Deep Impact

Deep Impact is a 1998 movie directed by Mimi Leder and starring Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni, Elijah Wood, Leelee Sobieski, Ron Eldard and Morgan Freeman (as the US President). Most of you must have seen it on cable if not in the theatres, as they kept showing this movie for many years on cable all the time. The movie shares a similar premise to Armageddon, which also came out in 1998, although there it was an asteroid that threatens the destruction of all life on earth (you say tomato I say… ) and although the latter made more money (perhaps due to the more famous cast) this one was slightly more appreciated by the scientist community and well, even I like this one more than the latter, which is a cheese-fest as far as I am concerned.

I hadn’t seen this film in several years, perhaps since watching it a few times in 1999-2002 period but most of the movie was fresh in memory as I sat down to watch it again last night. For those of you who remember it, a young high school student and amateur astronomer Leo Biedermann, discovers a new bright object in the sky while on a school project and shares his discovery with astronomer Marcus Wolf who realizes that the object is a comet on a collision course with Earth. While trying to get the information out, he however is killed in a car crash but the government does find out about it a little later. A year later ambitious journalist reporter Jenny Lerner picks up the story about the resignation of the Secretary of the Treasury (James Cromwell in a tiny role) and rumours about ‘Ellie” thought to be a mistress and approaches him about the official story being that his wife is ill. As she leaves Jenny is accosted by FBI agents who take her to US President Tom Beck. Beck tells her to wait two days before making the discovery public, thinking that she got wind of all the details. Turns out that ‘Ellie’ is not a mistress but is ‘E.L.E” – Extinction level Event, much to the shock of Jenny.

Two days later the president has a large press conference which is widely televised and reveals the truth;  the comet, named Wolf-Biederman, is 7 miles (11 km) wide—large enough to cause a mass extinction, and possibly wipe out humanity, if it hits Earth. He also announces the joint venture with Russia to build a space craft called ‘the Messiah’ to transport a team of astronauts, who will land on the comet and destroy it by exploding it with nuclear weapons. After landing on the comet, the crew members plant nuclear bombs 100 meters beneath the surface. When the bombs are detonated, the ship is damaged and loses contact with Earth. Instead of being destroyed, the comet splits into two smaller rocks nicknamed “Biederman” (1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide) and “Wolf” (6 miles (9.7 km) wide), both world-threatening. A last-ditch effort to use Earth’s missile-borne nuclear weapons to deflect the two chunks of the comet also fails. The president declares martial law and  reveals that governments worldwide have been building underground shelters. The United States’ shelter is in the limestone caves of Missouri. The US government conducts a lottery to select 800,000 ordinary Americans aged 50 and under to join 200,000 pre-selected scientists, engineers, teachers, artists, soldiers, and officials.

The movie is much less about the heroism of unlikely candidates that save the world and more a softer, thoughtful and personal approach to the impending destruction of life on earth. Jenny who has been estranged from her father, who had divorced her mother and remarried a much younger woman, gives up her spot in the evacuation to a colleague who has a young baby, and chooses to reconcile with her father and face death on the beach near their summer house where they share a lot of happy memories. Her mother choses to enjoy a nice meal, dress in her finest jewellery and outfit and kill herself weeks before the event. Leo and his family are take to the caves but his new bride Sarah’s family is missed out on the list. She stays back and initially Leo’s family forces his to leave without her but Leo hitches a ride back and finds Sarah. Sarah’s parents make her leave with Leo on a motor bike and take her baby brother with them and save themselves. The smaller comet the impacts in the Atlantic Ocean creating a megatsunami and millions of other people perish as the tsunami destroys the Atlantic coasts of North and South America, Europe, and Africa.

The astronauts in the Messiah decide to to undertake a suicide mission with the remaining nuclear warheads. After saying goodbye to their loved ones by video conference, the ship reaches the fragment and enters a fissure to blow itself up, which breaks Wolf into much smaller pieces that burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. So although a lot of cities & land were destroyed and millions were killed, most of the earth survives and reconstruction & rebuilding starts for the world to recover. Jon Faverau, Blair Underwood, Kurtwood Smith, Vanessa Redgrave & Denise Crosby have minor supporting roles as well. I like the film and think it’s a better movie and holds up better all these years later. 7.5 outta 10!

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