Apocalypse Now Showing
At World's End (at the Summer Box Office)
FILM REVIEW By JASON LLOREN
Blast San Francisco Bureau
Man versus monster. Man versus meteor. Man on the run.
Halfway through summer and already Hollywood has trashed the planet
not once, not twice, but at least four times. A deadly comet threatens
mankind in the drama-heavy "Deep Impact." A giant lizard takes Manhattan
by storm in "Godzilla." Aliens and a shadowy group of men plan
armageddon on Earth through slick and sinister means in the big-screen
treatment of "The X-Files." A rock that dwarfs "Deep Impact's" hurls
toward Earth and only a dirty half-dozen of Bruce Willis and Co. can
save the day in "Armageddon." Robert Redford tries to lull box-office
masses into a deadening sleep with "The Horse Whisperer."
Life sucks -- then mankind dies. (Well, almost. Without giving too
much away, let's just say the spirit of humanity is triumphant in these
When Hollywood tries to wow us with the end of the world, that's a
mighty tall order to fill. So far, how do the films add up? Let's
"Deep Impact" is an atypical disaster film, emphasizing human drama
over pyrotechnics. Here, the film doesn't begin with a big bang, only an
impending sense of doom as a huge comet is spotted hurling toward Earth
by an amateur astronomer (played by Elijiah Wood). A spunky reporter
played by Tea Leoni (didn't she do the same damn role on TV's "The Naked
Truth"?) chases a lead that uncovers the coming apocalypse. The
President (played by Morgan Freeman) plays a calming presence to the
world while initiating a plan to send a crew of astronauts (including an
wise pilot played by Robert Duvall) to blow up that damn rock.
It's a lot of characters to deal with and director Mimi Leder takes
advantage of that to show us a more contemplative side to the usual
slam-bang flicks. Instead of a string of action sequences with a few
lulls in between, "Deep Impact" is a series of interconnected
mini-dramas involving regular folk. Many of them are ordinary folk in
extraordinary circumstances, while the space crew serves up the gist of
the film's fast action.
The film builds anticipation as the comet hurls closer to the Earth
and the astronauts race to stop it. Leder successfully paces the film to
keep it somewhat compelling, although often one can't help but cry out:
"Ditch Leoni! Bring on the fireworks!"
It's an extraordinary tale - too bad it's an ordinary movie. You walk
out of the film saying to yourself, "It was good, not great." Yeah,
Dreamworks spent a couple dozen million to make it and it's made well
over $200 million -- BUT it's nothing to rush to the moviehouse for.
Because it's so drama-heavy, it would all look fine on a 27'' TV screen.
In other words: Rent it instead.
* * *
The entire sage of "Godzilla" is pretty stupid to begin with. Once
you get past the "Nukes are evil" message that forms the subtext of the
first "Godzilla" feature in 1954 (then titled "Gojira"), the rubber-suit
F/X, the "Wrestlemania" monster fights, the sheer cheesiness of the
Japanese films, then you're left with - well, not much else.
Director Roland Emmerich and his film partner, writer/producer Dean
Devlin, are, by no stretch of imagination, film intellectuals. They make
films that go boom, that are anchored by characters as thin as rice
paper. Their lack of true talent is evident in their ability to co-opt
elements of earlier film (Face it, "Independence Day" ripped off
everything from "Aliens" to "Star Wars" to "Top Gun") But their films
work as entertainment. It only made sense that they revitalize the
"Godzilla" series with the usual Hollywood tendency to overdo and
The dangers of nuclear testing is addressed in the opening credits -
and summarily set aside for the rest of the film. (Reality check: If we
wanted a discussion on nuclear proliferation, we can slumber our way
thorough scholarly analyses about the Indian-Pakistani regional arms
race in The Economist). The French government does some testing on a
far-flung island and some lizard mutates into a towering beast,
Next the monster attacks a Japanese fishing boat. A scientist
(Matthew Broderick) is brought in as authorities try to outwit or
destroy the creature. It attacks New York, then nests in Manhattan. All
hell breaks loose. But because it's trashing New York, that's a good
thing. (I'm from San Francisco - can ya tell?)
Anyway, the action sequences are fun and exciting, especially a
well-made underwater sequence involving Godzilla and a torpedo-armed
submarine The updated monster is agile, menacing and well-animated. No
damn visible zippers. There's a whole subplot involving Broderick and
his ex, who happens to be the New York journalist who scoops the goods
on the monster dubbed Godzilla. Jean Reno shows up as a leader of secret
French operatives sent in to track down Godzilla. It's all fun,
especially since a couple New Yorkers become street pizza for the
Emmerich and Devlin's "Godzilla" seems to take a lot of, uh,
inspiration from last year's "The Lost World." And "Star Wars." And
maybe a bit of "Crimson Tide." You get the point.
"Armageddon" is, on the surface, a Xeroxed treatment of "Deep
Impact": A big galactic rock -- this time a meteor the size of Texas --
is hurling toward Earth and an astronaut crew is sent to blow the thing
But this Michael Bay film is loaded with testosterone. He and
producer Jerry Bruckheimer must've been on Viagra when making this dick
flick. Instead of the contemplative drama of "Deep Impact," we get a
team of rootin' tootin' cowboys, a cast filled with macho, sweaty, beefy
guys (uh, not counting Steve Buscemi).
Bruce Willis plays Harry Stamper, one of the world's best oil
drillers. NASA hires him and his motley crew of working-class cut-ups
(Buscemi, Ben Affleck, Will Patton and others) land via space shuttle on
the meteor. Once there, they have to drill several hundred feet into the
rock and insert a nuclear warhead. If all goes right, the explosive
device will turn the rock into cookie crumbs and mankind lives another
But this being Hollywood, it can't go that smoothly. First, after
learning about the doomsday meteor, the U.S. government has to find a
crew that can do the job. Once they recruit Stamper, the audience is
treated to a lengthy training sequence that's served with the right
touch of humor.
|"But this being Hollywood, it can't go that smoothly."
The shuttles (there's two of them in this mission) make a refueling
stop at a Mir-like space station that propels the film more with more
explosive action. The landing approach toward the meteor is also filled
with dangers, as bits of rocks hurl toward the shuttles.
Eventually, the crew lands and has its mission in hand. Like any good
action film, the script is filled with plenty of twists and turns to
keep it rocking and rolling. Bay dulls the audiences sense with fast
cuts, loud sounds and an urgent sense of pacing.
Of course, there is such a thing as overkill. Bay demonstrates here,
as he did in "Bad Boys" and "The Rock," an adeptness at heightened
action direction. But he needs to chill, take a pill and watch some John
Woo films -- to give us less technique. Even if he's peddling some
popcorn flick with little depth to begin with, does he need to bombard
us until our sense are dull?
The other big gripe -- and this applies to "Deep Impact" as well --
the meteor set looks hella fake, all saw dust and glitter. What is this,
the old set from "Capricorn One"?
"Armageddon is basically big dumb fun, period. No matter how much
detail is put into it, how many technical advisors are consulted, the
underlying science is questionable (Uh, how did they, no, how could they
dodge all the rocks as they landed on the meteor, and survive?). The
movie's too loud, the editing's too frenetic. Can. Michael. Bay. Slow.
Things. Down. And. Let. Us. Absorb. The. Film?
* * *
The truth is in here: "The X-Files" film is one damn fine film. But
because it's spawned from cinema ugly second cousin, television, and has
a following that often makes Trekkies look attractive, you'll hear a lot
of complaints about "The X-Files: Fight the Future."
Some of the negatives I've heard: The plot is confusing. The movie's
contrived. It exploited and over-commercialized the series. Scully and
Mulder didn't do the nasty!
|"Scully and Mulder didn't do the nasty!"
First, let me point out that I'm a big "X-Files" fan (an X-phile,
whatever). I watch the show religiously and know enough about the show
that I didn't need to study a primer before running off to the theater.
I also find the show to be one the best shows on TV ever, a dark, moody,
often frightening, sometimes funny show that owes some debt to "The
Night Stalker," "Twin Peaks" and the "The Twilight Show," among other
previous TV programs. It's a show that takes ordinary, real events and
melds them with the tabloid, the paranormal, the conspiratorial to
produce an hour each week of compelling fiction. It's different from
other TV shows and very well-produced, -written, -acted, and -directed.
If you're a newcomer to the world of Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully,
the film will be an enigma. Well, too fucking bad for you; go see
"Armageddon" instead, dipshit.
That stated, "The X-Files" film is a masterpiece. There, I said it.
It takes the entire notion of the summer blockbuster and turns it on its
ear. It takes a minimalist approach to the sci-fi doom-and-gloom genre
and instills a true sense of fear. All this, and only a few stupid
The movie picks up where the show left off in its season finale. The
X-Files, a codename for FBI case files that are unexplainable, have been
shut down and now Scully and Mulder (played by David Duchovny and
Gillians Anderson) are working the terrorist detail. Before that, we are
shown a prehistoric Texas, a frozen wasteland then, as a couple of
cavemen tussle with an alien. The thing spews a dread black oil that
seems to be alive itself as it enters one Neanderthal. Flash forward to
the present day as the oil seeps into a little boy who stumbles onto the
same site. Composer Mark Snow's music crawls under our skin. The threat
to mankind is established - and it's no goddamn meteor. The film early
on takes on a darker, more subversive tone from here on.
Cut to Scully and Mulder. In Dallas, they investigate the explosion
of a federal building (Here, the sense of destruction hits closer home
for us because it mirrors a recent real event) -- where the bodies of
the Texas boy and other infected firemen happen to be. Mulder, a
self-described central figure in a government conspiracy to hide the
truth about extraterrestrials, soon gets in touch with a Dr. Kurtzweil
(played by the talented Martin Landau), a conspiracy nut who makes our
protagonist FBI agent look completely sane. Kurtzweil leads Mulder on a
path to uncover the truth. Early on, the film stays true to the spirit
of the series, weaving conspiracies like fine cloth by taking seemingly
unrelated, sometimes benign or unnoteworthy, events and linking them
together into something more sinister (In the first half hour, a
prehistoric encounter with an alien, a Texas boy infected with the black
oil, an apparent act of domestic terrorism are drawn together). I mean,
isn't that what makes a compelling conspiracy. Eat your paranoid heart
out, Oliver Stone.
From here, "The X-Files" becomes part film mystery and part
Hitchcockian thriller, propelled by a few scenes of intrigue and action.
Frightening secrets lurk beneath benign objects and agencies: a Texas
suburban playground, a tanker-truck, the obscurely known Federal
Emergency Management Agency, swarms of bees, a simple field of corn. In
a fine sequence that recalls "North by Northwest" and "Apocalypse Now,"
Mulder and Scully outrun a couple of helicopters. In an effective plot
twist, Scully herself falls infected to the black oil, putting Mulder on
a path to the truth that leads to an isolated compound in the
Eventually, we learn the gist of the conspiracy - that aliens and
cadre of government agencies are colluding to infect Earth's people and
replace them with extraterrestrials. But describing it does no justice
to watching it unfold. In fact, in one scene in which the so-called
Well-Manicured Man (one of the men behind the plot) explains the secret
going-ons to Mulder, he says it with such absolute seriousness, that we
almost ignore the fact that it sounds like some bad cheesy sci-fi film
from the '50s.
The film's conclusion near the North Pole recalls the look and feel
of the "Alien" films, along with an extra heaping of dread. We
eventually get glimpses of the aliens - and let's just say, they aren't
"The X-Files" is a big-screen flick that defies the usual blockbuster
films: It's dark and moody and spooky. There are chases and explosions
but they are kept to a minimum. Most people wouldn't put this film in
the same category as "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon" but the sense of
doom is creepier because it's much more subversive. I mean, what would
you be more inclined to believe, much less be afraid of? A giant rock
headed toward the earth - or that government agencies are colluding with
outside forces in planning the armageddon of entire populations? Because
of its subversiveness, we are more frightened.
It's like an episode of the series, only this time "X-Files"
creator/executive producer Chris Carter and director Rob Bowman have a
larger canvas. Like any great film, the story unfolds primarily
visually, told through menacing shadows and a preponderance of blue
Funny, one of the season's best films originated from - gawd -
The final tally:
Deep Impact: C
The X-Files: A-