Deep Impact at 20 Years

Morgan Freeman as President Tom Beck in Deep Impact.

Deep Impact has all the makings of a cinematic masterpiece but falls just a tad bit short of joining the all-time classics.

The film starts out with Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood) discovering an unknown object at a party.  This is later revealed to be a comet heading towards a collision course with Earth.  The photo is sent to Dr. Marcus Wolf (Charles Martin Smith).  Realizing what the object his, he dies en route while attempting to tell authorities.  This leads to one of the biggest plot holes.  He dies in a fiery crash with his belongings–how did the envelope survive?!?

A year later, MSNBC reporter Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni) digs into the details of why Treasury Secretary Alan Rittenhouse resigned.  She believes it to be a woman named Ellie.  After the FBI takes her to meet with President Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman), she learns that the situation is far more serious.  All would be revealed at a White House press conference where Lerner would get the first question.

The comet, named Wolf-Biederman, is said to be the size of Manhattan and as big as Mount Everest.  So how do you stop this juggernaut from causing an extinction-level event?  The Americans and Russia have quietly been building the Messiah, a huge spacecraft, just on the outskirts of the Earth’s atmosphere.  Commander Oren Monash (Ron Eldard) leads the team, which includes a former man on the moon, Captain Spurgeon “Fish” Tanner (Robert Duvall).  Among the crew members are Gus Partenza (Jon Favreau), Andrea “Andy” Baker (Mary McCormick), Mark Simon (Blair Underwood), and Russian Colonel Michail Tulchinsky (Aleksandr Baluev).

The future of humanity rests on 800,000 Americans under age 50 winning a lottery to join 200,000 pre-selected individuals sent to live in an Missouri structure.  Among those pre-selected are the Biederman family.  Naturally, Leo proposes to his girlfriend, Sarah Hotchner (Leelee Sobieski), in order to save her life.  Even though they get married, she stubbornly stays with her family!

Speaking of the president, Morgan Freeman’s Tom Beck is one of the best fictional presidents of all time.  He’s easily top ten material, right up there with Dave.  Beck gets some key opportunities for a stirring speech, both before the asteroid hits and after the world started to rebuild.

When one looks back at the film, you can see how much cable news has changed in two decades.  If this film were made today, Lerner wouldn’t have given the president a chance.  She’d have broken the news before the White House had an opportunity to get in front of it.  Yet when it comes to saving her life, she gives up everything to be there with her father, Jason Lerner (Maximilian Schell), when the moment arrives.

I’m not going to question the science behind the film but Deep Impact brings a more realistic feeling.  Because of all the landmarks, it makes since to show New York getting battered by the tsunami.  In spite of the disaster that got butts in seats, Leder’s film focuses on the human emotion at hand.  This is what makes the film able to stand apart from the other asteroid film of 1998.

You have to wonder what would have been had executive producer Steven Spielberg directed the film himself.  Mimi Leder’s work is brilliant for a project that was probably rushed into production so as to beat Armageddon to theaters.  Budget constraints prevented the film from showing the impact in other countries.

Deep Impact managers to provide a lot of drama and is driven through emotion.  This includes a father-daughter storyline that will tug at your heart.  Why does this sound so darned familiar?!?  Oh right.  It bares repeating that the film was the first of two films about asteroids colliding with Earth during the summer of 1998. The other film being the campier Armageddon.  It does have you wonder if Deep Impact was first pitched to Disney.  It’s eerie just how crazy the two films are so similar.

DIRECTOR:  Mimi Leder
SCREENWRITERS:  Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin
CAST:  Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Maximilian Schell, and Morgan Freeman

Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures opened Deep Impact in theaters on May 8, 1998.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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