Happy Birthday, ARMAGEDDON

Sorry about all the haters.

Today (July 1st) marks the 15th anniversary of Armageddon's theatrical release. Its opening weekend gross was a bit small ($36m) compared to other blockbusters of the season - even fellow asteroid movie Deep Impact tallied $41m on its debut, and that was out of the summer season (in fact, Deep Impact is responsible for the start of the season shifting to the first weekend in May). However, it had "legs" - a term that we used to hear more often, before the opening weekend/tracking obsession resulted in most movies making 50% or more of their money in their first few days. Nope, Armageddon hung around all summer, eventually topping $200m - it never even dropped more than 35% from weekend to weekend (whereas rival Deep Impact rarely dropped LESS than that), which means repeat business and word of mouth were big factors in the film's success.

So why do you all hate it?

Obviously by "all" I am being hyperbolic, but it amazes me that 15 years later, the mere mention of the film still sends people into a blind rage, calling it the death of cinema and all that. Sure, some of its detractors are well spoken - Roger Ebert famously "hate hate hated" the movie in his fairly hilarious review (yet he gave that summer's Dr. Dolittle a pass, for the record - like every person in the world, he wasn't infallible) - but most just settle for the usual bullet points. "Michael Bay is the devil!" "There's no sound in space!" "Why can't astronauts drill a hole?" "Animal crackers!!!" (OK, I'll give them that last one, but it comes a bit before the halfway point and before they take off for space - a perfect time to hit the bathroom one last time, or refill your popcorn). But is that really enough to treat the film as some sort of cinematic Hitler?

The oil drilling one in particular always baffled me - as soon as they introduce the idea that these guys might have to go do it themselves, Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) explains the rationale behind it - he's been doing it all his life and he's still not perfect at it, and these NASA guys have only had casual training for a few months. And if you WATCH THE MOVIE, you'd see that even these experts had a ton of trouble getting it done thanks to gas pockets and other issues that arose. None of them had to do any actual astronaut business - as long as they could "physically survive the trip!" (Billy Bob Thornton's question), they just had to drill and leave the NASA stuff to the actual NASA guys. If anything, the idea made more sense than the one they originally had - with the fate of the world in the balance, why WOULDN'T they want the best to do that part of the job, especially when they couldn't even figure out how to build the damn drill? And for any critics of that part, it's quick, but Quincy (Jason Isaacs) mutters something about needing to modify it for space, hence why they were screwing it up as they didn't know much about how it worked in the first place. One of the film's dozen or so screenwriters even had the idea to have both teams say the same thing ("It's pucker time!") at different points in the movie to tie them together - the NASA team and the oil drillers have their differences, but there's a "get the job done" attitude that they share, and that's the key to their success (spoiler).

Another bit people rag on is the early scene where Willis chases Ben Affleck around with a shotgun on their oil rig. I can't really defend the sequence, as it is pretty damn stupid even if he's clearly not ever trying to hit him (he's aiming at a 45 degree angle even when they're on the same level of the rig). The main issue with it is that it's just hard to separate the character of Harry Stamper from Bruce Willis. Stamper is said to be immature and just as ridiculous as some of his coworkers (Will Patton even spells it out before they take off, noting that AJ's antics "remind me of somebody I used to know"), but it's hard for us to see anyone but Bruce Willis, stoic asskicker who had already saved the world twice before (in Twelve Monkeys and Fifth Element). Perhaps with an actor more synonymous with being silly (Mel Gibson?) it wouldn't have seemed so out there, but on the other hand, the scene DOES quickly establish the group's brotherly affection toward each other (Michael Clarke Duncan's introduction, "Just trying to give my man a head start...", is perfect) as WELL as their ability to quickly take care of a situation seriously. The near disaster when they strike oil quickly ends whatever personal silliness they're engaged in, and AJ and Stamper even work side by side despite their current animosity - skills that'll be handy on the asteroid. Maybe not the best way to get all of this information across, but at it's certainly not completely superfluous.

As for the sound in space stuff and other scientific inaccuracies (the movie even has a rather hilarious disclaimer at the end of the credits, saying that even though NASA cooperated with their vehicles and locations, they don't endorse the portrayal of how these things were used), fine. Apparently they even use the movie to test trainees to see how many wrong things they can find, and that's fine by me as well - easily the most entertaining "test" they'll ever get, I'm sure. But if hearing an explosion in space or knowing that an asteroid surface is smooth (described as a "baked potato") instead of like "Dr. Seuss' worst nightmare" is enough for you to hate the film, you're probably just the same sort of joyless goon who submits continuity errors to the IMDb. Unless it's a documentary, I personally never care much about such things - as long as the characters react to things in a human way, I'm on board. Lots of folks like to rag on the "Space dementia" bit, but since it's something NASA even addresses in its manual (read HERE, page 492 under psychosis) and Buscemi's character is dealt with exactly as it describes, it may be one of the LEAST of the movie's logic problems once they get on the rock (I've always been more troubled by the fact that they toss out their pipe lengths out of the hole onto the asteroid ground - shouldn't they be floating away?). The gun on the Armadillo is another one that people will just make fun of without putting any thought into it - unless someone went up there and paved some roads for them, they'd need something to clear stalagmites as they drove to the drill site, hence the need for a gun. With its critics complaining that it's too long (151 minutes) as is, would an extra 30 seconds having someone explain this on camera or putting it to its intended use really have made much of a difference? Shame on Bay and co. for assuming we'd be smart enough to figure it out, I guess.

So I'm really curious what exactly is so hateable about the movie (especially now - if you think Armageddon is somehow more incoherent and ridiculous than Bay's Transformers films, I'd LOVE to hear your reasoning). Our regular commentators are a pretty intelligent bunch, so I'm hopeful a couple of you can provide a reasoned, thoughtful explanation as to why the film - released the same summer as Emmerich's Godzilla and the Sean Connery vehicle The Avengers, mind you - gets singled out as one of the worst crimes against cinema. It was an original property, so it can't be accused of ruining beloved characters or storylines, and in hindsight, while it seemed excessive at the time, now one can look at it as one of Bay's more restrained films. It's a shame most of the worst stuff is in the first 20 minutes (Bay's usual racial stereotype characters, the rather indefensible shotgun bit, and, post 2001, the shots of the Twin Towers on fire), probably killing the movie for good for many - perhaps just start watching when Billy Bob makes his "we drill" speech and see if the film improves for you.

And if you happen to be in Los Angeles and haven't seen the movie for a while - you're in luck! The great New Beverly Cinema, PERHAPS in response to some pestering from a certain Badass Digest writer, is showing the film for its anniversary. For the low cost of 8 bucks, you can catch a film that so exemplifies big budget/big screen entertainment that it was selected to represent such fare by the esteemed Criterion Collection (eat it, haters!) in its best presentation - a 35mm screening with a (hopefully) big crowd of enthusiastic audience members. I went last night and the movie still plays like gangbusters with a crowd, and I'll be going again on Tuesday if you'd like to see a grown man cry more than once. It shows at 8pm and the print is damn near perfect, so don't miss a chance to see it on the big screen!

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