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Deep Impact: Shallow characters, so-so effects barely cause a ripple

By Vladimir V. Zelevinsky
Staff Reporter

Directed by Mimi Leder

Written by Michael Tolkin Bruce Rubin

Starring Tea Leoni, Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood, Morgan Freeman

The summer is here, ladies and gentlemen! In the next three months, we'll be crunched by giant mutant lizards (Godzilla), mystified by agents Scully and Mulder (The X-Files), amused by Eddie Murphy (Dr. Doolittle) and Jim Carrey (The Truman Show), blown away by Harrison Ford (6 Days, 7 Nights) and Mel Gibson (Lethal Weapon 4 and Payback). We'll also be bombarded by comets - not one, but two. Armageddon, from the coherency-challenged director of The Rock, is coming in July; the first movie, Deep Impact, from the combined efforts of Paramount and DreamWorks (with none other than Steven Spielberg as executive producer), has ER director Mimi Leder at the helm. It's a disaster movie, in both meanings.

The story is about a huge comet discovered to be on a direct collision course for the Earth, which humanity tries to stop - and that's about it. The bulk of the two-hour running time is devoted to strained and highly misguided attempts to develop half a dozen characters. These attempts are half-hearted at best, and most of them fail. The lack of subtlety is staggering; there are characters who, with straight face, deliver lines like "I resent my father because he divorced my mother." What's more amazing is that none of the character development matters. Deep Impact, at heart, is nothing more than a straightforward special-effects extravaganza, where the audience comes to see amazing scenes of global destruction. Character development in such movies should follow the maxim "Do it well or not at all."

Either because the bulk of the running time is wasted, or because the film was reportedly done on a (relatively) limited budget, the special effects themselves are very limited; in the whole movie, there are only two sequences. One involves a spacecraft flying to the comet itself, trying to blow it apart with nuclear charges, and is really nothing special. The second sequence, however, is truly amazing. When a chunk of a comet falls into Atlantic ocean, the huge tidal wave caused by the impact is absolutely incredible. The sight of a huge wave rushing across the ocean, reaching the coast, and obliterating New York City, with the skyscrapers falling like the dominoes, is startling. The only thing that somewhat limits the enjoyment is that we've seen such a sequence before: Instead of a wave of water, there was a wall of fire in Independence Day.

This very much highlights Deep Impact's problem - in a nutshell, it's similar to,but not as good as, Independence Day (even despite the mediocrity of the latter). A couple of shots are taken directly from Independence Day, and the sheer lack of originality is very much disheartening. Also, the movie teases the audience with many unfulfilled promises - after a lot of time talking about the Ark, a huge subterranean complex of caves to ensure humanity's survival, we're never even shown it. The massive attack on the comet with the Earth-launched tactical missiles is never shown either.

Deep Impact ends up being two hours of boredom leading to two minutes of not-very-original special effects. Not a very promising start of the summer, if you ask me.