What’s it About?
After a collision with a comet, a nearly 8 km wide piece of the asteroid “Orpheus” is heading towards Earth.
Directed by Ronald Neame
I’m going to say this right upfront, gang. The only reason to watch this “disaster from outer space” film from the late 1970’s is Sean Connery. I’m sure that goes for many other films he’s made but not in this fashion and not to this extent. I mean, he is just about the only or one of the few real saving graces behind this production. I re-visited it recently and came to the conclusion that it really doesn’t hold up too well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a total bust, it just doesn’t really impress given the cast, FX and the story. It just doesn’t live up to the grandness of the disaster-movie mythos like other films of it’s kind.
Director Ronald Neame, no stranger to disaster movies since he directed the granddaddy of the genre, “The Poseidon Adventure” brought “Meteor” to the big screen in 1979. Sandy Howard, who produced the 1977 film “The Island of Dr Moreau” also produced the movie that was written by Stanley Mann who penned Damien: Omen II and Firestarter. Sean Connery heads a large, varied and well known cast that includes Natalie Wood, Trevor Howard, the scene stealing Brian Keith, the ever yelling Karl Malden and even the steely eyed Martin Landau. They all have their prospective places among all the drama as they try to figure out how to work with the Russians in this cold war disaster drama.
In space, a spacecraft crew is diverted to a position within an asteroid field to watch a large comet flyby. During the flyby it collides with “Orpheus” a huge chunk of rock that splinters off and gets pushed our way. The biggest piece is 5 miles wide and it is bringing with it some little guys that still can cause quite a large problem after they burn through and smack into Earth. Dr. Paul Bradley (Connery) is called off of his vacation racing Yachts to help his buddy Harry from NASA (Malden) to find a way to stop the big piece from hitting the Earth. It seems that Paul didn’t leave on good terms and Harry has to appeal to Paul and literally beg him to help. Paul, reluctantly does and then the film starts off with a literal big bang. So, it seems that the US and the USSR both have a nuclear weapons platforms in orbit around the earth and both countries act as if one doesn’t know about the other.
The Soviets called theirs “Peter The Great” and the U.S. has one called “Hercules” Paul left NASA angrily because instead of the U.S. pointing the missiles outward towards space in order to prevent a collision, it’s pointed towards the earth at our enemies. Some squabbling ensues but Henry Fonda, who plays the President, tells Paul to get the Soviets to acknowledge that they need to work together to stop the rocky menace from causing an Extinction Level Event (or ELE which is a term featured prominently in “Deep Impact”).
Brian Keith and Natalie Wood are flown to NYC where NASA has built a large Command Center right under the Twin Towers. Keith plays Dubov, a scientist and Wood plays his assistant who takes to Paul a bit. The cast, though large, all mesh pretty well but they are still type. Landau, for example, is loud, angry and somewhat villainous. There is even a newlywed couple among the long list of characters that are obviously going to end up buying the farm in the catastrophe. Director Neame tries to get a more global feel to the movie but it lacks real tension.
The actual collisions of the smaller pieces underwhelm and are not very impressive. The FX in “Meteor” for being a post “Star Wars” movie are hit or miss. There are some very poor looking mattes and the optical composite shots appear shaky, blurry and hokey. The outer space scenes fare better but Laurence Rosenthal’s (Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home) music is quite bombastic, annoying and feels very out of place every time they show the big piece.
One small asteroid hits a snowy mountain top which creates a sophisticated enough avalanche but a huge tidal wave that hits Hong Kong looks apparently bad. Plus, Neame tries to get us to relate to random characters whenever a piece collides with us. Like a father and husband rushing home to his family or a Swiss skier looking for his girlfriend. It doesn’t really work and feels forced. If anything you get antsy waiting for the mayhem to start.
So, that brings me to the NYC destruction. It’s not too bad but the explosions up close were a bad idea. The Twin Towers model just looked like a bunch of matchsticks at one point but the aftermath shot of Manhattan sported a cool looking Matte. Neame does succeeds in building some suspense by using a countdown of days until the big piece hits. Unfortunately, the nuclear warheads don’t exactly get the job done. It’s seems that a collision is indeed going to happen. I can’t follow the science of it all since there isn’t any but the weapons aren’t up to snuff.
“Meteor” probably works better as a drama about an eminent danger about to come rather than an all out sci-fi disaster flick. The human element works better here and the cast help to movie from floundering under it’s very wobbly framework. Despite some feeble attempts at manipulating the audience with lame romances and stereotypical characters Connery, Wood and Malden hang in there and make it work somehow. It just doesn’t work all the time. After the destruction there are mudslides, explosions, people dying left and right and a frenzied survival sequence with Connery and company trying to reach the surface through a NYC subway. These scenes were not too bad if a bit tedious to sit through.
I can barely recommend “Meteor.” It’s really just a curiosity piece. I may be even a bit generous with my rating. If you want to watch some bad effects, listen to some very distracting movie music and laugh at some cardboard characters then by all means give it a shot. “Meteor” suffers from that TV “Movie of the Week” syndrome at times and has a very hokey soap operatic look but like I said at the start of this review: Connery’s the only reason to watch this. Especially when he spurts out lines like:
“Why don’t you stick a broom up my ass? I can sweep the carpet on the way out.” Just epic stuff.