armegeddon.jpg (12140 bytes) Armageddon 
Touchstone Pictures (1998) 

Reviewed by Doug Haywick

bullet1.gif (155 bytes) Production information (find out who's to blame for this movie!)

Movie Credits: 
Major Roles Bruce Willis (Harry), Billy Bob Thornton (Truman), Ben Affleck (A.J.), Liv Tyler (Grace), Peter Stormare (Lev), Owen Wilson (Oscar), Michael Clarke Duncan (Bear), Wil Patton (Chick), Steve Buscemi (Rockhound)
Director(s) Michael Bay
Writer(s) Robert Roy Pool and Jonathan Hensleigh (adapted by Tony Gilroy and Shane Salerno)
Producer(s) Jerry Bruckheimer, Gale Anne Hurd and Michael Bay
Editor(s) Mark Goldblatt, Chris Lebevzon and Glen Scantlebury
Screen Play Jonathan Hensleigh and J.J. Abrams
Rated PG 13


Geo Rating*

hammer.gif (1353 bytes)hammer.gif (1353 bytes)hammer.gif (1353 bytes) out of 5 (first part of film)

hammer.gif (1353 bytes) out of 5 (second part of film)

* this is based upon the accuracy of the geology portrayed in the movie. A "good" movie may still suck geologically - or visa versa.

The Review:

Contrary to what I may portray in my geology classes, Armageddon is NOT the worst geo-movie ever made (that honor belongs to Volcano); but it comes pretty darn close. The first time I saw this movie (in a theatre), I almost walked out of it. After a mere 24 seconds into the opening scene. I was so annoyed by what I saw that night that years later, I absolutely refuse to pay any money rent it. In order to do this review, I had to wait for it to replay on television. Having watched Armageddon again, I realized that I was somewhat overly critical with my initial opinion. The first part of the film (Earth-based) is actually not too bad. It is the second part of the film (Asteroid-bound) that really sucks.

So where to start in this geo-review of Oh-MY-God-den? How about the very beginning. In the beginning, (twenty four seconds in to the film to be exact), Moses (AKA Charlton Heston) tells us through narration that the dinosaurs are about to get wiped out by a 6 mile wide asteroid. My oh my. Who's idea was it to get Chuck "Voice of God" Heston to declare apocalyptic destruction on the most successful group of animals ever to walk on the Earth? I can't decide if it was a brilliant idea, a bad idea (it brings divine retribution into the theme of the movie), or just coincidence. Anyway you want to look at it, the narration in conjunction with the actual impact was way too-Hollywood for my liking. Yes, there would have been death and destruction. Yes there would have been large-scale forest fires and tsunamis. Just not to the extreme that was portrayed in the movie. Did anyone else think that they were watching a rerun of Star Trek II with that scene of the Genesis Wave? A planet circling fire storm is not likely to occur from a 6 mile wide asteroid impact. You don't need it to kill of dinosaurs. The resulting climate shift would do it within a few hundred years. But I forgot. For a Hollywood movie, death and destruction has to be instantaneous. I thought about Star Trek twice watching Armageddon. The second time was for even more ridiculous reasons.

So the dinosaurs are gone. Sixty-five million years later, it's our turn. Our first warning comes in the form of meteorite swarms that take out (in order), the Space Shuttle, much of New York City (including Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building and the NY Public Library) and an inflatable Godzilla. Quick views of the World Trade Center and the collapse of several buildings brought back sad memories of 9/11. The special effects in this scene were spectacular, if not particularly realistic. I felt like I was watching a "snowball" fight between Pyro (from the Xmen) and the Human Torch (from the Fantastic Four). Note to the special effects people: rocks from space hit the Earth as rather cold objects. While it is true that they "burn" while travelling through the atmosphere, it is only the outer most "shell" that melts. The interiors of "basketball-sized" meteorites remain cold; that's the real temperature of space. It's okay to have them hit buildings and taxi cabs and inflatable Godzillas, but go easy on the fire storm effects.

Once we determine that the Earth is screwed (18 days to Armageddon!), NASA attempts to do something about it. Billy Bob Thornton (Truman) suggests that we send the World's best deep core team to blow up the asteroid (now found to be "the size of Texas") along a fault plane. The asteroid is too big to try and deflect. It's the fault plane or nothing. I still am not sure how they found a fault plane in an object 10's of thousands of miles away. We can find faults below the Earth when we record reflecting seismic waves, but you kind of have to be on the object to measure these reflections. Hmmm... Maybe NASA is just smarter than we think. They have all this neat new stuff no one seemed to know about  like new titanium-plated space shuttles (2 of them!), multiwheeled, enclosed drilling platforms (2 of them!), high tech launch platforms (2 of them!) etc. Who paid for all this stuff? While they have plenty of toys, they seem totally incapable of operating a drilling platform which they stole from the World's best deep core team. Hence their role in the space mission. We need them to go to space to save the world,

We catch up with Harry (Willis) and A.J. (Affleck) and Rockhound (Buscemi) on a drilling platform in the South China Sea. Harry is busy hitting golf balls at the Rainbow Warrior as it protests ocean pollution. I kind of liked this scene, but not for the comedy. Geologists are among the World's most vocal proponents of conservation. We study the Earth, so we know how easy it is to permanently screw it over. I like the scene because it reveals the hypocrisy that many zealots have toward their cause. The ship burns fuel that came from the very activity that the protestors were protesting. I don't mean that we should be pointing fingers at Greenpeace, just that we have to be realistic here. We need petroleum; we need to protect the Earth. They are NOT mutually exclusive principles. We need to develop safe (environmental-wise) methods to recover resources from the Earth. Geologists are trying to do this. Most geologists have a lot more respect for the environment and Greenpeace than Harry had. Besides, we don't spend a lot of time on the golf course hitting little white balls with a stick. Now were it hockey pucks...

So where was I? Oh yes. NASA needs Harry and his team to save the Earth. Here's where the story line in the film went from almost realistic to crap. I found the 1950's werewolf movies more plausible than Armageddon from this point onward. NASA apparently stole Harry's plan to build the drill platform in order to explore on Mars. They can't get it to work because they put parts on backwards. Let me get this right. NASA develops a drill rig for exploration on Mars that requires human manipulation to work. Drilling, despite what Harry says, is not that difficult of a thing to do. It is easily automated. If you are developing a drilling rig to explore Mars, the first one you make is remotely controlled. Why did the writers introduce a stupid story line whereby several questionable personalities (a couple of them big enough to be multiple personalities) had to go along with the rig in order to drill the hole to place a bomb. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Here is a more realistic plot. Harry and one other (A.J.?) are asked to travel with the space shuttle crews as consultants while the remote control drill rig is working. They do not receive any formal training because they do not need it. They are just there to provide expert advice. However, when they start to drill, something goes wrong and the only solution given the short time frame is that Harry and A.J. have to operate it manually. The reason why this would have been a much better story line is that you could see how they dealt with little to no training prior to the mission. Instead, we are expected to believe that this bunch of boozed up, out of shape, borderline psychopaths that received 5 days of intense training was capable of moving around an asteroid as if it was a river plain in Texas. Yeah, right.

The major geo-flaws in the second part of  the movie are too many to list separately. The worst by far was the asteroid itself. Who designed this? Who ever it was, I suspect that he/she had spent too much time watching Star Trek, The Next Generation reruns. The Crystalline Entity should have received guest star credit for this movie. (If you are not a STNG fan, the Crystalline Entity was a large spiky beasties that gave Data and Picard trouble and tried to eat people in a couple of episodes). Asteroids may have rough bits, and spiky shards of ice and rock, but they don't look like porcupines. For crying out loud, NASA has had images of asteroids for years. They are rather smooth. Why did the producers choose such a clearly artificial appearance for the asteroid in Armageddon?   Was it just so that AJ could utter one line? (see worst line of the movie below).

It also bothered me that the producers totally ignored common sense while our heroes were on the asteroid. When an astronaut falls, there is a very serious risk of damage to the space suit or the support pack on his/her back. You fall; you could die. But not in this movie. Our heroes are blasted across the asteroid (watch out for the spiky bits!), are battered around in crashing space shuttles, have large boulders of spiky stuff roll right over top of them without being crushed, dangle from the underside of wheeled vehicles as they fly through space and bounce off of jagged rocks and even survive rock storms (???). And you thought blue jeans were tough. Whatever these space suits are made out of needs to be distributed to police around the world. Goodbye kevlar.

Gravity seemed to be a variable in this movie (on Earth it's reatively constant at 9.7. m/s2). The space borne drilling vehicle shot into space quite easily due to the low gravity of the asteroid, but everything else seem to be affected by higher gravity (e.g., people walking on the asteroid's surface, drilling pipes dropping to the ground). And when is Hollywood going to finally get the story straight about sound in space. Pipes do NOT make a noise when they hit the ground on an asteroid. Rocket engines do not make a roaring noise when viewed from space IN SPACE. And one other thing that really annoys me (and probably most astronomers/physicists too), just because the Space Shuttle has wings does not mean that it  banks when turning in space. Wings work in an atmosphere, they are only decoration in space (Star Wars and Star Trek get equal blame for this common error).

The last part of the movie is awash with sentimental sop which really made me cry (it was really, really, painful watching this part). People died, mostly doing heroic things. Harry and AJ sorted out their relationship. AJ was proven right all along, Chick got his wife and kid back, Rockhound found a woman, Truman got his badge, Bear didn't die (Hey; the black guy does not die in this movie), Lev became a real Russian hero, NASA is appreciated again. The world becomes a better place, or so we are lead to believe. I really hoped that the asteroid would win this round.

I am aware that there are many people that really loved this film. Sadly, I am not one of them.   I am normally a Bruce Willis fan (the Fifth Element is an all time favorite film of mine), but this film could have been, and should have been, so much better. Deep Impact, which was released about the same time as Armageddon, was much more realistic and therefore must be considered the better film (remember this is a geo-review page). The best thing I can say about Armageddon is that Liv was in it (yes I know it is sexist, but I really do like here), and that her dad performed that song. It, at least, was worth hearing a second time.


Most noteworthy lines in the movie:

"I got a double doctorate from MIT at 22, Chemistry and Geology. I taught at Princeton for two and a half years. Why do I do this? Because the money's good, the scenery changes and they let me use explosives." (Rockhound to a NASA person when undergoing psychiatric examination)

"This is how we fix things on Russian space station! " (Lev when asked to explain his curious method of using a hammer to fix expensive electronic equipment. I do the same with my computer)

Stupidest geo-line in the movie:

"This place is like Dr. Suess' worst nightmare." (A.J. to everyone when first encountering the Crystalline Entity)


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