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Festivale online magazine, May-June, 1998
Deep Impact movie review
Deep Impact

It's not surprising that the 60s and 70s style disaster flicks are now back in the Hollywood scene, with Deep Impact being the first "collision-course-to-Earth" film to be released in 1998 (Bruce Willis' Armageddon is coming out later on in the year).  What is surprising, is what Mimi Lee (whose directorial credits include The Peacemaker) includes in the package: a study of apocalyptic conditions, love amongst chaos, the survival of hope, and some grueling space sequences.  Oh, and there's also that meteor hurtling towards Earth.

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But the question is - as tyrannical as it may be - does Deep Impact flourish in these ambitious, creating the supreme science fiction (SF) indulgence of disaster and "real" drama?  The answer, sadly, is no.  But there are not many science fiction films nowadays that can work on more than just "science fiction" levels; last years Gattaca was one of them, 2001: A Space Odyssey another (yes, that is a gap of about 30 years). Deep Impact is great as a SF, but terrible as a drama.

When reporter Jennie Lerner (Tea Leoni, of TV's The Naked Truth) investigates what she believes to be a White House sex scandal, she finds herself on hot pursuit of the greatest news scoop in history. Trouble is, she doesn't know what she's chasing.  She does recognize that it's big - really big - when she bumbles into an interrogation with President of the USA Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman).  In 48 hours, he addresses a dignified speech to the nation, announcing that a meteor is on a crash-collision course to Earth.  And that over the previous two years the world's biggest-ever space shuttle, "The Messiah," had been constructed by the USA and Russia to destroy the troublesome rock with nuclear technology.

The world "hopes for the best and prepares for the worst," constructing massive underground caves in the confidence that life will go on even after collision.  As Deep Impact's promo posters read: "Oceans Rise, Cities Fall, Hope Survives." The primary problem with Deep Impact lies with its central character, portrayed insipidly by Leoni - a hazy, almost petulant actor who really does belong as a sitcom character only.  Her role as an arrogant and presumptuous reporter has been done to death; and ranging from Lois Lane to Harry Shearer in Godzilla, all the common cliches are unveiled. James Cromwell delivers a fitting line: "I know you're just a reporter, but you used to be a person, right?"

As far as a capable cast is concerned, this is not a problem with Deep Impact, having three Oscar winners and two Oscar nominated actors.  But they all tend to look overrun and imbecilic - struggling to maintain respect whilst muttering overly ambitious and unsatisfying dialogue. Although Morgan Freeman is often buoyantly powerful as the aristocratic Beck, when was the last time we saw him in his true, Oscar deserving form?   Certainly not in his recent run of films - Hard Rain, Amistad, Kiss the Girls and Chain Reaction.  In fact, it's been five years since Freeman has selected a truly impressive character to play (in The Shawshank Redemption); with the possible exception of the alluring detective William Somerset in Seven (and his replica performance in Kiss the Girls).

Robert Duvall, grasping "hero" status in the film, is the only other actor worthy of a mention - giving an amicable presence as an astronaut brought out of retirement to lead The Messiah.  One of his featured scenes, a quest to destroy the meteor using nuclear devices, brings back memories of better times - of times of 2001: A Space Odyssey - and is a minor triumph in itself.

But even with Deep Impact's moments of gripping cinema, forming superb Science Fiction framework, it fluffs up too many times to make it a credible experience.  The film comes nail bitingly close to being a worthwhile epic to add to this years blockbuster tally, but Mimi Lee seems never able to keep it in capable, focused control.

Click here to buy films from one of the online stores in Festivale's on-line shopping mall From 0 stars (bomb), to 5 stars (a masterpiece): 2 and a half stars

Review © copyright Luke Buckmaster

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Science Fiction Film, the interesting old stuff, by Terry Frost.

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Just the facts:

Title: Deep Impact (1998)
Written by: Michael Tolkin and Bruce Joel Rubin
Directed by: Mimi Leder
Produced by: Joan Bradshaw (executive), David Brown, D. Scott Easton (associate) , Walter F. Parkes (executive), Steven Spielberg (executive), Richard D. Zanuck
Edited by: Paul Cichocki,David Rosenbloom
Director of Photography: Dietrich Lohmann
running time: 115 minutes.

The Players: Robert Duvall, Morgan Freeman, Tea Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Maximilian Schell, Morgan Freeman
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