Junkfood Cinema: Armageddon

By  · Published on April 1st, 2011

Junkfood Cinema: Armageddon

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; we pity all the fools, not just those named April. Normally, this is the weekly internet column wherein I lambaste a terrible movie for which, despite its innumerable flaws, I harbor an unnatural love. In other words, plenty of snark peppered with honest admiration that only further calls into question my already dubious taste. Right about the time your brain is massaged into a warm, gelatinous goo, I supply a nasty/delicious snack food item tied into the film to similarly soften your six pack.

But this week is different. I have been asked, and have subsequently agreed but only under protest, to cover a film far too excellent to warrant purchase on this awful little column. A film so cerebral, so beautiful, so auteur that it is an insult to film as an art form to allow it to suffer my irreverent, unworthy treatment. I hate that this movie will now be counted among the rank and file of cinematic garbage to which my proclivities typically run. That being said, I never back down from a challenge and, though it may suck some of the life from me, I now present…Armageddon.

What Makes It Bad?

Never has this question seemed so absurd. How can I possibly find a single fault with so perfect a motion picture? Why not just send me to The Louvre and ask me to carp about the artistic shortcomings of the Mona Lisa while you’re at it?! Fine, if I have to be the nit-pickiest contrarian on the internet, I do have one quibbling complaint with regard to Armageddon: the helicopters. There are entirely too few helicopters in this film. I mean I know you were strapped for cash Michael Bay (making such an ambitious low-budget film), but would it kill you to include one or two more shots of helicopters flying majestically through the middle of scenes? How else are you going to prove to the world that you are a legitimate filmmaker if slow-motion helicopters aren’t whirling conspicuously through even the quietest character moments?

Why I Love It!

Of its many, many benchmarks of excellence, Armageddon was bold enough to cast so completely against type all the way down the line. I mean, who the hell thought Bruce Willis had the chops to be a legitimate action hero? Sure, the guy had proven himself as one of our generation’s greatest comedic talents with Moonlighting and the wildly successful Hudson Hawk, but I can think of literally no other film in which he plays such a brave, square-jawed, stoic badass. But with Michael Bay’s unique eye for character and nuanced performance, this isn’t surprising. Nor is it surprising that he managed to turn scruffy, unkempt hobo Ben Affleck into a pretty boy leading man with a billboard-sized face. The stunt casting knows no end: scrawny milquetoast Michael Clarke Duncan as a huge, intimidating black man; world-class stud Steve Buscemi as a creepy little dweeb; and a man named Billy Bob as a redneck? Truly, every actor in this film was forced to step outside their wheelhouse and delivered…adequately.

Too many sci-fi actioners, when faced with the difficult choice to be heavy on spectacle or scientific accuracy, err on the side of spectacle. Armageddon sneers at this convention and focuses all its energy on sound science. Finally a film has the courage to embrace humanity’s greatest fear: sentient asteroids. Every time I watch a film in which an asteroid is depicted as nothing more than a chunk of rock and ice floating through space, it makes me want to retch. Have these people never read a science book? Asteroids are living, breathing creatures who are consumed with but a single thought: destroy Earth.

Luckily, despite their massive size, asteroids have brains the size of jellybeans that cause them to get hopelessly lost in the cosmos and die confused and alone adrift among the stars. When a layman sees the asteroid in Armageddon become aware of the presence of the drillers and actively try to thwart their efforts to destroy it, they may ignorantly shout, “hey, giant space rocks aren’t sentient!” Fools! I suppose next you’re going to tell me that there’s no way Affleck could have jumped that enormous canyon with the aide of a rocket given the “when it’s convenient” lack of gravity or that the explosion of the shuttle at the beginning of the film wouldn’t have had that much fire due to the “lack of oxygen in space.” Honestly.

Shockingly more accurate than Bay’s grasp of science is his depiction of middle America circa 1998. While the rest of the world embraced the technological wonderland that existed just before the turn of the 21st century, the mid-west languished in its nearly four decade arrest of both technology and culture. I remember growing up in Indiana and spending my evenings listening to Fibber Mcgee and Molly on the giant radio set in the living room while the rest of the country was falling in love with the internet. Michael Bay pays reverent tribute to this strange temporal anomaly with his skillfully repeated shots of old-timey porch swings, coke bottles from the 1930s strewn about, and families clad in Depression-era fashion who all live on farms! Given the incontrovertible fact that people in the midwest are half a century behind the rest of the world, it makes total sense that while the majority of the planet celebrated the destruction of the asteroid, those in the corn belt were celebrating the long-awaited close of WWII.

And let’s not forget that Armageddon’s soundtrack is unbelievable! The score itself is wholly original and doesn’t at all sound like any other Michael Bay film, and especially sounds nothing like any previous Michael Bay films called Con Air. Anyone who accuses Trevor Rabin of crafting nearly identical scores for his films is just plain…saying that. But the score is not the impetus to buy the Armageddon soundtrack, but rather the theme song by Aerosmith, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” If you don’t remember this song, that’s totally understandable as it had a very limited run on the radio. I mean it’s not like it was on loop at every station from country to progressive jazz to the point that the first few chords were enough to make you want to swallow the business end of a shotgun. It’s quite the fitting song for the movie with lines about staying awake and watching your partner sleep which is precisely…what the…drillers did as they were in hyper-sleep on the shuttle and…sufficed to say it’s totally apropos. I’m surprised EVERY GODDAMN HIGH SCHOOL IN AMERICA didn’t theme at least one of their proms around this song.

Junkfood Pairing: Animal Crackers

Recalling the film’s seminal, completely tasteful love scene, wolf down a few animal-shaped treats. Note Affleck’s boldly incorrect grasp of zoology as he charts the migration of a giraffe-shaped cracker across the landscape of Liv Tyler whilst calling it a gazelle. It takes a big man to look at what is clearly a giraffe and state with authority, and a silly fake accent, that it is a gazelle, and we should all salute his simple-minded bravado as it encapsulates everything that is great about Armageddon.

Admit it. You could stay awake just to read every Junkfood Cinema entry and watch Brian while he’s sleeping…while he’s far away…and dreamin’.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.