Deep Impact
directed by Mimi Leder
(Paramount, 1998)

I find myself watching Deep Impact every eight months or so for some reason. Despite a few flaws, it's really quite a good film, always moving and powerful.

This is just one of a number of apocalyptic films that came out in the late 1990s. In this scenario, it is a rogue comet that has earth in its sights and stands a very good chance of ending life as we know it. Elijah Wood, in his pre-Frodo Baggins days, plays Leo Biederman, a high school student who discovers an anomalous object in the heavens and hears nothing back from a local astronomer about it. A year later, young upstart reporter Jenny Lerner (Tea Leoni) is chasing a story on the resignation of the Treasury Secretary, confronting him with information about his "mistress Ellie." She is perplexed when the secretary tells her she has her hands on the story of the century, and she is even more perplexed when a bunch of G-men seize her and escort her to a meeting with the president of the United States.

Morgan Freeman plays President Tom Beck, and he is simply marvelous in this role. Jenny and the whole world soon learn that "Ellie" is not a woman at all, she is an acronym: E.L.E.=Extinction Level Event. The president goes public with information on the approaching danger, and the world watches and waits while a group of American and Russian astronauts fly out to try and knock the comet off course. Robert Duvall plays "Fish" Tanner, the aging NASA pilot who isn't welcomed with open arms by his much younger crew. From this point on, it is high drama indeed, as the suspense builds mightily toward the day of collision.

The cast, with one exception is superb. Duvall and Freeman deliver their normal great performances, Wood is quite believable as the youngster suddenly famous for finding the Earth-seeking comet, and Leelee Sobieski is wonderful as Wood's female counterpart. Leoni failed to win me over in her role as reporter Jenny Lerner, however. Her performance as anchorwoman for the main event was not something I can imagine a national network going with, especially at a time when the Earth faces its biggest crisis of all time. (I could also mention one young man who crams as much annoyingly bad acting as is humanly possible into his scant few minutes in front of the camera.)

I thought the special effects for this movie were fairly impressive. The space scenes were quite good, managing to capture the deadly beauty and exotic danger of the killer comet, the explosions were satisfyingly huge, and the impact of the comet on Earth is presented fairly convincingly.

There are a number of human interest stories built into the plot, and some people might tire of these subplots. You have a woman dealing with the remarriage of her father and loneliness of her mother, a kid who can only save his childhood sweetheart by marrying her, and all sorts of doings with the masses of people trying to somehow escape on their own because the government can only save a chosen few in underground bunkers. The intense human drama on Earth, such as the emotional complexity shown by President Beck and the characters of Wood and Sobieski, is met with an even more intense human drama in space, as individuals refuse to give up even after mankind has failed to avert disaster. The complex blending of tragedy and emotional pain teams up with intense feelings of patriotism and inspiring stories of heroism to make the conclusion something powerful that finds its way into my soul and brings a few tears to my eyes.

I think Deep Impact is an underrated movie that has a lot to offer those yet to see it.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 9 July 2005

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