You have to laugh at a movie showcasing an asteroid the size of Texas, and having one of the main characters ask, “You see this?” No Mr. Save the World Bruce Willis, we don’t. The staggeringly high budget was still not enough…
… of course we can see it. It’s massive, and has more character than most of these actors. In fact, it almost talks, at least in some kind of possessed tongues. It happens right before the landing/drilling vehicle is brought out of the shuttle and the crew of the Freedom steps out onto this Earth-shattering (literally) rock. Maybe it’s supposed to be haunting or creepy, but the entire thing is beyond stupid, not unlike this movie.
This is brain-dead cinema, where the fast and loose science is just sort of there in an attempt to stop people from thinking too long. Come on, Steve Buscemi’s character Rockhound (really) suddenly has a case of space dementia (!) and begins to fire off the lunar lander’s machine guns (!!) simply because the the non-stop assault of space rocks, gas explosions in space (!!!), and pathetically contrived foreshadowing was not enough. Armageddon demands its audience bow down to its stupidity.
Michael Bay’s direction is nauseating, at times appropriate admittedly such as when the asteroid spins out of control, but when someone is talking on a headset, the camera does not need to spin around them. In fact, when someone is standing there looking worried, the camera can sit still too. This is apparently a way to disguise the performances or maybe make everything appear more dramatic than it is.
It is funny what a decade or so will do to a movie too. Here, asteroid pieces pummel the World Trade Center in what is now a slightly unnerving image, and Bruce Willis flips golf balls at protesters just off the bow his off-shore oil drilling rig. Tony Hayward would be proud.
For a movie in the disaster genre, there is not a whole lot of disaster in Armageddon, arguably its biggest fault behind, well, everything else. New York is assaulted because it’s a giant target for space stuff, Shanghai is hit hard, and Paris is disintegrated. That’s it, in three brief scenes. The rest of the film, at least past the hour mark, sits in space. More people are shown on Earth in their quaint little towns and farms happy then they are shown being affected by these catastrophic events.
For all of its mind-numblingly ridiculous banter, plot, action scenes, science ignorance, physics flaws, pitiful contrivances, stock characters, and insane Michael Bay editing/directing, Armageddon does look great. The combination of miniature and computer work is seamless, even if the rapid-fire edits don’t let you really appreciate it. So yes Bruce Willis, we can “see that,” because trying to ignore something this extravagant, overdone, and loud is utterly impossible.
The Blu-ray debut for Armageddon is a treat despite the zaniness of Bay’s color and contrast tweaking. It is certainly a far cry from Criterion’s non-anamorphic, edge enhanced DVD effort. How far we’ve come. Immediately apparent are the black levels, which are as deep as you can possibly want them to be, totally at the cost of shadow detail. If anything is visible within these suffocating blacks, it is lost to most viewers. Needless to say, space looks exceptional, with rock solid (no pun intended) darkness that never lets up.
Sony’s AVC encode carries few problems, notably against rich, deep blues. Chroma noise is a constant struggle. The worst is noted on the blue suits worn by the oil drillers as they are briefed at 49:05, their clothes littered with artifacts. The sky prior to launch, about the same deep blues as those space suits, carries the same problem at 1:06:23. It’s not just rich blues either. Steve Buscemi’s face at 33:20 shows some compression remnants as well. Oddly, once into space and onto the predominantly blue and black asteroid, this issue seems to fix itself (mostly).
Generally, facial detail is exceptional. Close-ups rarely miss a chance to perform up to reference quality, those fully delineated pores (at least the ones not stripped by the black levels) are a sight for sore videophile eyes. Sweat on the faces of the actors during the intensity of the drilling operation is flawlessly defined, and the general clarity is impressive. Hardly any grain is noted, the film stocks utilized producing the finest level possible. Obviously, the encode has no issue handling this.
Sporadic softness is the only notable complaint aside from the noise. The various montages showing people either running for their lives or looking at televisions at their potential doom are always lackluster. The final one is probably the worst of the bunch at 2:20:00. These seem to be shot either through a filter, or that crazed digital intermediate did something. Sporadic shots outside of these mini-moments that carry this same look include 17:50 (Willis’ face) and 1:05:03 (orange space suits, faces).
The heavily saturated color comes though beautifully on Blu-ray, although it is hardly natural. Flesh tones carry a slightly bronzed look, or people are lit by computer monitors. Billy Bob Thornton spends most of this movie bathed in green. Contrast runs a bit hot by design, although rarely does it bleach out detail or the already vibrant color.
Any disaster movie involving this level of explosions is sure to impress. This is a movie where the title card goes up in flames, and it wastes no time in delivering the goods. The first time the asteroid passes by, tracking flawlessly front to back at 1:07, produces an exceptional bass accompaniment. Clarity is flawless, and the extension into the low-end is satisfactory. The New York bombardment is an engaging piece of audio design, maybe lacking a bit of punch in the low-end, but offering incredibly aggressive surround use. Even the stereo channels are impressive, cars being flipped side to side with this track capturing them without fault.
Shotgun blasts as Willis fires shells on the oil rig are impressively clean, and when they strike oil at 21:27, the rear channels take on quite a bit of work. The film is loaded with “wow” audio moments, this DTS-HD effort coming through on all of them. The jet training at 41:00 is lots of fun, planes tracking in a variety of directions, a nice tease for what is coming once everyone lands on the giant chunk of space rock.
Destruction scenes, especially Shanghai, are superlative. The latter causes a hefty tidal wave that engulfs the city as well as the soundfield, As Paris goes up in smoke, the resulting shockwave flies towards the listener with not just the expected motion, but fidelity and clarity. Scenes in space always succeed, especially during the approach to the asteroid. Debris begins pinging off the ship at 1:24:38, creating one of those moments where you double check behind you to ensure it’s the movie. The rock begins falling apart for reasons never really clear at 2:06:00, creating the same effect, just on a larger scale.
The nuke going off provides the movie with its heftiest low-end work (along with the shuttle launches), making some of the disaster scenes a little disappointing. Bass does not seem to be the priority in many of these scenes, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of positional work. A few moments of scratchy dialogue, including the opening narration and a conversation at 18:22 (which sounds a bit hot), are also a bit distracting.
Unfortunately, all of those great Criterion DVD extras, including some of the funniest outtakes ever from Billy Bob Thorton, will remain on that disc for the time being. All the Blu-ray brings with it is a music video and some trailers.