The Dark Herald’s Top 5 Asteroid MoviesThe Dark Herald
For no reason whatsoever…
…I have decided, completely out of the blue, to do an Asteroid movie listicle.
Planet Impact films are a subgenre of disaster flicks. These stories have been around for a while. Arguably H.G. Welles’ War of the Worlds was the first novel to use it as a device. And while it occasionally showed up as a motif here and there, the genre didn’t really find its footing until the impact theory of dinosaur extinction became popularly known. That was when people first became concerned about it. After all the “thunder-lizards” had been around on Earth for hundreds of millions longer than we have. If a big meteor took them out what chance do we have?
End-of-the-world fiction wasn’t all that popular before the Cold War. But after people got used to having atomic weapons in the backs of their minds, it seemed to be difficult for people to not worry about instant Armageddon after that threat became a less active threat. The timing of when these films are popular seems to be addressing a certain zeitgeist.
Of course, you’re not. No one ever is. It’s a freaking asteroid.
When Worlds Collide (1951)
The grandaddy of them of all.
World War II was over and done with. The boys had come home from the war and married the gals they’d been writing to for years. Everybody had a good job and America bestrode the world like a colossus, a great cigar cost a dime, your Daddy was rich and your Mama was good looking.
Yet for all of that everyone was kind of unsettled. People weren’t quite worrying about nuclear war yet. Sure, the Russians had the Bomb but their airplanes were crap and everybody knew it. Regardless, people were kind of on edge. I suppose it’s not a surprise, everybody had gone through the Great Depression when you didn’t know if you were going to be able to eat when you came home that night. Then came World War II where you didn’t know if you were coming home at all.
Being on edge etches itself into your brain. You can’t really unprogram it once you don’t need it.
When Worlds Collide has an intriguing combination of 1930s futurism and 1940s science fiction.
The movie opens with a pilot David Randall flying top-secret photos from a South African observatory to New York. Doctor Henderson and his daughter Joyce have their worst fears confirmed, the dual planet system of Bellus and Zyra are approaching Earth. Zyra will make a close flyby causing unspeakable damage and then assume an orbit in Earth’s orbital path around the sun. Bellus on the other hand will collide with Earth destroying it completely.
Doctor Henderson makes an impassioned speech before the United Nations (people still believed in the UN when the US was running it), warning of what was coming and that we need to start building rocket “Arks.” They will transport a lucky few so that perhaps the Man can avoid extinction. He is of course pooh-poohed. He tries to get private funding but has trouble there until an evil old millionaire named Stanton agrees to fund it in exchange for deciding who gets to go on the ship. The Doctor refuses, telling him that his money will only buy a seat for himself. Stanton reluctantly agrees.
The desperate venture begins.
There is an Alpha male rivalry for the affections of Joyce between the pilot Randall and Doctor Tony Drake. It has an interesting resolution to it.
Zyrus makes its flyby and creates as much devastation as 1950s special effects can provide. George Pal was the George Lucas of his day. He really did a great job with scenes of earthquakes, floods, eruptions, and devastation in general. Those scenes got recycled in various films endlessly.
After that, it’s obvious that the world is ending. Henderson’s group loads up the livestock, farming equipment, and microfilmed books. There is a lottery held by the project’s workers to decide who goes. Randall is the designated co-pilot so his seat is reserved but he decides he doesn’t have the skills that will be needed to restart civilization. So, he pretends to take a lottery number and announces he was one of the losers.
His rival Doctor Drake then lies to him about how the pilot in command has a heart condition and can’t survive the G-forces of liftoff. So Randall has to go now.
There is a nice riot as the sore losers of the lottery try to take the ship. Good movie all around. Still worth a late night watch.
This 1970s disaster blaster starred Sean Connery and Natalia Nikolaevna Zakherenko (AKA Natalie Wood, yes that was her real name) and a whole bunch of other people.
In the 1970s a reliable indicator of a bad move was a poster like this:
Any movie poster that featured a collection of people starring in it was a guaranteed stinker by the end of the seventies. And Meteor didn’t disappoint in that regard.
The plot is that a comet has collusion with the Asteroid Orpheus, cutting off a giant splinter and sending it hurtling towards Earth.
As contrived luck would have it, the United States has set up a response for just such an emergency. There is a specialized satellite with a bunch of meteor-killing nuclear-tipped rockets attached to it ready to go. There are two problems, however, first, the missiles are currently aimed at the Soviet Union and the military doesn’t want to give them up and second, there aren’t enough missiles.
Turns out the Soviets have built their own version of the satellite and it’s aimed at America.
President Fonda makes a speech going public about the satellite stating only its original purpose and good news the Soviets had the same foresight as the United States. Giving Brezhnev a face-saving out.
The rockets work but a few splinters hit the Earth allowing the producers to give the required scenes of destruction.
This film’s biggest problem is that it showed up too late. Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, and Poseidon Adventure had made decent bank. However, that run had ended when Star Wars was released. It just wasn’t obvious yet. Although everybody figured it out when Meteor bombed.
Without Warning (1994)
A forgotten little gem. For the fiftieth anniversary of Orson Welles’ War of the World, broadcast CBS decided to do something similar on Halloween night. This TV film is done in the form of an emergency TV news broadcast. Expenses were kept within limits by extensive use of stock footage and videotape. Veteran TV newsman Sander Vanocur played, veteran TV newsman Sander Vanocur. He was a familiar figure back then and his presence gave it a feeling of authenticity.
CBS was, of course, hoping to set off a panic while pretending they weren’t. And no, they didn’t really get one.
The plot starts off with shots of a TV movie of the week and then it’s interrupted to inform the audience that three meteors have hit the Earth.
Over an accelerated timeline it becomes clear that these impacts were not a natural event and that there are more on the way.
We successfully nuke the first one, which pisses off the aliens who then send another three. Earth nukes those but then the Aliens throw the kitchen sink at us and all major cities are destroyed. Sander Vanocur quotes Shakespeare before signing off resigned to humanity’s genocide.
Interesting little time capsule from a time when we were completely dependent on TV for the rapid dissemination of information.
Deep Impact (1998)
Who cares? It was just a clone of the next movie on this list.
Big, loud, dumb and I still love it.
Armageddon is one of those films that people watched and enjoyed. Then pretended that they didn’t like it, claiming it wasn’t all that, and a bag of chips after all. And that it was only for low brows.
I’ve never claimed to be anything other than a low brow. The people who say that they hate it are the worst kind of snobs. They’re plebian, fashion snobs. If it is suddenly in fashion to hate a film that they liked, then they start trumpeting, how much they hated it all along, which was why they saw Titanic four times.
The movie starts out with a surprise meteor shower destroying a space station, then going on to take huge chunks out of New York City. I will be the first to admit this scene aged badly over the next three years.
Turns out a Texas-sized asteroid is going to collide with the Earth. Definitely, an extinction-level event, and it arrives in eighteen days. So, an insane spur of the moment scheme is launched to send oil jacks to the asteroid to drill down into it, insert an H-bomb and safely shatter it.
I liked the characters; they did what they were supposed to do. Michael Bay did a good job with the key scenes and I appreciated how he kept the tension going by never having the camera do a fixed shot. The characters were fun, the leads had appropriate story arcs. Harry wanted something much better in life for his daughter than a guy who was completely like him. His daughter, being a Daddy’s Girl wanted a man like her father, leaving AJ caught between the two. Harry chasing AJ with a shotgun may have been blunt but it certainly did the job it was supposed to.
“Harry, I love her!”
“Way wrong answer!”
The supporting characters did their jobs they were amusing and endearing. They filled out the team nicely.
Now I will grant there were a few conflicts with the military which were there just to kill a little time until they could reach the climax but given the kind of film it was, this needed to be done or the running time would have been one hour. That wouldn’t have worked for the level of tension that was needed by the time it was ready to blow the meteor.
At the climax, the remote control MacGuffin on the H-bomb is broken and somebody has to stay behind and blow the bomb manually. AJ gets the short straw but Harry tears out his air hose at the last second, incapacitating him. He hurls AJ into the airlock, tells him loves him like a son, and knows he’ll take good care of his daughter. AJ cries like a Ben Affleck.
Bruce Willis got the kind of death scene that was reserved for Charleton Heston back in the seventies. I liked the peaceful look on his face as his life flashed before his eyes. It wasn’t a long life, but it was a full one.
And that’s my listicle. The funny thing about this list is the unwavering confidence Hollywood had in H-bombs to save the day. Particularly when you consider how many of them had been anti-nuke assholes in Reagan’s day.
Also, it wouldn’t have done a damn bit of good. There is no way in hell an H-bomb can vaporize a rock the size of Texas. At most you might be able to use an Orion drive to push a meteor out of the way but even that is a pretty bad bet.
George Pal was right. Getting off the planet is your only real hope.
Okay, I’m done here.