Griffith. Ford. Welles. Kubrick. Scorsese. Allen. Spielberg.
No one would argue that these men are a few of the great visionaries who worked their magic on the U.S. cinematic landscape. But after 1998, all of their previous work just seemed…petty.
That’s because 1998 was the year Armageddon showed up on our radar screens, giving us little time to prepare our viewing strategies before unleashing a force of hyperkentic visuals that splattered our brains on the back of theater seats. This wasn’t just a movie about a meteor coming to destroy Earth, it was the meteor, and in the wake of its war path, movies were never the same again.
What exactly did Michael Bay do that changed cinema forever? The list is endless, but here are nine bold moves the renegade auteur took to ensure his place in Hollywood history:
1. Armageddon has the audacity to destroy planet Earth in its first minute
Most action movies build to an explosive climax. In Armageddon, Michael Bay defies tradition and climaxes right off the bat. You know Bruce Willis is going to save the Earth at the end of it, so Bay makes sure to give you a look at the possible insanity of what it would look if he failed in his mission. We doubt Bay is compensating for anything with a move like that — you need serious balls to pull of that kind of stunt. Big ones.
2. Armageddon nonchalantly puts little people in the face of danger
Armageddon breaks barriers that films of present day seem unable to even approach. There’s no segregation when it comes to Bay’s destruction — any color, creed, or in this case, height, can be pummeled by falling space rocks. That’s a big deal! Whereas little people are often cast in specific roles that call for someone their size or as the setup for a joke, Bay casts one to push Eddie Griffen out of the way while running and screaming in fear from the meteor shower.
Why? That’s the point — there is no “why.” Other than wrong place, wrong time.
3. Armageddon perfectly combats painful exposition with never-ending dolly shots
“We have 18 days before it hits Earth.”
NASA’s plan to stop the demise of mankind is convoluted, cliched and brimming with technical mumbo jumbo, but Armageddon purposely never slows down enough to allow any of the words to click with our brains. It was Inception before Inception. Zipping past conversations, zooming in to the guy on the phone, spinning around an emotional kiss — there’s so much camera movement in Armageddon, Martin Scorsese and Tony Scott would suffer from motion sickness. The only phrases that can be distinguished are heart-wrenching cliches like, “OH. MY. GOD. What do we do now?!” Really, that’s all the info a viewer needs.
4. Armageddon‘s soundtrack speaks from the heart
Michael Bay made a wise choice in the musical selections for Armageddon. Feeling like he couldn’t solely rely on “old school” methods of composition for the entirety of his disaster flick, Bay turned to the zeitgeist of 1998 to handpick a voice for the people. He needed a band that could represent his characters, their massive undertaking of preventing extinction and the 6.5 billion people on Earth whose fate was in NASA’s hands.
That band was Aerosmith and the result was a compilation of songs old and new, that in context, were so, so, so right. Many artists have attempted to collaborate with directors to create an album that could work as a companion to their finished film, but all pale in comparison to Aerosmith’s power ballads. Listening to “I Miss You Babe,” you feel like you’re really in the control room of a disastrous space mission.
5. An hour and a half into Armageddon and the crew has only just arrived at the meteor.
Anyone can poop out a 90-minute action movie and call it a day. Heck, two hours isn’t that difficult when you have the fate of the entire world on your plate (hey Deep Impact, what up?). But Armageddon was never the kind of film that you went to Blockbuster and casually rented, or added to your Netflix queue and waited as it climbed the mountain.
Armageddon is epic and it knows it. Michael Bay wants a scene in which the International Space Station blows up. Does that propel the plot forward, enrich the character relationships and fit into the grand scheme of the movie? Absolutely not. Does it look kick ass on the big screen. Oh HELLLLL yes. Somewhere out there is the 10-hour cut of Armageddon that features Viggo Mortensen, Martin Sheen, and Mickey Rourke, but for now, we’ll have to take the two and a half hour version that’s still beefier than any of the film’s successors.
6. Just when you think Armageddon can’t get crazier, Will Fichtner pulls out a gun
Kids these day. They don’t understand the element of surprise. A species-dooming MacGuffin that the movie’s main characters are aiming to find/kill/chase/whatever isn’t enough to keep us interested. A movie needs hooks and Armageddon, unlike any film of the last two decades, understands that. When the crew figures out how to drill into the surface of the meteor, what happens? The President orders remote detonation. When Harry tries to deactivate the bomb? Willie Sharp puts a pistol in his face. In space.
Logic, get in the back seat. Excitement is driving.
7. Armageddon is catastrophically patriotic.
Before the jagged, Texas-sized (yee haw!) meteor can slam into Earth, a smaller chunk breaks away and successfully barrels through the atmosphere. The remaining rock makes devastating impact…with Paris. A rippling wave of energy wipes the French capital clean of its buildings, landmarks and people — au revoir, Eiffel Tower!
People look back to Independence Day‘s Presidential speech for a good dose of cinematic patriotism (yee haw!), but Armageddon is oozing from beginning to end with love for America. Michael Bay pledges allegiance to NASA, the military and blue collar heroes, but the destruction of Paris is testament to his devotion. When Ben Affleck embraces Liv Tyler upon returning from the mission, you’ll barely remember that one of the biggest (non-American, yee haw!) cities in the world was laid to complete waste. America, fuck yeah!
8. Armageddon is an indie-spirited, emotional film at its core.
If you’re excited for Terrance Malick’s Tree of Life this summer, you might as well save yourself $12 and rewatch Armageddon. The whole drill-a-nuke-into-a-meteor action plot is all surface stuff. The meat that makes Armageddon a classic is the introspective throughline of Bruce Willis’s character Harry. His wife left him, his daughter’s marrying a roughneck and now he’s the only guy who can save the planet. That’s deep, man.
Bay takes it to another level when Harry triggers the nuke, his entire life flashing before his eyes. If the sequence was set to Giuseppe Cenci’s “La Mantovana,” it would be regarded as high cinema. Since it’s got Steven Tyler wailing in the background, it can come off to the short-sighted as merely a popcorn flick. Think about it.
9. …and Armageddon‘s special effects are pretty cool
Oh yeah. I guess it has some pretty decent action scenes too.
What’s your favorite part of Armageddon? It’s okay if you can’t think of one single favorite part since the whole damned movie is chock-full of awesome. Give yourself some time and try to narrow it down to a list of 20.