watery, putrid grave. Bruce Willis tried to emote on several occasions, but failed. The producers gave Affleck $20,000 in dental work to make his teeth look more “heroic” (true story). His teeth weren’t the problem: it was the words coming through them.

Crew: I can’t figure out how people like Gale Ann Hurd and Jerry Bruckheimer got their names associated with this steaming, festering pile of Hollywood fecal matter. Maybe director Michael Bay won their names in a poker game or something. Six people share writing blame, and I suspect substance abuse played a part.

Allegedly, they used actual consultants from NASA. My guess is they chose janitors.

There were a couple of rather touching scenes in the movie, and decent performances by Patton and Fichtner. Plus any film that destroys Paris has some redeeming quality. Those, and Liv Tyler’s underwear, limit this to only four vacuums.

*For a show that gets the details right, rent the short-lived series Defying Gravity on DVD.

Leave a Reply