Note: @DaveG34 and I have agreed to debate the merits of the movie Armageddon. Background info is here. The statement up for debate today is, simply: "Armageddon is a good movie." I represent the PRO side; Dave represents CON. Dave's opening statement is below; mine is here.
To those of you unfamiliar with pork products, Scrapple is created when you take all the tasty, useful parts out of a pig and then throw the rest into a blender, turn it on, and heat the result. Armageddon is the Scrapple of cinema. It takes a bunch of random, totally ridiculous, unexplainable events and throws them together into an action movie. If network executives were being honest with audiences in 1998, they would have named this film “A Serial Happening of Inexplicable Things.” Or, well, SHIT.
SHIT begins in a way only acceptable in a pre-9/11 world, as meteors shower down on New York City, destroying buildings, cars, and human life. The focus, however, remains on the health and well-being of a dog named Little Richard. Priorities, it turns out, are not Michael Bay’s forte. Next, we visit an oil rig1, where Bruce Willis shoots Ben Affleck - with a gun! – and no one seems remotely surprised. Like, oh yeah, this is our friend Harry - he just randomly shoots people with guns. Question: Harry appears most likely to belong to which of the following: a) a world-saving NASA mission, b) Rahway State Prison, or c) J-Date. If you guessed B, you're right. Also, surprisingly, C.
Then there's the whole "rest of the movie,” wherein our heroes become astronauts, land on an asteroid, drill through an undrillthroughable material, and save the day. Meanwhile, the President of the United States is somehow willing to blow up the asteroid prematurely, despite knowing that as a result, EVERYONE IN THE WORLD WILL DIE. This seems mildly irresponsible, doesn’t it?2 But fear not: Harry Stamper, the J-dating Affleck-shooter, has more power in this movie than the President, and he of course saves the day. Another example of crazy-ass shit happening is when Ben Affleck drives a space vehicle over a massive, miles-wide chasm. Really, the film takes on a whole new life if you just watch it as one really long deleted scene from Good Will Hunting.
In addition to its mind-blowing randomness, Armageddon is also a wholly unoriginal movie. And this is not just because a better asteroid-toward-earth movie, Deep Impact, came out the same year.3 Armageddon recycles a plot from every heist/war movie ever. Close your eyes for a second and imagine the movie The Sandlot. Now open them. I realize there are some Armageddon-y plot holes in the whole reading-with-eyes-closed direction, but I’m just getting into the spirit of the film. Now think of Armageddon while remembering the Sandlot. IT'S THE SAME F'ING MOVIE. In the Sandlot, a rag tag group of kids use cunning and high tech gadgets to place themselves at great risk to prevent what they, as kids, believe to be the apocalypse (the signed ball being eaten). In Armageddon, a rag tag group of men use cunning and high tech gadgets to place themselves at great risk to prevent an actual apocalypse. In the end of the Sandlot, the older leader (Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez) risks his life to save his protégé. In Armageddon, the same fucking thing happens! Armageddon is The Sandlot, with higher stakes and less heart.4
Armageddon also misused its resources. I understand that the special effects are the true stars of the movie, but the best actors in this film are given very little to do. Bruce Willis plays Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck plays Ben Affleck5, and Billy Bob Thornton plays the role of a generic bureaucrat. But Steve Buscemi is basically told to play an amped-up version of Steve Buscemi, and Owen Wilson, arguably the film’s most dynamic actor, is barely in the movie. Wilson and Buscemi would be a pretty good leading duo in a comedy these days (undoubtedly about a humorous, brooding Texan and his high-strung, eccentric friend). Here, Buscemi is rightly used as the comic relief (though really, he's cast once more as the most eccentric person of a bunch of eccentric people)6, and Wilson has only a few lines before he dies. I think. I dozed off and when I woke up he was no longer in the movie. Really a phenomenal use of Owen Wilson here, by the way. I’m sure he only got the role in the first place because Sir Lawrence Olivier turned it down. And Michael Clarke Duncan appears as well, playing against type as a large, sensitive, black man. He is actually one of only two people of color in the entire film, but he does share with the entire cast the propensity to overact. The faces made in this movie are amazing. People are sad. People are mad. Brows are furrowed. Frowns are frowned. Armageddon could have accurately been entitled White Men Making Faces. There’s also a crazy Russian guy, because, well, how could there not be?
In the end, Armageddon will be remembered for its special effects, its obnoxiously-overplayed soundtrack, and its exploration of the sexual possibilities of animal crackers. But it should also be remembered as a film that challenged us – in a bad way. Enjoyment of this film on any level requires a suspension of disbelief. So does Spiderman, or for that matter, Congress. But the ridiculousness of this movie lies not primarily in its elaborate plot or its flashy effects, but in its unoriginality and the absurdity of its execution. It not only insults our intelligence, but also challenges our willingness to sit idly by while our intelligence is being insulted. It is a fun movie, no doubt, a blockbuster meant as an escape from our troubles.7 But it is also, for lack of a better word, SHIT. Any honest discourse about this film must acknowledge this truth.
1. Acceptable only in a pre-Deepwater Horizon world
2. Kinda puts Obama-care in perspective
3. Rather than relying on special effects, Deep Impact explores the metaphorical deep impact (not very subtle, but whatever) of the apocalypse on a group of individuals. Also, Morgan Freeman is the President! And while we're on the topic, Armageddon and Deep Impact being released simultaneously would be like Lord of the Rings coming out alongside a movie called God of the Necklaces. It's pretty ridiculous.
4. To complete the analogy, Steve Buscemi is Squints, Owen Wilson is Bertram because he just disappears, Max is Hamilton Porter, and James Earl Jones is awesome.
5. Acceptable only in a pre-Gigli world
6. See also Con Air, Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, Airheads, the Wedding Singer, Big Daddy, Mr. Deeds, Big Fish
7. Because our troubles are surely worse than an asteroid heading toward earth, a strangely murderous President, and Harry “Challah at Me” Stamper’s shooting spree.