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Deep Impact
directed by Mimi Leder
Written by Michael Tolkin and Bruce Joel Rubin
Produced by DreamWorks
Rated PG-13
Deep Impact
Deep Impact Related Links
Deep Impact Site
Sky and Telescope Magazine
National Space Society
Astronomy Magazine
Final Frontier
The Planetary Society
Scientific American
Deep Impact Cast
Spurgeon Tanner
Robert Duvall
Jenny Lerner
Téa Leoni
Leo Beiderman
Elijah Wood
Robin Lerner
Vanessa Redgrave
Jason Lerner
Maximilian Schell
President Beck
Morgan Freeman
Sarah Hotchner
Leelee Sobieski
Alan Rittenhouse
James Cromwell
Andrea Baker
Mary Mccormack
Mark Simon
Blair Underwood
Eric Vennekor
Dougray Scott
Oren Monash
Ron Eldard
Mikhail Tulchinsky
Alexander Baluev
Gus Partenza
Jon Favreau
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Chris Donner

Advertisement
Hot on the heels of the recent short-lived comet scare comes a whole new style of disaster films. Deep Impact is the first of these to strike and is perhaps the most promising in the advertisements. With a cast that includes Morgan Freeman, Vanessa Redgrave, and Robert Duval, among many others, this would seem to be a disaster film that aims high.

Right from the beginning, Deep Impact does aim high, opening with a group of high school kids looking out at the stars through their telescopes. Young Leo Beiderman (Elijah Wood) notices a strange object in the sky that even his teacher can't identify. He photographs it and sends it off to a government observatory for identification by astronomer Marcus Wolf. This leads to the first bit of action in the story, culminating in a powerful, loud, but in the end somewhat meaningless accident.

Cut to about ten months later. Despite the accident, the government has still learned what Beiderman found, which of course, turns out to be an comet on a collision course with Earth. Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni) is a reporter for MSNBC pursuing a rumor about infidelity involving the retiring Secretary of the Treasury. She stumbles on the comet story accidentally, but decides to make the most of it.

By this time, the government has made plans and contingency plans for how to deal with this possible collision, but President Beck (Morgan Freeman) bargains with Jenny in return for a couple more days of prep time. When they finally do go public with the story, afraid of the panic and hoarding that might result, Freeman freezes all prices and wages, and eventually institutes martial law.

Now, as with all the earthlings in the movie, we look to the sky. Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duval) and his assorted crew are part of the first attempt to deal with the comet. They plan to land on it with the spaceship Messiah, plant several nuclear devices, and blow it up.

This sequence was probably my favorite part of the movie. While Téa is down on earth manipulating her media career with this story, Duval and friends are out in space maneuvering through the cloud of debris to land on Wolf Beiderman -- as the comet has been named. There are some nice shots of space and an impressive landing sequence at this point, and the tension remains pretty high both in space and at home.

After this attempt to destroy the comet, the movie continues, but the pace and tension slacken quickly. The focus begins to wander between characters. Events and relationships that previously had appeared secondary or tertiary are suddenly in the spotlight, then fade again. The government has contingency plans, which is good, but these appear and disappear quickly and without much effect. The main focus is on the caves that have been built to preserve one million U.S. citizens from extinction. This means all kinds of resentment and bitterness between those chosen and those not chosen. It is at this point that Leo proposes to his girlfriend, Sarah Hotchner (Leelee Sobieski), in what is basically a paraphrase of "hump or death" from Mel Brooks' A History of the World, Part One, adding the requisite romance to the story as well.

At several points through the second hour of the film I had the feeling that we were "vamping" until something else came along. There are some nice shots, especially one involving a large wave, but even that degenerates into what appears to be stock footage left over from Independence Day.

While Deep Impact wasn't really disappointing, it didn't deliver all that much either. There were definitely some areas that might have been fascinating to explore: Is it possible to surrender freedom under martial law in order to ensure survival of a free society, and how easy is it to return to freedom when the crisis is done? How do you rebuild a society that has been randomly separated into those who will survive and those who won't? Leoni's character in particular was enigmatic, since she made her career with a story involving the possible extinction of the human race. These issues were touched upon but not really developed. Freeman, Duval, and the others did an excellent job with the material at hand, but the second half of the movie seemed afraid to let these characters really open up.

Mimi Leder is the director of Deep Impact, and that may help explain the pacing. The first hour was pretty intense, much like an episode of "ER," and there is a nice balance of both humor and poignancy as well. However, the tension didn't carry through to the second half. Perhaps the story would have been more effective as a TV series, allowing more time to develop the various characters and subplots, and more time to capitalize on the formidable assembly of actors. As a movie, Deep Impact reminds me of the recent comet scare that rippled through our media here in the real world. It began with a bang and then just kind of faded away.

Copyright © 1998 by Chris Donner

Chris Donner is a freelance writer and magazine editor living in Manhattan and working in Connecticut. He will read almost anything once, as it makes the train ride go faster. He is currently writing a screenplay, a novel, several short stories, a collection of poems, and a letter to his mother. The letter will probably be done first.


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