Pros: All star cast, interesting plot.
Cons: Special effects
Theres something about a good disaster flick that we just cant seem to resist. Inexorably, were drawn to the spectacle of destruction, the magnitude of disaster, the utter futility of mans diminutive efforts in the face of seemingly insurmountable forces arrayed against him. There have been films about fires and shipwrecks, storms, earthquakes, tornadoes, and even nuclear war. The granddaddy of them all, however, concerns perhaps one of the greatest potential disasters mankind could possibly experience: the impact of a giant asteroid upon the Earth.
If youre thinking that this has been done already, youre right, but neither Armageddon nor Deep Impact were the first asteroid/comet disaster flick. Im not even sure if that honor falls to 1979sMeteor, a film that is perhaps less well known but every bit as good as the aforementioned films. Meteor features a star-studded cast and interesting plotline that will keep your attention until the final few moments.
Paul Bradley (Sean Connery) is an ex-NASA scientist who has been recalled to duty by Harry Sherwood (Karl Malden). Bradley isnt happy about this, but any misgivings he has are quickly put by the wayside when he discovers the reason. A recently discovered comet has plowed through the asteroid belt and impacted with one of the larger ones, Orpheus. Some of the fragments are headed for Earth, including a chunk of rock five miles wide traveling 30,000 miles per hour. If it hits, it will be the end of civilization.
But theres hope. Bradleys main project at Nasa was Hercules, an orbiting platform bristling with nuclear missiles and designed for an emergency the likes of Orpheus. Problem solved, it seems, but things arent that easy. Hercules missiles are not targeted at space, it seems, but rather have been redirected at the Soviet Union. The platforms very existence is a closely guarded secret, and its control has been turned over to General Adlon (Martin Landau), who vehemently opposes their revelation and use.
Fortunately, wiser heads prevail, and the president (Henry Fonda) announces the existence of Hercules to the world. But again, theres a problem. The considerable explosive power of the American missiles are not enough, it seems, and the president calls upon the Soviets to add to Hercules firepower with their own orbital nuclear weapons.
At first, the Soviets refuse to admit to the existence of their own space platform, but after Dr. Alexei Dubov (Brian Keith) and his attractive translator Tatiana Nikolaevna Donskaya (Natalie Wood) arrive in New York to see the preparations being made by the Americans to destroy Orpheus, they finally agree to use Peter the Great, their counterpart to Hercules. The combined nuclear megatonnage of both nations missiles is enough to destroy Orpheus, but nothing like this has ever been tried. Will it work? Will the Earth be saved? As smaller fragments begin to rain down and cause their own havoc, the inhabitants of planet Earth can only wait in agonizing anxiety for the final answer.
Meteor is great fun. The action is well paced and thought out; theres never a moment when were not engrossed in the goings on. The acting is top-notch, but thats to be expected with a cast of this caliber. Connery is, well, Connery. Hes great as Bradley, and is every bit as convincing an intellectual as he was a secret agent as James Bond. Karl Malden also performs admirably, though his character always seems to be ancillary to Connerys.
The real fun, though, is watching Landau and Keith. Landau is brilliant as the single-minded Adlon. Hes constantly ranting and raving about the dangers he sees in admitting to Hercules, and later about allowing the Russians into a top-secret American facility. Hes utterly believable and eminently convincing. Quite often, he steals the scene when hes on a roll.
Then theres Keith. Hes delightful as Dubov, and gets to deliver most of the films humor. His lines, mostly in Russian, are well delivered and his mannerisms are on the money. We believe hes Russian, and we like him. Surprisingly, Natalie Woods role is limited. For the most part shes relegated to translating for Keith, although she does have a few scenes developing a budding romance with Connery. Want more? There are also appearances by Trevor Howard, Richard Dysart, Johnny Yune, Bibi Besch, and Joseph Campanella.
How about the plot? As you can imagine, it revolves around the impending impact and mans efforts to stop it. But there are also subplots, Bradleys history with NASA, the obligatory romantic interest, and the broader political difficulties in orchestrating a joint American-Soviet assault on Orpheus. In this respect, Meteor is a product of its time.
If theres a weak point to Meteor, it is the special effects. The missiles and space vehicles look like models, and Orpheus resembles nothing so much as a large piece of rock from your gas grill. The disaster scenes are a little better, but at times we can see the strings. None of this is ever enough to detract from the fun, however, and to a degree even adds to it.
Arriving among the last wave of the seventies disaster flick craze, Meteor deals with a genuine threat to planet Earth. The film is science fiction, though, and as such theres plenty of fiction mixed in with the science. Its doubtful whether a score of nuclear missiles would be able to destroy a five-mile wide asteroid; more likely they would shatter it into a host of pieces that might do even more damage.
Still, Meteor is a great film when taken for what it is: escapist sci-fi disaster flick entertainment. Its one of my favorite all time films, and Im sure it will be one of yours, too.