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Armageddon Blu-ray Review

Armageddon movie poster Armageddon

Theatrical Release: July 1, 1998 / Running Time: 151 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Michael Bay / Writers: Jonathan Hensleigh, J.J. Abrams (screenplay); Tony Gilroy, Shane Salerno (adaptation); Robert Roy Pool, Jonathan Hensleigh (story)

Cast: Bruce Willis (Harry Stamper), Billy Bob Thornton (Dan Truman), Ben Affleck (A.J. Frost), Liv Tyler (Grace Stamper), Will Patton (Chick Chapple), Steve Buscemi (Rockhound), William Fichtner (Colonel Willie Sharp), Owen Wilson (Oscar Choice), Michael Clarke Duncan (Bear), Peter Stormare (Lev Andropov), Ken Campbell (Max Lennert), Jessica Steen (Co-Pilot Jennifer Watts), Keith David (General Kimsey), Chris Ellis (Flight Director Clark), Jason Isaacs (Ronald Quincy), Eddie Griffin (Bike Messenger), Ellen Cleghorne (Helga the Nurse), Udo Kier (Psychologist), Mark Curry (Stu the Cabbie)

Buy Armageddon from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Disc • 1-Disc DVD • 2-Disc Criterion Collection DVD

By Kelvin Cedeno

Popcorn movies like Armageddon make for difficult reviews. That probably sounds odd, but such lightweight films pose a challenge for anyone who tries to analyze them. They famously split critics and audiences in half, with the former usually balking at mindless product and the latter attending in droves. It doesn't make a great deal of sense as to why critical and popular reactions are at such polar opposites.
After all, critics are audience members, too. It's tempting to say that they're simply being pretentious, but then when one tries to look at it from their perspective, the daunting task becomes clear. How do you analyze something that's not trying to make a statement? By what standards should it be measured? There are no easy answers to these questions.

This brings us back to the film at hand: Michael Bay's 1998 blockbuster Armageddon. Despite scathing reviews, the film made an impressive $553.7 million worldwide. Obviously moviegoers weren't paying heed to what critics had to say. Reviews have claimed that the picture is brainless, loud, shallow, silly, and overblown. Such claims are not without merit. Armageddon certainly is ridiculous, over-the-top, hollow, and dare I say stupid. But folks who flocked to the theater in the summer of 1998 wanted nothing more than to be entertained by explosives. I have to admit that, for all its faults, the film does its job; it entertains.

The Texas oil diggers hired to save the world make a heroic stroll in slow motion. Seen here, left to right: Owen Wilson, Ben Affleck, Greg Collins, Steve Buscemi, Ken Hudson Campbell, Bruce Willis, Michael Clarke Duncan, Will Patton, William Fichtner, Grayson McCouch, and Clark Brolly. Is it possible to make an astronaut film without paying homage to "The Right Stuff"? Probably, but don't expect that from Michael Bay.

The story begins with a ticking clock that runs throughout the course of the narrative. In 18 days, an asteroid the size of Texas will hit and ultimately destroy planet Earth. It is decided that this doomsday can be avoided if the asteroid is blown up before it reaches the planet. NASA hires a ragtag oil rig team led by the no-nonsense Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) to drill a hole in the center of the rock and properly implant a nuclear bomb. Heated debates ensue over whether it's wise to leave Earth's fate in the hands of a bunch of misfits. Head of NASA Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) has limited faith, while General Kimsey (Keith David) is all too eager to hire other men for the job. Harry already has enough on his plate to worry about after discovering his daughter Grace (Liv Tyler) is dating the one co-worker he's constantly butting heads with: impulsive rookie A.J. Frost (Ben Affleck).

Anyone familiar with the world of cinema should already know what to expect from a Michael Bay film: explosives, scantily-clad women, lowest-common-denominator humor, and just barely enough plot to link these elements together. Of course, this is presented with editing that doesn't allow a single shot to breathe more than two seconds. All of these ingredients and others can be found in Armageddon. There are many explosions to be found, and a nightclub sequence exists only for eye candy and intended laughs. Most of the humor is pretty juvenile and earns more than one eye-roll. The story makes less and less sense the more one thinks of it. Somehow, someway, though, it works.

Perhaps it's because all of these ingredients aren't as shoved in the audience's faces as they are on other Bay films. There's a vague sort of "less is more" approach hanging over everything, as if Bay (with two action hit movies under his belt but not yet wielding his reputation for brainless cinema) is showing at least some restraint behind the camera. Of course, even toned-down Bay is more aggressive than most filmmakers at their wildest, but it's easier to take everything in when you're not feeling assaulted by a director desperately trying to impress you. More importantly, the tone makes things more palatable. Armageddon doesn't take itself too seriously and thus doesn't excessively insult the audience's intelligence. It recognizes how ludicrous everything is and invites the viewer to just accept that.

Young lovers Grace Bucket (Liv Tyler) and A.J. Frost (Ben Affleck) share a private moment, though it isn't long before Harry stops by to check on them.

At the same time, though, the film knows when real human emotion is needed, something many other Bay spectacles lose sight of. Without at least a dose of gravity in the mix, a picture can become so aloof that one can't even find the will to invest in other feelings such as thrills and laughs. The characters of Harry, Grace, A.J., and Chick (Will Patton) are each given arcs that bring these outrageous events to a relatable and sometimes even touching place.
The last half-hour especially packs an emotional wallop and keeps the picture from being simply a live-action video game.

Of course, that's not to say Armageddon offers angsty drama. People want over-the-top special effects in their summer blockbusters, and Bay delivers. The opening and closing of the film are filled with explosions and destruction, and the middle portion provides some edge-of-your-seat action as well. The special effects hold up remarkably well twelve years later and are more convincing than some modern examples of technology.

Armageddon is far from great cinema, but it should not be critiqued as if that were amongst its goals. Popcorn movies strive to do one thing: entertain. That's probably the best way to judge something like this, by seeing how much fun the viewer had by the end of the experience. Using that as a measuring rod, Armageddon passes the test, though it doesn't do so spectacularly (it runs too long and some of Bay's trademarks elements still manage to grate). So long as you check your brain at the door and knowingly hop along for the ride, there's silly enjoyment to be found, and with a touch of substance, to boot.

Buy Armageddon on Blu-ray from Amazon.com Blu-ray Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
DTS-HD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: April 27, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD and previously released as 2-Disc Criterion Collection DVD


Armageddon comes to Blu-ray in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. When Michael Bay revealed that the master print had been destroyed in a warehouse fire at Universal, fans weren't sure how long it would take to create a new HD master. Bay is known for keeping personal copies of his master prints, but it's unclear if this BD release is struck from that or another source. Either way, the results are pleasing. The image generally looks very sharp and detailed, though a few shots are a bit soft. The color scheme varies depending on the scene, but it's often quite saturated, accurately replicating Bay's style and his occasional affinity for crushed blacks. Likewise, some intentionally light grain is visible throughout. It isn't a spectacular transfer, but it's a very good one that represents the film well.

On the other hand, the English 5.1 DTS-MA track is just as superb as one would expect. The listener is engulfed in surrounds ranging from explosions to blasting ships. These came across dynamically and convincingly. Dialogue miraculously is not drowned out by all the noise as it's always clean and understandable. Music is a tad low, but not so much that it doesn't make its mark. One goes into a Michael Bay film expecting to have sound effects thrown left and right and with enough bass to shatter glass. That's precisely what one gets with this excellent track.

Armageddon's iconic logo concludes both worn out, overdramatically-narrated trailers. Steven Tyler and his signature mouth perform the memorable theme song "I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing." The Blu-ray disc's menu backdrop counts down to Armageddon while clips play in the corner.


Armageddon was released twice to DVD in 1999, first in January as a relatively barebones Touchstone release, then in April as a two-disc director's cut Criterion Collection DVD.
Now, debuting in high-definition, fans are given a release that's essentially the barebones one from 1999.

The only supplements here (all in SD) are the film's teaser trailer (3:11), theatrical trailer (2:33), and the famous music video to Aerosmith's hit "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" (4:58). It's good to have the trailers included since they're becoming such a rare commodity nowadays. The overly dramatic nature of the ads also makes for fun, nostalgic viewing.

As for the music video, it's an above-average video for a great tune, inserting the band into different television screens found in the actual film. This is made all the more interesting by the emphasis on Liv Tyler, whose character's scenes take on a whole new meaning when purposely edited with her father, Steven Tyler's, video performance.

It's baffling why Disney didn't carry over the Criterion supplements the way they did on The Rock. Armageddon's Criterion extras included three additional minutes edited into the film, two audio commentaries, a gag reel, more deleted scenes, three special effects breakdowns, a featurette on the production design, a storyboard gallery, an Aerosmith interview, and 16 TV spots. Save for the gag reel (which came from Bay's personal collection), all of these features are owned by Disney, so there's no logical excuse for their absence here.

One can assume a more elaborate release is coming down the road, but the way the studio has been slowly rolling out about five non-Disney-branded catalog Blu-rays a year, who knows when Armageddon's number will come up again? In the eleven years since Armageddon debuted on DVD not enhanced for 16:9 displays, Disney never saw fit to revisit this record-grossing hit beyond bundling it with other films and putting it on the largely disregarded UMD format. Even if this is temporary, it feels wrong to deny consumers of a definitive home video edition. And the Criterion DVD set, long elusive to most stores, has been out of print for some time.

The Blu-ray disc opens with trailers for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, When in Rome, and Blu-ray disc in general. All of these can be found on the Sneak Peeks menu along with an additional ad for Bruce Willis' Surrogates.

The pop-up menu features a doomsday countdown while a montage of clips plays in the upper left hand corner. The selections take up the bottom with a digital look to them, opening from left to right. The loading icon features the famous fiery logo, but with the word "Loading" replacing the film's title. The disc is housed in a standard blue keep case with Disney's usual side snap. An overused pamphlet for Blu-ray discs is included inside.

One of the smaller fragments of the asteroid still manages to wipe out Paris with no trouble at all, as seen in this gargoyle's perspective wide shot.


One can't fault Armageddon for not being something profound. It's not as rousing as its box office take would suggest, but it's also not as wretched as many reviews accuse. It's the type of movie you can't really defend and can only go by the general feeling it leaves you, which in this case is satisfaction.

The Blu-ray presentation also falls into that category. The image is strong while the audio excels. The only true disappointment lies with the bonus material. It's one thing not to create new material, but it's another not to carry over that which already exists. Owners of the Criterion DVD will still want to hold onto it for those supplements along with the slightly extended director's cut. But that still shouldn't dissuade them from purchasing this disc as it clearly bests non-anamorphic standard DVD in terms of feature presentation. Those somehow unfamiliar with this film looking for brainless, light-hearted action should find this a worthy rental.

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Reviewed April 20, 2010.

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