Deep Impact (review)

part of my Directed by Women series
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End of the World as We Know It — And No One Cares How I Feel

An article in The New York Times Arts & Leisure section last Sunday, May 3, bemoaned the rise of the special-effects movie and complained that SFX allow filmmakers to ignore character and plot and merely go for big explosions. I agree, for the most part — for every Forrest Gump or Contact, which used effects to broaden character and advance plot, there are ten Con Airs and Independence Days, which were basically FX porn.

But after seeing Deep Impact, I wonder if Hollywood is entirely to blame for this development.

Deep Impact (the fourth film from DreamWorks SKG) is an effects-laden end-of-the-world flick, sure — we’ve all seen the preview in which the big rock smashes into Earth a million times. But get this: that big smash-up doesn’t happen till the end of the movie, and knowing that it’s coming doesn’t make Deep Impact any less suspenseful. Because Deep Impact isn’t about watching stuff blow up — it’s about people.

Maybe in twenty years Deep Impact will seem as corny as The Poseidon Adventure, but right now it’s emotional and involving without being sappy, thanks to Mimi Leder’s sensitive direction (sensitive: there’s a word you won’t hear near most summer blockbusters). The teen astronomer (Elijah Wood) who discovers the rogue comet heading straight for Earth heads off on an almost-certainly pointless attempt to rescue his girlfriend from harm’s way; the hotshot reporter (Téa Leoni) who breaks the story juggles career, miffed colleagues, and estranged parents; the astronaut (Robert Duvall) leading an attempt to destroy the comet makes tough choices when his colleagues are in danger; and the President of the United States (Morgan Freeman) is feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders (pun intended).

At the risk of repeating myself: Deep Impact isn’t about the audience watching the world end — it’s about us empathizing with the people watching the world end. Big diff. But the sold-out, opening-night crowd I saw Deep Impact with wanted none of that. Tender moments were greeted with chuckles and derisive hoots. Manhattan being washed away by a tsunami in a genuinely terrifying sequence generated applause. Any scene that had me in tears elicited laughter from a good portion of the rest of the audience. Last night I had nightmares about drowning — I’m sure the laughers didn’t.

So is it Hollywood’s fault that the vast majority of the moviegoing crowd just wants to see awesome SFX? Is it Hollywood’s fault that most people appear not to possess any deeper emotions? I feel like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men: “The audience can’t handle the truth!”

Deep Impact does have cool FX, so it will probably hang on until Godzilla opens, which we can be sure will just be about watching a big monster destroy New York.

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MaryAnn Johanson
Sun, Jan 03, 2021 4:28pm

[originally posted to 07.1998] writes:

I read your review on Deep Impact, and I must say, you’re absolutely right! We can’t blame Hollywood for the gush of asteroid-slamming-Earth movies, cos it’s the demand of moviegoers that ultimately motivates producers.

Deep Impact touched me to the core. I don’t remember having cried so hard in any other recent movies. And yes, there were some totally insensitive people who chuckled and sneered when heroes died and families separated. I was confounded! There I was, bawling like a baby, while two men beside me were sniggering. Why?? I guess I shall never know.

Just for the record, I watched Armageddon too — it doesn’t have a chance. Not after a brilliant, moving film like Deep Impact. Sure, it’s raking in the box-office gold. It has commercial success (so does any other dynamite-generous flicks), but underneath all that, it’s nothing more than 2++ hours of mindless drilling inside the theater.

Erm, I’ve digressed. I meant to congratulate you on the wonderful site you’ve created. Reading what you wrote was a joy because you have some really astute perceptions. I just hope that you’ll always have the time to maintain this site and write some more great reviews!


[reposted by maj]

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sun, Jan 03, 2021 4:29pm

[originally posted to 07.1998]

My response:

Thanks very much for your lovely comments. Sometimes I wonder why I bother with the site at all, but it’s hearing from people like you that makes it all worthwhile.

[reposted by maj]

MaryAnn Johanson
Sun, Jan 03, 2021 4:38pm

[originally posted to late? 1998] writes:

I went back and reread your Deep Impact review (a sad lonely life I live) and here’s what I think of that film: Deep Impact is a surprisingly unaffecting, boring, unrealistic film.

1. The fact that a teenager can find a new dot in the sky and the government can’t?

2. The fact that after getting the coordinates of this dot, an adult grabs his cell phone and goes charging for his car and drives wildly down a mountain not even bothering to look at the road. And at the same time a semi-truck, of all things, is coming up the mountain, too. That had to be the most boring and predictable scene of the whole film.

3. People’s response to their impending doom is surprisingly Zen and monklike. They seem to not care, or just sit and [look] teary eyed at the TV.

4. The lack of any anarchy or riots or mass suicide, things that happen in real life, even when there’s no f*cking comet headed at us.

5. The fact that the government was able to make the most powerful, most sophisticated spaceship ever built in one year. And it’s so great it can even ride through a comet’s tail.

6. And the second telegraphed scene is the one on the comet. A flat scene lacking any suspense.

7. The old veteran and rebellious young crew. Been done, nothing new or exciting here. This cliché will no doubt be done better in the future, or I may want to be killed by a comet if it’s done this bad again.

8. Too many characters! It’s not that I couldn’t keep track of them all, it seemed that the movie had trouble with that. Not enough time was given to each character.

9. And of course the serious drama I hoped it would be [sic], I was shocked to see Elijah Wood outrunning a tidal wave on a motorcycle and getting to higher ground. And that his parents seemed to not care that he was about to risk his life and go get his girl. Which if the girl and her family had died would have caused some emotion to overcome me. Which leads me to….

10. I didn’t care about the people at all. Like I stated, too many and not enough time to develop them, give them personality.

11. The script is unforgivable. It wastes compelling material. It wastes what could have been smart, realistic characters. It dumbed it down. It dumbed from what it could have been.

12. The direction by Mimi Leder is way off. She doesn’t know when to give the film a kick start or how to slow it down. She needs more experience, at least needs more than The Peacemaker.

13. How come the president was on TV looking so sloppy? Sleeves pushed up to his elbows and such. You’d think he’d get fixed up for what will be his last speech to many and too many more who are losing loved ones.

14. Here’s what is most likely a dumb ass question, why was the traffic so backed up? You’d think that people would be moving as fast possible yet it’s so backed up.

15. And why do the parents think that Elijah and his girlfriend can raise the kid up healthy?

16. And my last complaint is the ending. It seems like the last reel was cut off, so anticlimactic.

The only good thing were the effects. That’s it.

Though I wanted to laugh a lot, I restrained myself out of respect for the other audience members. Still, I have to give 0 stars. The worst film of 98 and ties with Titanic for worst of all time.

But even though I disagree with you on this and Dark City (after I view it again I plan on writing you an e-mail similar to this. Oh, boy! I bet you can’t wait!), I agree with you mostly on a normal basis and find your site one of the few film sites that have intelligence. Keep up the great work.


[reposted by maj]

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sun, Jan 03, 2021 4:41pm

[originally posted to late? 1998]

My response:

Okay, bear in mind I haven’t seen the movie since the spring, so forgive me if I’m a little off on what I remember about it.

If the government isn’t looking for “a new dot in the sky,” it isn’t going to find anything. Remember when Deep Impact and Armageddon were first released? They stirred up a lot of debate about how the governments of the world are doing nothing to prepare for the kinds of inevitable events both movies depicted. The fact remains that most discoveries of this type are made by amateurs.

The guy who “drives wildly down a mountain” had just made the most important discovery in human history — I think anyone would be a little excited. Have you seen most morons on their cell phones in their cars? They nearly cause accidents just yacking to their friends about what’s on TV tonight.

The Zen folk and lack of riots: Rioters and suicides are the wack jobs. Sure, there would be that kind of reaction to the planet’s impending doom. But I bet most people would be pretty calm — after all, running around yelling and screaming isn’t going to help. One of the things I liked about Deep Impact is that it focused on ordinary people, not the ones who go flying off the deep end at the slightest provocation.

As for the “sophisticated spaceship,” I wouldn’t be surprised to discover today advanced spaceships on the drawing boards of not only government institutions but also defense and shuttle contractors. Building it quick and skimping on testing mightn’t be safe, but when that’s the planet’s only hope, you do what you gotta do. And the material in a comet’s tail is so dispersed and thin, I don’t think traveling through it would be a problem. In fact, Deep Impact got a lot of the science right.

“Elijah Wood outrunning a tidal wave”: The tidal wave was being slowed down by its travel over land at that time — I didn’t have a problem with that. And his life was already at risk, even in the tunnel system — you think that would have been a particularly pleasant or safe way to live, with the survivors outside banging on the doors and those inside struggling to survive? And the girl’s family did die.

Mimi Leder’s direction: I love Mimi Leder and I thought the film’s pace was just fine. If you want an overblown action movie, go see Armageddon.

“How come the president was on TV looking so sloppy?”: Um, because he was under enormous stress? Because he didn’t want to waste precious time cleaning up?

“Why was the traffic so backed up?”: Where do you live? Nowhere near a big city, I’d venture. Things called bottlenecks — like where two 4-lane highways merge into one 4-lane highway, in other words, eight lanes merging down to four — back up traffic even when everyone wants to get somewhere. Accidents and disabled vehicles block lanes, making everyone have to go around them, slowing down traffic. Hell, a few speeding cars suddenly hitting the brakes when they see a cop in the distance on a highway can have a ripple effect as the drivers behind them brake, and then the drivers behind them, and so on, causing huge backups. Until you’ve driven on the Long Island Expressway or L.A. freeways, reserve your judgment on traffic.

“Why do the parents think that Elijah and his girlfriend can raise the kid up healthy?”: The alternative is letting the baby die with them in the tidal wave. Which would you choose?

“The only good thing were the effects.”: Funny, I thought the effects could have been better. They looked a little blue-screeny at times.

“Ties with Titanic for worst of all time.”: Sorry, I liked Titanic, too.

[reposted by maj]

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sun, Jan 03, 2021 4:41pm

[originally posted to late? 1998] replies:

I’m so glad to see you can intelligently defend your review. Most people act like assholes when they hear from someone with a different viewpoint (I admit I do it, too).

[reposted by maj]

Lee TaggartD
Lee Taggart
Tue, Apr 05, 2022 1:42am

This review references and links to your Forrest Gump review, but you didn’t post that review until the following year in ’99. Was the link to the review only added in later?