Her gentle approach gives us plenty of time to ponder the details of what happened to the proud dinosaurs who once owned the earth, and to wonder whether the human race has been just an evolutionary stage between impacts.

DEEP IMPACT

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


Neither flood nor wind nor fire nor storm will trumpet the arrival of this blockbuster season. 1998 is the year of the asteroid-or in the term used by the movie at hand, an E.L.E. or "Extinction Level Event." Nice ring to that phrase, yes?

This certainly is a subject with edge, given the recent announcement that an existing asteroid may hit the earth in the year 2031, an inflammatory headline followed quickly by disclaimers that reassured us that the thing could be blown off course by nuclear weapons. This possibility is the story line of "Deep Impact."

Dreamworks' director Mimi Leder brings a woman's perspective to the action thriller by concentrating on people rather than explosions and boys' toys. The anticipation of extinction drives the film. Saving her fireworks for the last reel, Ms. Leder treats the audience and her subject respectfully, as if-now that the press has promised that an E.L.E. is a future given-we may as well begin to explore the problem earnestly.

The movie opens with an eccentric astronomer identifying the object from a photograph taken by a young student named Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood). American President Beck (Morgan Freeman) and the Pentagon manage to conceal the calamity while they prepare underground caves and the rocket ship that will try to blast the menace off its course. They didn't bargain on Jenny Lerner (Tea Leoni), a TV reporter with a hankering for an anchor slot. While looking for a White House love scandal, she discovers instead project E.L.E.

Project Messiah, headed by multiple moontripper Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall), will land on the comet, drill holes in its surface, drop nuclear rockets into the slots, and try to return to the earth it may or may not have saved. Caves will be prepared in some limestone cliffs, and people will be chosen by lottery to live or die, with a tilt toward those with special skills. Imagine the crush at that gate.

Against this gloomy backdrop and a thunderous soundtrack, we watch Jenny measure up to her new stardom, see her family life with Mom (Vanessa Redgrave) and Dad (Maximilian Schell), and follow the life and loves of young Leo Biederman. We watch them adjust, with uncommon courage, to the certainty of a tidal wave that will start at 100 feet high, travel at 100 mph, and rise to 3500 feet as it gathers speed. (Head for a ski mountain.)

If an exit poll were taken, people would laugh at the suggestion that they might have a serious thought about such a movie, but because Ms. Leder takes such a measured approach to catastrophe, the departing audience seems sunk in thought. It's the "What if?" factor, and it's potent. Her gentle approach gives us plenty of time to ponder the details of what happened to the proud dinosaurs who once owned the earth, and to wonder whether the human race has been just an evolutionary stage between impacts.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 496
Studio : Paramount Pictures
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 2h0m


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