BBC3: Saturday 5 September, 9.30pm
President Morgan Freeman (ten years before Barack Obama!) has tough decisions to take when a 7-mile long asteroid is discovered on a collision course with Earth. Unlike the disreputable and exciting Armageddon, Deep Impact takes a long and thoughtful look at the unthinkable. The militaristic nukes-in-space stuff doesn’t work and the powers-that-be decide that the American way of life is worth preserving in an elaborate (and highly selective) underground cave.
They would think that, wouldn’t they? Those not chosen to survive riot in the streets, which seems a reasonable enough response. Executive producer Steven Spielberg’s brief was When Worlds Collide. The cataclysmic nature of the story is softened in a series of ‘human interest’ subplots, which somewhat betray director Mimi Leder’s grounding in television. These prolong the suspense but – own up – we’re all waiting to see what a 1000ft tidal wave looks like. It looks terrifying.
Ms Leder doesn’t have any interest in or knowledge of sci-fi; she prepared by looking at On the Beach, a film she loves. Trusted by Spielberg for her work on E.R., Leder had directed DreamWorks’ first feature, The Peacemaker (1997). She returned to TV directing after the modest returns of Pay It Forward in 2000. (Her only other subsequent feature was Thick as Thieves in 2009, reuniting her with Morgan Freeman.) It’s probably no surprise that Deep Impact looks a bit like the post-nuclear holocaust TV drama The Day After, although the acting is a good deal better. Freeman, of course, conveys dignity and authority as the president.
The brittle Téa Leoni is an unsympathetic lead as the journalist who tells resigning politician James Cromwell ‘we know everything’. “Nobody knows everything,” says Cromwell. In fact, Leoni knows nothing. She mishears E.L.E (extinction level event) as ‘Ellie’, the name of a supposed mistress. Mary McCormack fares better as the only female of the doomed rocket crew: “Look on the bright side – we’ll all have highschools named after us.” And Robert Duvall embodies the spirit of decency and self-sacrifice that marks this picture as utterly different from the rough-hewn antics of Armageddon. There’s an emotional core to this film and it doesn’t just emanate from James Horner’s heroic music.