Armageddon (US - BD)
Gabe revisits Michael Bay's science abhoring disaster movie on Blu-ray...
Bad news everyone: there is a really large chunk of space rock on a collision course with the Earth. Worse news: if it hits the planet all life will be wiped out. But there’s some good news too: Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) and his NASA buddies have a plan. Now stick with us, because the plan sounds a little silly on paper, but we’re pretty sure it’s going to work. We’re going to send the world’s best hard-bodied, good ole’ boy oil drillers (Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson, Will Patton, Michael Clark Duncan), lead by super bit-chomper Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), to the land on the asteroid in a spaceship, and drill a big hold in it. Then we’re gonna stick an A-Bomb in that hole, and blow the damn thing right in half. Oh, more bad news though: one of the younger drillers, A.J (Ben Affleck), is looking to marry Harry’s daughters, and Harry is so angry about it he might not be able to drill holes right.
Just because I hate Armageddon doesn’t mean I can’t grudgingly respect its asinine excesses. It’s actually kind of quaint to look back on an era when film audiences thought director Michael Bay couldn’t possibly make a sillier movie, and it’s pretty hard to get worked up about the dumbass script, which looking back at some of the original reviews, seemed to be the biggest point of contention with critics. The story so clearly disavows realism from the word ‘go’ I can’t possibly muster that kind of anger anymore (the convenient gravity has become a constant source of giggles). In fact, there’s something to be said for the story structure kind of redefining the modern ensemble disaster movie (even if all the best parts are blatantly stolen from The Right Stuff), and speaking frankly, rednecks need their sci-fi fantasies too. We nerds tend to hog all the good space adventures. Still there’s no defending the film’s technical idiocy, nor should any multi-million dollar asteroid movie ever be this mind-numbingly boring.
The most definitively and consistently terrible element is the editing, which is so ridiculously whiplash it makes most thirty second commercial spots appear restrained in comparison. And it’s not only the matter of the speed of the cutting, the nail-on-a-chalkboard rhythm, which almost never works with the action, music, or Bay’s pointless Dutch angles and panning shots, is twice as egregious. The audience is given almost no time to appreciate the money shots, and the inter-cut, computer generated mass destruction more or less never satisfactorily blends with the ‘dramatic’ dialogue zooms. The script is stupid, yes, but it’s really this patented ‘pan, cut, repeat’ imagery that designates the film as a joke a decade on. Armageddon acts as its own parody, which is a nearly novel achievement in itself. Bay found some steady ground with small parts of Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys II, and the first Transformers, but Armageddon is an experimental mess. There’s also the matter of overall pacing—there’s no reason a movie with this little plot, cut this quickly should be more than two hours long, or feel even longer.
The ensemble cast is too big for the story, or for Bay’s editorial skills, but is the bright spot on this garish anti-masterpiece. The supporting cast is uniformly rather golden, though I’m not sure it’s possible to hate even an off performance from William Fichtner, Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs or Keith David. Even better are the ‘blink and you miss ‘em’ cameos, specifically Udo Kier as the NASA psychiatrist. The lead characters are so lightly defined by clichés (the romantic scenes are gruelling), lacking in chemistry, and flatly realized by the actors (Willis should know better, but how Ben Affleck ever grew into a proper actor after this performance is a miracle greater than anything played out in the world-saving story), that it’s a labour to be too excited by the back-up players, but one has a tendency to grasp at sips of water when tossed in such an intellectual desert.
This is a nearly perfect transfer in many respects, but there is no mistaking that Armageddon was shot on film. There is plenty of grain permeating from every frame, and the degree of grain is rarely consistent, though considering the film’s age we’re not talking anything unexpected. Some of the location establishing shots are a little dirty (perhaps they’re stock footage), but artefacts are at a premium, including compression issues, print damage, and edge-enhancement. Details are super-sharp, and consistent considering Bay’s love of pin-point and shallow focus. The contrast is, of course, super high, both in terms of black and white levels, and in terms of saturated colour. The compositions make no sense in terms of realism (if NASA was this dark in real life nothing would ever get done, and half the scientists would die of eye-strain), but they certainly look nice in 1080p, especially those rich, hard blacks. The colours are most impressive in scenes that take place in the green-tinted NASA ‘war room’, and especially during the black and blue light scenes aboard the asteroid. Bay’s compositions may be ugly, but they’re bright, pure, and stylized enough to impress on this transfer.
Lossless DTS-HD Master Audio is clearly the ideal way to watch such a loud and abrasive film, and fans should be very happy with the sonic attack presented on this Blu-ray release. The film shows its age a little bit in terms of sound design and editing (sometimes its muddied), but I have no real complaints concerning this presentation. Standout spots include the forty-minute point ‘Sweet Emotion’ montage, which mixes Aerosmith’s punchy, pop song with the ‘important’ dialogue, small, textural audio, and sweeping jet fighters, and any scene involving the asteroid and its little meteor buddies. The opening crushing of New York is especially zippy, as is the brief smashing of Shanghai (or whatever South Pacific city that is that finds itself so unceremoniously killed). The scenes aboard the asteroid are probably the best in terms of surround design, including skippy little rocks, jet engines, and the asteroids eerie, bassy ‘voice’. Trevor Rabin’s overwrought score (which I may hate more than anything else in the film), is mostly a right/left affair, but also sounds plenty bassy and aggressive.
Fans are going to be bummed with the extras on this Blu-ray release. Despite a Criterion Collection two-disc set to cull from the disc’s producers have only supplied Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ music video, a teaser, a trailer, and a few Disney release sneak peeks.
Armageddon is still the yard stick for which stupid modern disaster films are measured, but a stupid yard stick is still an achievement, and I admit defeat in the face of the awe of stupidity. I hope I never have to see it again, and I don’t wish the films upon the unsuspecting, but fans should be happy with the sharp, colourful 1080p HD transfer, and the massively noisy DTS-HD Master Audio sound. I believe that lovers and haters can all agree that the lack of extras here is a big disappointment considering the stuff available on the Criterion two-disc DVD release (which is out of print). I don’t think anyone can convince me Disney can’t afford to buy the extras from Criterion, if that’s even the problem.
*Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the screen-caps, which have been taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 27th April 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Music Video, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson, Will Patton, Michael Clark Duncan
Genre: Action and Adventure
Length: 150 minutes
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