IT seems Hollywood has finally got hip to the programme. What's the point of spending millions on extravagant special effects if audiences aren't in tune with the story or care about the characters? That will prove to be the legacy of Titanic over the next few years, not its outrageous cost. Which brings us to this Steven Spielberg-produced, long-in-development, loose remake of George Pal's 1951 classic When Worlds Collide.
Up front, I'll state that Deep Impact is absolutely terrific. I was expecting a tepid disaster movie in the way that director Mimi Leder's last outing, The Peacemaker, was a lukewarm post-Cold War espionage thriller. Or, indeed, a big budget version of that TV catastrophe Asteroid. Not a bit of it. Forget any Towering Inferno clichés with a has-been star cast being bumped off when least expected. The ER wunderkind finally shows her true talents in the first of this year's ace Summer blockbusters by placing writers Michael (The Rapture) Tolkin and Bruce Joel (Ghost) Rubin's absorbing screenplay rightly, and almost defiantly, at centre stage. Leder lets all the emotional and visual fireworks emanate from this rock solid core and the result will have as deep an impact on your feelings as on your sense of wonder.
Television reporter Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni) thinks she's on the trail of another Washington sex scandal when she confronts resigning government official (James Cromwell) about a mysterious 'Ellie'. Instead, she finds herself whisked to a top secret meeting with President Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) and learns the shocking truth at a hastily arranged press conference instigated by her prying.
It turns out Ellie is actually 'ELE', short for Extinction Level Event, and the world could be on the verge of experiencing one similar to the natural occurrence that wiped out the dinosaurs millions of years ago. For a huge comet is on a collision course with Earth and if a risky Space mission, led by astronaut Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall), doesn't land on its surface and explode the threat with nuclear warheads, then all life will cease to exist when it finally hits.
Obviously the news has a cataclysmic effect on the global population. And when the Messiah mission fails to eradicate the Outer Space hazard, doubling the danger by creating two comets instead, people start taking real stock of their lives. But there is vague hope for a few individuals who will be chosen to live in underground desert 'Arks' where they will safeguard the heritage of every culture and any of the Earth's natural resources they can gather together in time.
How Jenny, her divorced parents (Vanessa Redgrave and Maximilian Schell), Leo Beiderman (Elijah Wood), the high school amateur astronomer who discovered the comet in the first place, and the entire crew of the Messiah spacecraft cope with noble resignation, panic and fate are the focal points of Leder's very human disaster movie which will grip and move you to the very last frame showing a ruined White House.
Chock full of surprise twists and spectacular turns, it's the seriousness of Deep Impact which impresses the most. Sure, Leder delivers an epic trail of climactic destruction, tidal waves and Manhattan flattening certain to satisfy the avid Science Fiction fan. Yet it's the poetic way the story is allowed to unfold, the complexity of the characters, and the total believability of the situations you're witnessing that give the movie its compelling resonance. Rarely has a 'disaster movie' had such an unadulterated credible tonality or a sweeping panorama of pathos and passion.
Three tremendous performances punch the human dimensions across forcefully. Duvall and Freeman are so commanding in their roles they practically obliterate everyone else off the screen. However, it's Téa Leoni (Mrs David Duchovny) who grabs all the attention and doesn't let go as she becomes the prime TV news anchor explaining the spine-tingling information, and leaves a long-lasting impression forgoing her Ark placement to be with her estranged father.
Leder implements her trademark documentary-style realism and frenzied Steadicam moves adding gripping immediacy and engrossing empathy to the very frightening scenario that will have each and every one of you leaving the cinema wondering what you'd do in the face of such a terrifying predicament. Armageddon will have to be really good to top Mimi's market leader.
(Starburst rating: 10)
Deep Impact picture copyright UIP
has a 'disaster movie' had such a sweeping panorama of pathos and