"Sir, the override. It's been overridden."
That sounds like a line from "Dr. Strangelove," but it's not. It's from "Armageddon," the 1998 blockbuster directed by Michael Bay ("The Rock," "Transformers") and produced by Bay, Gale Anne Hurd, and Jerry Bruckheimer. There's plenty of action here, but this high-concept film is also riddled with humor and tongue-in-cheek lines that lighten the end-of-the-world scenario by megatons.
I suspect that as our language evolves, a future dictionary may contain the phrase "popcorn movie" and include, in addition to a brief definition, "See Bruckheimer, Jerry." This guy is the undisputed king of the popcorn movie, the way that Ray Harryhausen was king of B-movie special effects and Don King was master of a hair-do that looked as if it survived one of those countless explosions that punctuate a Bruckheimer movie. There are exceptions, but for the most part a Bruckheimer-produced film feels like a theme park ride. You know it's fake--sometimes, even hokey--but darned if it isn't fun all the same!
That's the way "Armageddon" plays out. You know from the get-go that when a rag-tag, "Dirty Dozen" style group of oil-rig workers is sent on an impossible (and implausible) mission to stop a gigantic asteroid from hitting the earth--landing on it, drilling a deep hole and then exploding a nuclear bomb to break it apart--that ONE of the guys is going to have to stay behind to make sure the darned thing detonates. One of them is going to have his Slim Pickens' moment, yee-hawing his way into oblivion. And most viewers can even guess which one. But no matter. The plot points and character development are both secondary to the ride itself.
Bruce Willis is well cast as Harry Stamper in "Armageddon," which owes an obvious debt to "Hellfighters," a 1968 John Wayne film. In "Hellfighters," Wayne's character put out oil well fires, and his daughter happens to fall for his right-hand man on the team, and that causes tension. Wayne's ex-wife couldn't handle the pressure of a husband working in such a dangerous job day after day, and he didn't want his daughter involved with his co-worker because fruit doesn't fall far from the tree. In "Armageddon," the overly protective Willis has a daughter (Liv Tyler) who falls for his right-hand man, a loose cannon named A.J. (Ben Affleck), and it plays out pretty much the same, with the daughter asserting herself and the father eventually coming around. But in "Armageddon" there's also an homage to "Apollo 13," from the shots of the oil-rig astronauts walking to the space capsule to the anti-gravity training they endure. Cinematic intertexutality like that just adds to the fun.
"Armageddon" boasts a strong supporting cast, with Billy Bob Thornton on ground control, and Dirty Dozen Astronauts including Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson, and Michael Clarke Duncan. Peter Stomare has a fun time playing a stir-crazy Russian space station operator in a sequence where the mission ship is to refuel, and the whole cast seems to revel in the midst of disaster. Oscar-nominated visual effects from Richard Hoover ("Superman Returns"), Pat McClung ("Charlie's Angels"), and John Frazier ("Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End") also contribute a lot to the overall feel that the film has. Is it exciting? Well, predictability is excitement's worst enemy, and one of this film's downsides is that it's as predictable as it is outlandish (18 days to train a bunch of oil riggers and have them save the world?).
But you still feel the adrenalin rushing even if the only physical movement you're engaged in is a bit of eye-rolling. In other words, as with so many popcorn movies, you'd better brace yourself for a collision with logic. That Russian space station is a prime example. Two shuttles dock simultaneously with the precision of ice dancers and the speed of Apollo Ohno. You don't believe it while it's happening, but you know that reality isn't the guiding principle here. It's action, and things keep moving fairly briskly. So hey, let's just keep this thing moving forward so these guys can save the world. You know it's going to happen because, let's face it, Earth is still here.
The other downside to this film is the dialogue, which dips at times into the deep end of the cheese vat. Those two negatives keep it from being a 7 out of 10. But as a guilty pleasure or a theme park ride? It's still a fun 6.
Action movies depend on the look of things. There's nothing worse than a grainy fireball, especially when it's coming right at you. But the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer is a good one, with no visible artifacts and bold coloration. There's plenty of detail, evident especially in close-ups, but detail survives as well in darkened scenes. Those fireballs also look excellent, as do the interiors. The only scenes where there seems to be a little more grain are a few exterior middle shots. Otherwise it's a great-looking video, with natural skin tones and nice edge delineation. "Armageddon" is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, according to the box, but it looks to measure closer to the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1.
The audio is even better. The featured track is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) audio that really spreads the sound naturally across the speakers, so that the explosions, the bumps and crashes, the drilling noises all seem to fill the room. There's a nice wide spread across the front speakers, too, so the dialogue doesn't feel uncomfortably "trapped" by comparison. Rear speakers are active for ambient sounds, too, which you'll notice during some of the sequences at the training facilities. Additional soundtrack options are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 4.1, with English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Don't blink, or you'll miss the bonus features. All you get is an "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" music video from Aerosmith. Yeah, the song was nominated for an Oscar, but if you don't count trailers (and I don't), it's the only bonus feature on this Blu-ray.
I've seen better Bruckheimer and Bay films, but this one still manages to entertain, despite being predictable and running a third empty on a tank of dialogue.