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Monday, August 20, 2012

Disaster Feature #3 - Deep Impact

Have you ever thought of how you would prepare for your last day on earth? What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you spend it with? I think that these are questions that the vast majority of us have thought about.

I know that the Mayans have insisted that doomsday will fall on December 21, 2012, but I really don't believe that to be the case at all. The reality is that none of us really know how the world is going to end. For all we know, the world could end because the sun explodes. For all we know, the world could end because of a series of natural disasters. For all we know, the world could end because of a zombie infestation.

(Well, okay, that last one seems a bit too farfetched, but it would be kind of cool if it went down like that, I have to admit.)

The point is that regardless of how the world ends, I think that whenever that day happens, the people who will be there to witness it should make their last day count.

Today's Monday Matinee (the third in a series of disaster films this month) takes a look at a situation in which the world is on the verge of being destroyed, as well as the lives of those who happen to be on a collision course with death itself.

Do any of you remember when we used to have dinosaurs running around the planet? Me neither. That was over sixty-five million years ago, after all. But we all know what happened to those poor creatures, right? A meteor from way up in space collided with the Earth, causing an impact so great that all of the dinosaurs were wiped out.

In all likelihood, the chances of a comet or a meteorite smashing into earth during our lifetimes are very, very low. I'm not saying that it is impossible, mind you, but the odds are definitely in our favour.

But suppose we sit down in front of the television to watch “America's Got Talent” when all of a sudden, a breaking news bulletin pops up on the television screen stating that a comet the size of Mississippi is set to destroy the planet in less than a few days. How would you react? And do you have a plan for survival?

These are a few of the questions that many of the people featured in the 1998 science-fiction film “Deep Impact”, directed by Mimi Leder.

Released on May 8, 1998, “Deep Impact” tells the story of what would happen if a comet that was several miles in width was headed towards our world, and the attempts to destroy the comet before the human race suffers the same fate as the dinosaurs of yore.

"Deep Impact” starred Tea Leoni, Leelee Sobieski, Elijah Wood, Robert Duvall, Maximilian Schell, and Morgan Freeman. The film itself received mediocre praise from critics, but still managed to make almost $350 million at the box office.

Oddly enough, “Deep Impact” was not the only film that involved space debris wreaking havoc on the world. Two months after “Deep Impact” was released, another film, “Armageddon” also hit the box office. Despite the fact that “Deep Impact” was released first, “Armageddon” ended up selling more tickets and made more money. However, scientists and the general public noted that “Deep Impact” was much more scientifically credible than that of “Armageddon”.

When “Deep Impact” first begins, the date is May 10, 1998, and a teenage boy named Leo Biederman (Wood) is at a star party in the city of Richmond, Virginia. Leo has always had a fascination with space, and his dream was to work as an astronomer. At the party, he is looking up at the sky through his telescope and notices a strange object darting across the sky. He immediately gets the attention of astronomer Marcus Wolf (Charles Martin Smith), who does his own investigation on the object that Leo discovered. To Wolf's shock, the object turns out to be a comet that is set to make a direct hit on Earth.

Smith tries to warn the global population of this event, but as luck would have it, he gets into a car accident and is killed.

One year passes, and while everyone on Earth parties like it's 1999 (literally, the film is set in 1999), almost everyone on the planet is unaware of the fact that they are living on borrowed time. And they would have continued to remain unaware if not for a journalist from MSNBC.

Jenny Lerner (Leoni) is in hot pursuit, trying to uncover the real story behind the resignation of the Secretary of the Treasury (James Cromwell). All that Jenny knew of the story was that he was connected to a person named “Ellie”, and Jenny initially believed (albeit mistakenly so) that Ellie was the name of the man's mistress. She believed that it would be a scandal if the word got out of the affair and she wanted to be the first to break the story.

She could not have been more wrong.

Jenny soon discovers that Ellie isn't actually a person. It happens to be an acronym...E.L.E (Extinction-Level Event).

Soon, the world is in a panic as President Tom Beck (Freeman) announces the terrible news. He tells the global audience that the Wolf-Biederman comet (named after the two people who first discovered it a year earlier) could destroy all life on the planet if it collides. Fortunately, space exploration teams from the United States and Russia have secretly been constructing a spacecraft named the Messiah while in orbit. By using the spacecraft to transport a space crew lead by Captain Spungeon Tanner (Duvall) to the comet, the team hopes to save the planet by using a boatload of nuclear weapons to destroy the comet before doomsday happens.

However, the mission proves to be a failure. The spaceship ends up damaged, and loses all contact with the people tracking it on Earth. Worse, the large comet is split into two different pieces.

The piece that is eventually renamed Biederman is only a small chunk. It would cause a lot of damage, but it wouldn't destroy the whole world. The Wolf half on the other hand was still a risk, due to the fact that if the comet hit the Earth, the dust cloud that would form would block out the whole sun for two years, killing all life on Earth.

With the news of the failure of the Messiah, martial law is declared all over the world, and many nations start their second plan of action...evacuating people to the series of underground bunkers. In the United States, the caves are located in Missouri, and only one million people would be allowed access to the bunkers. People were sorted out by age (under 50), as well as a selected group of professionals (doctors, scientists, teachers, etc) to rebuild society post-impact.

As a result of the lottery, Jenny and Leo's families are spared, and are allowed to live in the bunkers. Sounds wonderful, right? Well, Leo's girlfriend Sarah (Sobieski) and her family have been left off the list. And Leo simply couldn't let his girlfriend and her family die.

So Leo and Sarah get married, the marriage seemingly allowing Sarah's family to evacuate to Missouri as well. But what happens when a clerical error still forbids Sarah's family from entering the caverns, and Sarah refuses to leave her loved ones behind?

Jenny decides to give away her ticket to freedom to a co-worker who has a child, and instead chooses to wait out the impact at her estranged father's beach house, mending their relationship in the process.

But before anyone can think, the Biederman piece of the comet enters the Earth's atmosphere and smashes directly into the Atlantic Ocean, causing this to happen.

So, considering that a small piece of the comet (well, okay, not THAT small) could cause that much damage, imagine how much more damage would be caused by the larger piece!

But with a damaged spaceship floating through space and a comet locked on target with Earth, is there anything that could be done before more innocent lives are lost?

Well, I won't reveal the ending. You know what I always the movie yourself!

And, that's our look back on “Deep Impact”.

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