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There is one potential life-threatening danger that is often jokingly discounted by the media and persons of authority.  The last time an event of this nature occurred, it wiped out a lot of the life on the planet – including entire species.  Yet even if adequate funding was found and used to predict (and prevent) such an occurrence, we would almost certainly only notice it a few days or even weeks before it occurs.  Even after finding out that it is about to occur, it would be very unlikely that we would have the means to prevent the event from happening.  What am I talking about?  An asteroid impact, and this is the basis of the Michael Bay movie Armageddon.

Armageddon: Special Edition
Armageddon is based on a fairly simple premise; an amateur astronomer has discovered a massive asteroid for the first time (a bit unrealistic I suppose), which is heading on a collision course with the Earth.  NASA and all the other space organisations from around the world have to come up with a solution fast.

Well all seems sensible until you find out how Bruce Willis’s character (Harry) comes into all this.  You see, what NASA have decided to do is build a big drilling machine, land on the asteroid, drill a hole, put a nuclear bomb in the hole, run and then blow it up.  Now they have in fact spent many months building a drilling device, but unfortunately they aren’t quite clever enough to figure out how to work the damn thing – you know drilling a hole is blooming difficult!  Well this is where Harry comes in; when you are too thick to drill a hole, you have to hire someone in the know - Harry is of course one of the best hole drilling-type persons in the world.

Phew. Okay then, we have Harry who knows all about drills, now you would think that they would ask him to give their astronauts a crash course in the art of hole drilling.  Well no, they have a much more sensible idea!  They are going to send Harry and his drilling colleagues up into space and spend the time beforehand training them to be astronauts – you see training to be a hole drilling person is much more difficult than learning to be an astronaut, after all, how hard can it be to steer a space shuttle?

The training course that they went through to become astronauts was a bit strange given the circumstances.  Say you have a week or so to train several roughnecks as astronauts, where all of them must be in on the mission or the rest of the group will refuse to go.  So why would NASA waste so much of their time conducting tests to see if these people were fit and clever enough to go into space when they would all have to go into space in any case?

Then there’s the problem that NASA have wasted several months building a drilling device based on Harry’s specifications and have messed up really badly.  I really did get the impression from this movie that the people from NASA wouldn’t know their arse from their elbows, and it is beyond me why they would have decided to take part in a movie that made them appear as stupid as they did.  Well anyway, to cut a long and silly story short, Harry and his bunch of colleagues set off into outer space in an attempt to stop the asteroid from hitting Earth.

Sorry to go on so much about these points but they did stick out so substantially when I watched this movie - I just didn’t notice anything else.  Such problems with the plot could be easily dismissed if you think of this movie as an action packed summer blockbuster (which it was), but still it does seem a tad silly to me.  Armageddon features an ensemble cast including: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck, Steve Buscemi, William Fichtner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Liv Tyler and many more.  It has to be said that the character that Bruce Willis played definitely suited him.  You know, an average guy that is clever in his own way yet caught up in some unbelievable circumstances.

Finally, I don't know if it is just me that thought this way, but there were a bit too many patriotic moments in this movie.  You would get lots of shorts of old America, the president, Liv Tyler and even Bruce Willis all appeared in front of and were dominated by the Stars and Stripes.  Even a bad impersonation of Tony Blair appeared for a few moments in front of the Union Jack which did seem like a bit of a strange thing to do - unless it was an attempt to make sure the audience knew who everyone was supposed to be.

This disc appears to be based on the release that Criterion created for their collection.  When Criterion created the disc, they opted to go for a new transfer (with Michael Bay’s blessing) that incorporated segments that did not make it into the original release.  In this alternative transfer they opted to increase the contrast and darken the overall lighting.  As a result the picture looks better and has a film-like feel – rather than the standard look.  This does seem to be an Anamorphic transfer, which is where this disc differs from the Criterion.

Armageddon: Special Edition
It should be expected from a movie like this that the sound will be used to its full advantage and this is definitely true with Armageddon.  It features an excellent Dolby 5.1 surround sound track that makes extensive use of the subwoofer, so you’ll almost certainly feel as though you are part of the high action sequences!  It’s one of those movies that use the rears a lot, so much so that you sometimes start to think that they’ve almost overdone it.  But hey, that doesn’t matter, so long as I can hear it, I’m happy.

Since this release was based on the Criterion that was created some time ago, it has a large selection of very good quality extras on offer.  So much in fact that the extras have their very own disc to occupy.  Before I start I should mention how nice the menu system is, it is very simple but still somehow impressive.  Let’s start with the commentaries that are situated on the first disc.

The first commentary features director Michael Bay, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and actors Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck.  This was a very interesting commentary, it was one of those edited types with each comment playing seamlessly.  Willis was subdued, Bay was um, a bit angry, Jerry was interesting and Affleck was bloody funny.  The commentary was both informative and entertaining at the same time.

On the second commentary we have cinematographer John Shwartzman, the NASA consultant to the film Dr. Joe Allen and asteroid consultant Ivan Beckey.  This wasn’t so entertaining, it was more of an educational insight, with the two NASA guys talking about how unrealistic the scenes were and Shwartzman offering a glimpse into how the movie was filmed.

It’s worth mentioning that the extras disc’s menus are available in six languages: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Dutch.  The deleted scenes option, which is the first thing you’ll see doesn’t have a sub menu, thus if you decide to watch the last scene then you have to fast forward through previous scenes to get to it – a bit of a minor point, but still worth mentioning.  These scenes weren’t that good, so don’t expect much, the best scenes were already reintegrated into this director’s cut anyway.

The special effects menus had much more navigation options available, just make sure you try them all, as some are more difficult to see than others.  Basically you get three main menus in this area: Richard Hoover, Hoyt Yeatman and Pat McClung.  Within these you can either play an entire reel that covers the area where that person specialises or choose to play only specific parts of the information.

In the production design area, Michael White takes you through lots of different production design aspects, such as sets, costumes, design integration and vehicles.  Again, with this part of the disc, you could either choose to view individual segments or have them spool as though there were an entire documentary.

Then there were a series of storyboards, a theatrical trailer and the Aerosmith music video, “I Don't Want To Miss A Thing,” – with an introduction to the video by the members of the band.  Oh, and when the music video ends you are treated to an advert promoting Armageddon the album ... how nice.

Armageddon: Special Edition
It has to be said that you are getting a disc of the quality of a Criterion collection issue for the price of an average region two special edition release.  If you’ve never purchased a disc from the Criterion collection and would like to investigate then this may be a worthwhile taste of what you could expect.

The movie isn’t the cleverest I’ve seen, but what should you expect from a special effects packed action movie?  The large number of high profile actors that appear in this movie may help, but I really wasn’t that keen on it.  The extras were of a very good quality and quantity and were interesting as opposed to promotional.  Having two good commentaries were certainly a bonus.

Overall, I would recommend purchasing this but not just for the movie.  If there were no extras then I wouldn’t be as keen to recommend it.  It is definitely a good movie for all you action aficionados out there – on a par with The Rock.