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Asteroid! A look back at the cinematic space-rock bombardment of the late '90s

At 11:00 this morning, an asteroid 5-20 meters in diameter came within 7,800 miles of Earth. Asteroids and meteorites (ever wonder the difference?) make close calls with Earth all the time, but no time in the history of the world was so harrowing as 1997 and 1998, when the Earth (well, mostly America) came under-siege of five cinematic monstrosities, looming to threaten our freedom, liberty and right to barbeque. Thank God for Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis and WMDs, because only with their help was America able to survive these astronomical threats.

Doomsday Rock (1997) The first in this string of asteroid/meteorite movies, Doomsday Rock was a made for TV "epic miniseries" produced for the Family Channel. Already sounds like a winner, right? The basic premise is that Dr. Paul Sorenson, an astronomer, tries to warn the government about an incoming comet certain to cause impending doom. The government, à la every disaster movie, blows him off, so he hijacks a nuclear weapons silo to fight off the comet on his own.

Asteroid (1997) Never to be outdone, NBC soon followed with its own TV movie, Asteroid . Annabella Sciorra stars as a researcher at the National Observatory right up in Boulder. One night, while studying pictures of a comet set to pass by Earth on the 4th of July (that's right, the 4th of July) she spots something a bit disconcerting -- two asteroids, one with the possible impact force of "1,000 Hiroshimas" heading straight for Earth. Most awesome catchphrase of the trailer: "The only thing they have to hold onto is each other, because the sky [dramatic pause]. Is [dramatic pause]. Falling."

 

Meteorites! (note the exclamation point) (1998) A movie so epic, no one knows anything about it other than it once existed, Meteorites! was the last in the string of TV movies -- before "real" moviemaking took over the genre. IMDB sums up the plotline in one sentence: "A meteor shower threatens a small American town." Based on that synopsis, and the movie's tagline -- "They've travelled a billion years to destroy the Earth in one night" -- I went ahead and made up the following full movie synopsis because, apparently, no one will ever know the difference.

One night, a loner researcher probably in Boulder discovers a blanket of meteorites headed straight toward Earth. She warns the mayor of the small town the meteorites will hit, but the mayor blows her off: "I have a lot of important things on my plate, young lady." The researcher panics, vents to her cat, and then tells a local reporter. The reporter writes a story, and the townspeople laugh. But they'll all say sorry the next day, when her research is confirmed and she's made head of the defense project. By the president. While she arms a spaceship with the best minds in America, including herself, the government tries to blow all the meteorites up. America eventually triumphs, through perseverance and WMDs. But not because of the spaceship with all the scientific minds. That never works.

Deep Impact (1998) Deep Impact is pretty much known for being "that movie like Armageddon that wasn't as good as Armageddon ." Best tagline of the trailer: "Heaven and Earth are about to collide." The problem with Deep Impact wasn't that the actors were worse -- Morgan Freeman compared to Billy Bob Thornton as president should be enough to prove that -- it was that the main anti-apocalyptic effort in the movie was focused on putting people in tunnels, via intricate lottery systems, instead of blowing shit up. This is America. We don't want some logical, more realistic, calmer scenario in our disaster films. We want to see cowboy tactics, chiseled chins, and a reckless leader take the reins and get shit done.

Armageddon (1998) Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer collaborating to make a disaster film is like Reese Witherspoon, Meg Ryan and Drew Barrymore collaborating to make a romantic comedy, in which they all wrinkle their noses, giggle, act nauseatingly cute and then blow shit up. Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Steve Buschemi, Owen Wilson, Aerosmith singing the soundtrack, and so much ass-kicking even Top Gun had to move over -- Deep Impact had nothing on Armageddon . People cried during Armageddon . During the scene with Bruce Willis saying good-bye to Liv Tyler -- the most heart-wreching father-daughter scene in cinematic history (I challenge you to name one better) -- people cried. I know grown men who still cry during this scene. And, while Deep Impact only managed one awesome catchphrase in the trailer, Armageddon managed five. The best one? "Earth's darkest day will be man's finest hour." Poetry. Pure poetry. Where have you gone, Jerry Bruckheimer? Michael Bay is sucking without you.

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