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There are a whole lot of people who didn’t like ARMAGEDDON because they were expecting the film to be something more than a summer popcorn movie. Personally, I like the fact that ARMAGEDDON allows one to shut down the thought process and loose themselves in a big budget special effects extravaganza. Sure, the plot is slight and completely unbelievable, but that’s the whole point of director Michael Bay’s larger-than-life sci-fi action outing. The movie is meant to be a whole lot of mindless fun, and have to admit that I had a great time watching it in a movie theater, as well as on my home theater system.

ARMAGEDDON has already been released on DVD by Buena Vista as a "movie only" edition, but now it has been given the royal treatment by the folks at The Criterion Collection. My only issue with this $49.95 double disc set is the fact that it lacks of the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 wide screen televisions. Now, I tend to doubt that Criterion would release ARMAGEDDON on DVD without the enhancement, unless Buena Vista tied their hands. After all, this DVD features is a completely different transfer of the director’s cut of ARMAGEDDON, which was personally supervised by Michael Bay. If the parties involved went to the trouble and expense of creating a new transfer anyway, why wouldn’t it be enhanced for wide screen televisions, unless there was an inexplicable corporate policy preventing it.

For those unfamiliar with ARMAGEDDON, the film concerns an asteroid the size of Texas that is on a collision course with the Earth. NASA has a plan to stop the doomsday asteroid, but it will involve landing two experimental space shuttles its surface, deploying two teams to drill a hole eight hundred feet down into a fault line, then planting a nuclear device that will blow apart the giant space rock. ARMAGEDDON stars Bruce Willis as Harry S. Stamper, the best deep core oil man in the world. Harry has successfully drilled everywhere on the planet, even under the most adverse conditions. It is his expertise and proven success rate that makes him the ideal man for the mission to the asteroid. However, Harry insists on taking his motley crew of roughnecks along on the mission because they are the best at what they do. Obviously no one on Harry’s team has "the right stuff" for space travel, however NASA gives them an accelerated course in astronaut training to prep them for the flight to the asteroid.

In addition to Bruce Willis, the cast of ARMAGEDDON also features Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Will Patton, Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare. Like a master juggler, director Michael Bay manages to keep all the balls in the air; perfectly combining top-notch special effects, with a whole lot of action, humor, suspense, gung-ho patriotism and just a touch of sentimentality. Since this DVD is touted as the director’s cut of ARMAGEDDON, just what does this version have that isn’t included in the theatrical version? In total, about two minutes of footage that helps to flesh out the character’s a little bit. The most significant addition is a scene in which Harry Stamper goes to visit his elderly father on the eve of his mission to the asteroid.

The director supervised Criterion transfer of ARMAGEDDON restores the film’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio, yet as I stated above, lacks the important 16:9 component. However, this transfer turns out to be an improvement on Buena Vista’s earlier excellent DVD edition. Michael Bay has opted to give this transfer a darker; more film like look that contains a truer black level and better contrast. ARMAGEDDON also boasts improved colors, with better saturation and more realistic flesh tones. The level of detail is also superior to that the previous transfer. When combined with the other improvements, the Criterion ARMAGEDDON proves to be a more satisfying presentation than the "movie only" version. Compression artifacts are a virtual non-entity thanks to the use dual layer technology and first rate authoring.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is every bit as good as the one contained on "movie only" edition, which happened to be an absolute blast. ARMAGEDDON sports an aggressively mixed track that takes full advantage of the discrete nature of the Dolby Digital system. Sound effects are precisely placed and effortlessly fly from speaker to speaker, whether it is from left to right or from front to back. The surround channels offer a number of distinct split effects in addition to offering natural ambience. Dialogue reproduction is clean, natural sounding and always intelligible, even during the most rollicking passages. Additionally, the track pumps out thundering bass, especially during the space shuttle and meteor impact sequences. English subtitles have been provided on the DVD.

The interactive menus are nicely designed and contain a bit of full motion video and sound. On disc one the menus provide the standard scene and soundtrack selection features. The only supplements contained on disc one are two running audio commentaries. The first commentary features director Michael Bay, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and stars Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck. On the second commentary track one will find cinematographer John Schwartzman, NASA consultant Dr. Joe Allen, and asteroid consultant Ivan Bekey. Both commentary tracks have been expertly edited to make them highly informative, as well as offering the maximum in entertainment value. Ben Affleck’s comments proved to be the funniest, while the scientific consultants explain what would possible on a real space mission, in addition to pointing out everything in ARMAGEDDON that falls under the realm of pure science fiction.

The second disc contains the majority of the supplement including Michael Bay's Gag Reel, plus deleted scenes not re-instated in the director’s cut, storyboards and production design drawings. Additionally, there is detailed analysis of three separate special effects sequences provided by visual effects supervisors Richard Hoover, Pat McClung and Hoyt Yeatman. Also included is an interview with production designer Michael White who discusses the look of ARMAGEDDON. Filling out the second disc are a theatrical trailer, a teaser, television spots, plus an Aerosmith music video for I Don't Want To Miss A Thing that also includes interviews with the band members.


Armageddon -- Criterion Collection (1998)


DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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