Making An Impact

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. Meteor_impOUTLOOK: Everything can be solved through cooperation.

Armageddon/Deep Impact
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.Deep_Impact_posterArmageddon-poster06OUTLOOK: 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.

When Worlds Collide

When Worlds Collide

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. Melancholia-poster-002OUTLOOK: 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.


40 thoughts on “Making An Impact

  1. Today I was listening to “Don’t Stop Me Now” and suddenly had this image of the comet cheerfully singing, “I’m a rocket ship on my way to Mars on a collision course! I am a satellite; I’m out of control!!” HAVEN’T BEEN ABLE TO GET THIS VISUAL OUT OF MY HEAD ALL DAY.

  2. Living in central Florida, just an hour or so from the sad sinkhole disaster of last week, I’m always aware that I could be swallowed up into the abyss while watching tv, but I hadn’t actually given much thought to the possibility of a meteor, asteroid, or “rogue planet” crashing into me while I watch that same tv. This, in spite of the fact that I’ve seen both Deep Impact and Armageddon. The others, I managed to miss, though I love cheesy sci-fi films from the days of yore. As for which ones I liked best…ummm…I’m going with Armageddon, just because it had a very young, very cute Ben Affleck in it. Yes. That’s my reason. My ONLY reason. *grin*

    And now that you’ve planted images of DOOM and DESTRUCTION and of all humanity being totally f#$&d, I will bid you goodnight, and go read a book about more pleasant things, like blood sucking vampires, or rabid werewolves, or brain-eating zombies. I stand a better chance of survival with them. *snort*

    Fun post, Steve!

  3. I saw “Armageddon Impact,” which was okay. I agree wholeheartedly with you about “Melancholia.” What a beautiful, thoughtful film. Kirsten Dunst deserved her Best Actress award at Cannes, and she absolutely nailed what major depression does to a person. (Trust me on that) The thought I took away from that was that when the bad stuff is knocking on the door, the “functional” people will freak out–as did Kiefer Sutherland and Charlotte Gainesbourg–but your super-depressives? Shit, that’s just another day–Kiersten Dunst is outside playing with her nephew. If you want something done during a cataclysm, get a super-depressive to help. If you can’t find us, we’ll be out trying to catch the rogue planet, to make sure it doesn’t miss squashing us.

    • Tom — you make a great point about how Dunst’s character remained steady (though depressive) throughout the entire film as other people lost their shit. I thought one of the most telling bits was the look on Sutherland’s face when he said the butler wasn’t coming in anymore.

      • It’s almost like Dunst’s character perks up when the cataclysm nears, because things are finally as empirically bad as she’s always felt. Kiefer was always such a control freak, and he wussed when his beloved Melancholia proved his scientist idols wrong. This is why you are the only scientist I trust. (And I’m only two counties away from the aforementioned sinkhole)

  4. I’ve seen them all except “Melancholia,” which makes no sense since I love to see what Hollywood does with bipolar disorder and end-of-the-world stories (Did you see “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”?). Must rent. With hard hat.

    • “Melancholia” was actually done by Lars von Trier, an insane Danish filmmaker. His film “Antichrist” had some of the most queasymaking images I’ve ever seen. The things Charlotte Gainesbourg did to poor Willem Dafoe. *shudders* As nuts as she was in “Antichrist (which was disturbing as hell), she ends up playing the sweetness-and-light “normal” sister in “Melancholia.”

      “Melancholia” is a gorgeous film, starting off with a super-slow-motion balletic sequence featuring “Tristan und Isolde” as a soundtrack. Odd, but well worth it. :-)

      • Tom — Holy crap, Antichrist! I hadn’t put that CG was in both those movies. I can’t give a thumbs up to Antichrist — that’s even too f’d upped for me!

    • SS — Melancholia had an odd run. Mostly art house theaters and such. We caught it through Netflix. I think von Trier’s unflattering notoriety also kept it out of the mainstream. I haven’t seen Seeking a Friend, thought I heard it was pretty fun.

  5. What “scares” me is that – despite the “Armageddon/Deep Impact” sending-a-shuttle-to-save-the-day idea that it puts in people’s heads … most of these things aren’t discovered in time for anything like that to be done.

    I’ve seen all the films except for the last one. When I read your description of it, I – at first – thought it was the one Sandy Sue mentions.

    • GOM — it’s certainly the “one of these things is not like the other” of the bunch. The planetary impact is almost like the background music. Something that’s going on, but not the focus.

  6. Now, I’ve always been interested in Near Earth Objects (NEOs) ever since the asteroid-killed-the-dinosaurs theory became known.

    You might be interested in my update on what is known about the Russian asteroid.

    Armageddon/Deep Impact

    Anyone mentioning the two movies in the same breath should be forced to watch Volcano over and over again. (grin) Deep Impact is at least somewhat plausible, whereas Armageddon is only notable for demonstrating Menken’s cynicism.

    As for When Worlds Collide, there’s some bad news on that front.

    • John — oh they CAN’T remake WWC!!!! ARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!! I suppose it could be done well, but let’s just say that I don’t have a lot of confidence in that!

      I will always sit down for the analogous VOLCANO/DANTE’S PEAK double feature, because more than anything, I like my cheese served hot! :)

    • Also, I considered putting “The Andromeda Strain” in this list, but because the dangerous rock in question was brought back by a returning satellite and not one that crashed into the ground I left it off. Too picky?

      • Not at all. However, you could have included “The Blob” (or its remake/homage “Killer Klowns From Outer Space”) and been covered.

        As for the remake of WWC, at least they are making the astrophysicist a billionaire astrophysicist. You know, for verisimilitude…

  7. I watched Melancholia when it came out – Kirsten Dunst was so good in that wasn’t she – lol, that family was so messed up. My daughter used to work at the video shop so she’d pick out movies for me and sent this one home just saying – it’s some meteor thing going to hit the earth or something. I remember the beginning being really spun out but I can’t remember why – was there no speaking for a long time?

    • Lynn — i think i head that forgetfulness is on the rise in certain age groups. :) It’s well worth checking out, but it’s definitely not the “feel good movie of the year”.

  8. Whatever happened to that suggestion made by NASA about setting up a network of missile-firing satellites that would zap asteroids and giant meteors out of the sky before they hit the earth? I suppose if Congress and the White House can’t resolve its differences over how to pay for government projects here on earth, they can’t be bothered to move on such a far-fetched idea as that—though you would think such visible evidence left by the Russian asteroid would bestir them to act.

    I avoid watching disaster movies. I have too great an imagination and a hard enough time going to sleep at night. :)

    • HG — there’s been a number of ideas floated out for a space-based defense mechanism, though they usually get bogged down in “could it work” and “hey, what’s going to keep you from facing is the other way?” sorts of arguments.

      I LOVE disaster movies. I even watched the execrable “2012”, but mostly because I think Amanda Peet is pretty cute.

    • Considering that NASA can’t even get enough funding from Congress for the telescope network needed to discover dangerous asteroids, expecting them to actually be able to do anything about an incoming rock is optimistic at best.

  9. Still haven’t seen Melancholia but will when the free opportunity arises (I won’t give money for human rights reasons; everybody’s got their thing…being half-Jewish means I don’t take the auteur’s politics lightly–mad or no).

    I like disaster films! What’s wrong with me? Where to start? I just watched Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and liked it a lot but don’t know who to recommend it to. It’s not very odd but enough off the beaten path that anybody I know who saw it didn’t like it. I believe they were expecting hilarity from Carrell or something like saving the planet. IMO it covers big ideas about what’s it all worth but not too heavy-handed. Going in not expecting anything helped! Like a previous commenter, all I knew was something was going to hit the earth:)

    • MT — I will have to check out Seeking a Friend and keep my expectations at a minimum. I had watched Melancholia through our Netflix service. I think von Trier’s remarks and general pigheadedness kept this film from reaching a larger audience, which from the film’s standpoint is really too bad.

      • I treat Mel Gibson films the same way: I’ll watch them if I see them on TV (or if a friend hands me a DVD, which happens a lot). I’m not saying they can’t be fine artists. As a film student, we devoted many hours studying the Nazi and ‘Russian’ propaganda machines, which were often Very Artistic (in the Nazi’s case, ironically done by Jews they’d pulled from camps). I’m open to Art. I won’t send my money, though. A far slighter analogy would be an Atheist tithing to every large church. Just because they’re giants in their field, do you really want 10% of your income going to them, several of them?

        Again, I look forward to seeing it when the opportunity arises.

  10. Pingback: 2013 Favorite Books | Stevil

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