At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Deep Impact “98”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Sci-Fi Disaster-Drama/ Stars:  Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Maximilian Schell, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Ron Eldard, Jon Favreau, Laura Innes, Bruce Weitz, Mary McCormack, Richard Schiff, Betsy Brantley, Katie Hagan, Leelee Sobieski, Blair Underwood, Dougray Scott, Mark Moses, Aleksandr Baluev, Mike O’Malley, Charles Martin Smith, Kurtwood Smith, Gary Werntz, Denise Crosby, O’Neal Compton/ Runtime: 121 minutes

I think it is safe to say that if you would like to know what this reviewer considers to be one of the finest entries in the disaster genre of filmmaking then the film that I am reviewing today would most certainly be on that list. The reason for that is because Deep Impact from 1998, unlike a lot of entries in this iconic genre, omits as much as possible the forced sense of emotion, the typical clichés, and the seemingly superheroics protagonists and gives audiences instead a more realistic and more pathos-driven viewing opportunity. Indeed more of a movie about the immense powers in the universe known as love, optimism, and man’s ability to overcome even when staring in the face of virtual annihilation, Deep Impact manages to give the material it is working with the integrity and passion it deserves to say nothing of the fact that it puts its cast first and visual effects department second. Indeed the peril of the impending crisis is not showcased by its destructiveness or its potential to annihilate our planet, but rather through the pathos and powerful performances of the cast. By the same token, the emotion that one feels whilst watching this movie is not gained through a last-minute savior, quips, or phenomenal work in the visual effects department, but rather through seeing the dilemma facing humanity, about the things which bring them together, and the power that family can have over almost anything.  Ultimately yes Deep Impact is a decent-size budgeted disaster film that has effects to spare, but these superficial ingredients are only part of the reason the film works as well as it does. The other, and more significant reason, is because the film takes an immersive and meaningful glance at just what it means to be human from several distinct angles whilst also making statements on the strength that love, bravery, sacrifice, honesty, and determination can bring to the human spirit especially in a time of great peril.

The plot is as follows: Deep Impact starts its riveting story with a young man and budding astronomer by the name of Leo Biederman stumbling across a mysterious object in the night sky during a telescope session with his class. Upon further analysis, we soon see an astronomer of some renown by the name of Dr. Wolf discovering that the object Leo saw is a comet, but one which, horrifically, is due to make violent contact with our little planet. Cut to a year later and we follow a journalist for MSNBC by the name of Jenny Lerner as she finds herself being let in on top secret info that points toward the Earth facing what is called an “Extinction Level Event.” Poking and prodding the bear of American politics that is the White House by threatening to reveal what she knows before they do, the President decides to do one better and give Lerner the break she has been looking for and gives her a front-row seat at the press conference he is hosting where he intends to break the news to the world. It is also at this press conference where we soon learn, courtesy of the President, that a top-secret team up between the US and Russia has managed to create what is known as The Messiah. The Messiah, we soon learn, is not a person who walks on water, and feeds 5000 with a few fish and loaves of bread, but rather is a highly advanced spaceship piloted by a veteran NASA astronaut named Spurgeon Tanner and equipped with a nuclear payload that it intends to drop and then detonate within the comet in the hope that it’ll either get the comet to move in a new non-threatening orbit or just annihilate the heck out of the thing. Thus with no less than the fate of all mankind in the balance, we soon find ourselves getting our own front-row seat. Not just to see if mankind is able to survive yet another calamity, but to see just what people are like when they have to come face-to-face with their own mortality.

Now it may be inevitable, but sadly every analysis of the film Deep Impact manages to turn into a discussion on the positives and negatives that this film has especially when compared to its fellow entry in the disaster genre Armageddon. Indeed it may have been released a couple of months after this film, but it also grossed more money at the box office so I think it is safe to say that Armageddon was more of what people were looking for, but it also doesn’t have near the, pardon the pun, impact that this one does. Indeed while Deep Impact is genuinely emotional at times, Armageddon doesn’t seem to want to have even the tiniest bit of pathos possible. Also whilst Armageddon does have more in the way of their special effects department, it also is without the passion or heart of this film which manages to deliver a timeless message about the powers of love and family in a time of crisis. Finally Armageddon chooses to rely more on the superficial cards in its deck whilst this film chooses to put those ingredients on the back burner whilst focusing on its narrative first and foremost. Indeed equipped with the power to be meaningful, emotionally gripping, and quite intriguing no matter how many times you watch it, Deep Impact is able to age quite gracefully as a movie that manages to deliver on the levels that it needs to and much more. Indeed it is in the way that it touches the soul, hits the right notes on all your base-level set of emotions that help to ensure that Deep Impact is one of the finest entries in the disaster film genre.

Now the intelligent and emotionally gripping script might be the heart of the film, but the film also has a terrific cast and crew that help to bring the pages and story to riveting life. Indeed even though there are moments where Téa Leoni is almost like a zombie in this in her role of Jenny Lerner, her arc is still one of the best the film offers, and it is her relationship with her dad (terrifically played by Maximilian Schell) that manages to come to really showcase just what this film is all about. We also get a terrifically reliable performance from screen icon Robert Duvall as the elder astronaut in charge of the mission to blow the comet up in space. Indeed whilst operating as something of a mentor and surrogate father of sorts to the younger astronauts in his charge, Duvall manages to provide a performance that is one which is equal parts courageous and quite emotional despite his character, for the most part, being quite stoic and on-point, but also understanding and quite emotionally powerful as well. We also get, in the role of the United States President, Morgan Freeman who does terrific work. Indeed he manages to showcase a genuine sense of humanity that doesn’t make him vulnerable, but rather what a leader is supposed to be through and through. Finally in regards to the performances, it should also be noted that this film has an impressive turn by a younger Elijah Wood who still manages to show a terrific sense of what this film is all about on an emotional level. Now as helmed by Mimi Leder, this film does a good job at, from a visual perspective, showcasing the emotions of the narrative. Indeed from the off-kilter angles that are showcased in the President’s first address to the nation, the chaotic handheld camera work that showcases the general anarchy in the newsroom following the announcement, and the steady work that then permits the movie goer to dwell in the wave of emotions occurring at that time, Leder manages to show that she is a top-notch film helmer with every shot from her camera. Indeed it really is sad that she hasn’t done a lot more since this film since she has a terrific gift for blending together peril and engaging work with pathos and humanity in equal measure. Indeed if there is a film helmer out there that should get more job offers and more appreciation it is her. Thus we see that this film manages to give audiences a truly immersive time at the movies both in front and behind the camera and from beginning to end.

All in all Deep Impact really truly is, beyond any and all doubt, a quite pathos-drive, terrifically constructed, and just altogether wonderful little film. Indeed although it may, on a superficial and quite unfair in my humble opinion, find itself a member of that distinct group known as the disaster film genre, this movie is really more of a story that chooses to focus on the positives and negatives that the human condition can be blessed and cursed with in such a crisis rather than just straight-up the end of the world. Indeed dealing primarily around such immense concepts as love, the power of family, and the potency of making a sacrifice play because the needs of the many outweigh the desires of the few instead of building a familiar narrative on a foundation consisting of quips and special effects, Deep Impact manages to do a wonderful job of showing what this genre could be and manages to be better than a lot of other entries as a result. Indeed not just one of the peaks of this particular genre or a quite emotional film through and through thanks to a riveting cast and story to back them up, Deep Impact is a film which will continue to be seen and appreciated as a truly riveting and quite pathos-driven analysis first and foremost of that special ingredient in the universe known as the human spirit. On a scale of 1-5 I give Deep Impact “98” a solid 3.5 out of 5.