Last week, I was blissfully unaware that a giant sinkhole could open up underneath my house and kill me while I was watching tv. But does that mean that I was blissfully ignorant of danger? Not at all. Last week, I was thinking about the possibility that something from the sky could crash into my house and kill me while I was watching tv.
No, not weaponized domestic drones. Rocks. Rocks from space.
I mean, let’s think about it. A few weeks ago, we were all waiting for asteroid 2012 DA14 to make an uncomfortably close pass to Earth, when BOOM goes the central Russian morning sky! Rocks from space! Explosions! Windows shattered! It was like an asteroidal bait-and-switch. What kidders.
Oh — and did you know there was another asteroid flyby just the other day just a little further out? And that researchers in Antarctica found giant remnants of what was probably a huge meteorite strike back in the day?
And then came the news this week that there is a small (but distinct) possibility that the planet Mars will be struck by a comet next year. And I don’t mean anything like those little Russian rocks, I mean a giant ass comet. A 30-mile wide hunk of ice and rock that if it was plowing into Earth instead of Mars would almost certainly be a Torino-10 Extinction Level Event. Yeah, so good times out there in the solar system these days.
Now, I’ve always been interested in Near Earth Objects (NEOs) ever since the asteroid-killed-the-dinosaurs theory became known. I’ve written about it before. And even tried to imagine it a little what it might be like to make the realization that the Big One is coming. My outlook wasn’t a very optimistic one.
Of course, I’m not the only one that’s thought about this stuff. Hollywood has used asteroid impacts as a central plot device many times with the films varying both in quality and optimism.
So, as a public service, here is my unscientific analysis of those films in my worst-to-first quality rating.
The 1970s had a strong run of disaster movies of increasing scale (Airport, The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake!) culminating in the terribly bad Meteor in 1979. This Cold War film focused on the tense (and I use that word loosely) drama between America and the USSR agreeing to use their previously unadmitted-to space nukes to deflect an incoming killer meteor. You’d think a film with Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden, and Henry Fonda would be pretty good, right? You’d be wrong. OUTLOOK: Everything can be solved through cooperation.
1998 treated us to not one, but two asteroid-impact films which really have to be considered together as a pair, even though you knew Deep Impact was less plausible because it had a black guy as President. In each film, the deadly space rock is discovered and a desperate shuttle mission is sent to destroy it. In Deep Impact, there’s a lottery to see who gets to go in bunkers in the mountains to maintain civilization after the dust clears. In Armageddon, everyone just looks at the skies in rock music montages as early arriving rocks improbably strike only major cities. In each, the shuttle crews make selfless choices to avert disaster, or in Deep Impact’s case, minimize it.OUTLOOK: Salvation through sacrifice.
When Worlds Collide
The granddaddy of all impact movies. This 1951 film featured spectacular special effects for its day as civilization grapples with the knowledge that not one, but two rogue planets are heading towards Earth. In the film, the government hustles to create a rocketship to take a small number of people selected by lottery (Deep Impact should have had to pay royalties) to try and settle on the second planet. There’s love and sacrifice and even some dealing with corporate greed as the first planet inexorably draws close. In the end, I mean The End, there’s a very Noah’s Ark feel to the whole thing.
OUTLOOK: Mankind is doomed, but the righteous will (re)inherit the Earth.
This 2011 film was a remarkable meditation on depression that was set against the backdrop of the end of the world. Upon reflection, it was probably the best film I saw in 2012. In it, a rogue planet is approaching and there are conflicting reports of whether it will pass by or crash into the Earth. Rather than follow the panicked masses, Melancholia focuses on an isolated wealthy family, particularly the manic-depressive Kirsten Dunst, who had wrecked her own wedding day on the same day the rogue planet was discovered. Fantastic performances, great writing, and wonderful effects make this a fascinating film. OUTLOOK: You’re f#$&d.
Well, there you go. How many of these have you seen? Which are your favorites? I guess I’ll put my hard hat back on and go watch some television.