You knew it was inevitable. We here at Film School Rejects love Michael Bay’s Armageddon. Hell, we even gave the film a full day of coverage last April, sadly a day before Commentary Commentary was in existence. So here we are. The Criterion Collection of Armageddon and everything Michael Bay has to thrown down on the commentary track. Say what you will. Even outside the walls of FSR, this film has its fair share of fandom, and they aren’t backing down from their sturdy position. But be honest. It’s going to be fun to hear all the intricacies and insight Bay has to dish out even if you aren’t a fan of the film.
He’s not alone, either. On this particular track, Bay is joined by Jerry Bruckheimer, Bruce Willis, and Ben Affleck. That sounds to me like all the knowledge you’d want about Armageddon wrapped into a tight, little group of Hollywood players. It’s the commentary track – and the Commentary Commentary – the size of Texas, and the less preamble we give it the better. So here’s everything we learned from listening to these fine gentlemen speak about their film, and don’t worry. I’ll acknowledge the moment when Affleck tells Willis he loves him. I’m getting misty eyed just thinking about it now.
Commentors: Michael Bay (director), Jerry Bruckheimer (producer), Bruce Willis (actor), Ben Affleck (actor), a whole lot of awesome.
- Bay starts off the commentary with, “Why is there a Criterion edition of Armageddon?” Good question, Mike. He explains that Armageddon took a year of his life to make, and he and the 2700 (estimate) people who worked on it went through great pains to get it done. He explains that finishing a film is like winning a war and how glorious it feels when an audience sits in a darkened theater and watches his films. There isn’t much of an explanation about the Criterion Collection, per se, other than they may have recognized the passion Bay has for making film. That’s it, though, and even that is conjecture.
- A screenwriter begged Bay for the opportunity to rewrite Armageddon. Bay doesn’t mention the writer’s name but says he was a young writer who rewrote 53 pages of the screenplay. As Bay explains, he read what the screenwriter had written, and it was “pure shit”. Bay says he read the new opening to the film, but it didn’t grab him like he felt it should. The screenwriter came back a few days later with the opening the film has now with the spaceship exploding from meteor hits.
- “The old mission control is the most unsexy thing you’ve ever seen,” says Bay regarding his depiction of NASA. The small scene with Owen Wilson talking into the headset was filmed at the old mission control Bay is talking about. He wanted NASA to feel like a slick, cool company, a company that looked like it had the equipment that went along with the best and brightest minds in the aerospace industry. A lot of the sets and even the exterior of the building serving as NASA in the film look nothing like the real items. According to Bay the building used in exterior shots is a company that sells herbal products.
- According to Bruckheimer, the film originally opened with kids spotting the asteroid. They were then detained by the government. The producer didn’t feel it was the right tone with which to start off the movie. Tony Gilroy had a hand in the restructuring of the film.
- The dog in the opening was trained to specifically destroy Godzilla dolls. They shipped the dog onto the set at the price of $20,000 a day. They had to hold cardboard boxes up in front of the Godzilla dolls to keep the dog from destroying them until it was time. Bay also notes that, as a rule, you “never kill a dog”. Pretty sure he’s just talking about on film, but I could be wrong.
- The New York street scene took four days to shoot. According to Bay, they designed a system of flipping cars so that they could flip them very close to the extras without actually hitting any of them. Hopefully no dogs were hit by these flipped cars, either, because you “never kill a dog”, right?
- Bay doesn’t particularly like presidents in movies. He notes watching Contact and how the digitized usage of Bill Clinton took him out of the film. It was his attempt to make the president in Armageddon more of a presence than a real person, which is why you mostly see the character in glimpses and on monitors.
- Deep Impact comes up early in the commentary. Bay says he was invited to a screening of the film at Paramount and felt like everyone was watching him. After the screening he felt that Deep Impact was a much different movie than Armageddon and that Armageddon was a film that would resonate more with mass audiences. He does recognize that Deep Impact probably ate into Armageddon’s business but still feels they are much different movies. He does mention later, after the launch sequence, how much more realistic the Earth looks in Armageddon than it does in Deep Impact. The gauntlet is thrown down late, but it’s thrown down regardless.
- The scenes on the oil rig were shot on an actual oil rig off the coast of Galveston. Bay mentions this is very rare to be able to shoot on a $400m oil rig. He notes that since Armageddon was about oil drillers saving the world, they convinced them to allow them to shoot there.
- Ben Affleck’s teeth were replaced in Armageddon. Bay noticed early in production that Affleck’s teeth seemed like baby teeth in the footage they had shot. He notes that Bruckheimer had previously replaced the teeth of a “very famous star in a plane movie”. Affleck spent eight hours a day in a dentist’s chair for a week to get the teeth you see in the film now. These teeth also cost roughly $20,000. This is all just in case you were wondering how Armageddon cost $140m. $20,000 for teeth is a good start.
- 17:20 – Affleck starts in with his Billy Bob Thornton/Sling Blade impersonation. “Sling NASA,” he calls it. This comes back a few more times throughout the commentary, but it’s best not to draw attention to it.
- Willis notes his stunt double, Terry Jackson, was almost killed on the set. A large piece of pipe hit him in the head, but he was thankfully wearing a hard hat.
- Bay explains some of Harry Stamper’s back story that was found in an earlier draft of the screenplay. He’s a good businessman who’s made a lot of money with his drilling business. He was married when he was 18, because the woman became pregnant with Liv Tyler’s character. The director mentions this back story is the driving force of the movie, that Harry does everything he does in the film because of his daughter. Bruce Willis was always in Bay’s mind to play Stamper, but he never thought it was a reality. He looked more to Sean Connery to play the part. It was after meeting real oil drillers that Bay realized they could be played by someone as young as Willis. The actor was aged a bit for the part to fit the back story.
- “I asked Michael why it was easier to train oil drillers to become astronauts than it was to train astronauts to become oil drillers, and he told me to shut the fuck up, so that was the end of that talk.” This tidbit of information comes from Affleck who proceeds to then rip apart the entire backbone of Armageddon’s premise. For a few good minutes he talks about how ridiculous the concept is, how it can’t be that difficult to train astronauts to drill, and, oh yeah, his Sling Blade impression kicks back in.
- Michael Bay served as a second unit consultant for the 1993 film Indecent Proposal. He admits to ripping off a shot of dice tumbling on a craps table for Armageddon, but, to be fair, he came up with the original shot in the first place. Fair game.
- For the scene where the drillers are making their demands, Bay had each actor write down on a piece of paper what he would ask for if put in this situation. Bruce Willis ad-libbed the entire scene from what the other actors had written down on their sheets. Bay didn’t realize he would be reading the demands directly off the sheets. Bay also a joke Willis played on him that day of filming. When the director came on set he heard Willis screaming. The actor was yelling about how Bay was late, how he should have been there, and how Willis was walking off the set. No real arguments are divulged.
- “I learned on Bad Boys working with two improv actors and not having much of a script,” says Bay talking about how he likes for his actors to improv particularly in funnier moments in his films. He explains this over the montage of the oil workers getting tested at NASA. Much of this montage was not scripted, merely outlined, and the actors utilized whatever they could find on set to make the moments lighter.
- According to Affleck, the large warehouse like building at NASA is the largest open air building in the world. It’s so big that they have to keep the air cold or clouds could form. The potential is there for it to rain inside this building. Bay and Bruckheimer also explain the work and convincing it took to get NASA to allow them to use their real equipment and testing facilities for the film. The weightless simulation pool was the first “No” Bay got when attempting to shoot there. He and Bruckheimer note that getting the Air Force on board opened a lot of doors inside NASA. Affleck and Willis were the only actors allowed in the pool during the shoot, and they were each given only 20 minutes to film their scenes. The actors also mention how much fun it was playing with all of NASA’s toys.
- The Armadillo vehicle was built specifically for Armageddon. NASA doesn’t really have anything like it. It cost roughly $1m, and, according to Bay, it never broke down. Evidently they never took it past 3000 miles without getting the oil changed.
- Bruckheimer talks about what he calls “process movies”. Movies like Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, and Armageddon allowed him and the respective film makers to be on hand with the types of people these films were about, to see how they operate in their natural environments and to show the audiences how the characters in these films become who they are by the end of the film from a job or career viewpoint.
- Bay brings up product placement in Armageddon just as a BMW is shown driving towards the camera, Aerosmith playing over the soundtrack. The former commercial director mentions how, when you’re making a film as expensive as Armageddon, you have to combine commerce and art. “If you insert these things and insert them smartly you can save production money, and it really does help.” Bay does note that maybe it isn’t right for Affleck and Liv Tyler’s characters to be riding in a BMW, but…he really doesn’t defend it other than the production cost angle. This is sure to come up in the Transformers commentary, but that’s another Commentary Commentary for another day.
- According to Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton once told him that Armageddon was going to be mostly about he and Willis’ character, that Affleck was going to be an extra until Titanic came out. Thornton told him the love story was such a factor in that movie becoming a monster success that the people behind Armageddon felt there needed to be a strong love story there, too. Willis mentions he was told that he and Thornton couldn’t carry the film themselves, so the love story was added. Willis jokes that Bay continually reminded Affleck that his part could be cut completely out if they needed to do so.
- The destruction of Shanghai was originally intended to be shot using miniatures. Bay envisioned it told through the eyes of a father and son on a single boat. However, Stage 30 at Sony, the largest sound stage in Hollywood, was rented by the production. The sound stage includes an area for a large, indoor lake, which was filled for the scene, and a 90-foot pier and accompanying set were built. In famous Michael Bay fashion, the director decided the best way to handle the scene was just to blow it all up. That’s exactly what they did.
- As Bay notes, Billy Bob Thornton always likes to play physically imperfect characters. The leg brace Dan Truman wears in the film was his idea.
- A small moment between Willis and Thornton’s characters where the two reveal to each other how scared they are was filmed but cut. It has been included back into the Criterion edition. So has a scene between Willis’ character and that of his father, a former deep well driller played by Lawrence Tierney, who, as well know, looks exactly like Fantastic Four’s The Thing.
- The scene between Affleck and Tyler as he is preparing to board the space shuttle was shot two different ways. The way that is used has him singing to her. The other just had him saying goodbye to her. Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg – not credited on the film – told Bay this was the pivotal scene that would either win or lose the audience completely. It was his idea to have Affleck sing to Tyler. Willis says he thinks the scene is cute, that it works, but on the day of filming he was sure it would be cut. “They were all singing in a different key,” says Willis. “It took quite a bit of work to fix it.”
- Affleck notes how cynical and not jingoistic he is, but even he gets chills during the presidential speech/walk towards the shuttles sequence. Every human on the planet is right there with you, Ben. The part with Will Patton’s kid? Try not tearing up. Impossible.
- The shuttle the actors are walking towards was an actual shuttle that was being prepped for launch within a few days. The crew was allowed only a few minutes to shoot on the gantry towards the shuttle. Bay notes they couldn’t use any lights while filming this nor could they bring any sound equipment. Willis joked on set that he was going to make a break to get inside. You can see Affleck begin to sit down and scoot himself inside the shuttle, but he was scolded by NASA for this. Bay also mentions how serious NASA is in regards to their launches. He says that if anyone on the production even dropped a pen off the gantry down to below the shuttle, the mission would have to be scrubbed.
- Bay and his crew met with people who had stayed on the Mir space station. They referred to the 11-year-old station as “the glove box of an old car”, because of how easy it is to lose something inside. The station is filled with junk. Mold is growing on the walls, and it smells like “leaky sewage”. Bay notes the people living on board “get a little loopy”, something they used for Peter Stormare’s character. They did decide not to ever refer to the space station in Armageddon as the Mir for fear that something bad might actually happen to it before the film came out. As Bay says, it would have left the film with a “bad joke”.
- While filming The Rock, Bay learned the technique of reusing the same tunnel but dressing it up to look like a completely different tunnel. He regrets not taking this same approach to building and shooting the space station sequence in Armageddon. He’s still unhappy with how the geography works out in this scene and very nearly decided to cut it out entirely. He ultimately chose to keep it in to give an action scene that all the men survive before they make it to the asteroid. Having them survive this scene makes it all the more shocking when many of them die a few moments later.
- Affleck went into Armageddon with the desire to perform all of his own stunts. The space station sequence, one of the first scenes filmed on the movie, cured him of this. The moment when his character is climbing the ladder and a fireball passes by him was a little too close for the actor. He decided after that he wasn’t as gutsy as he liked to think and left the stunts to the stunt team. Of course, Bay would goad Affleck into doing some of these stunts regardless. Think there was much ego and testosterone running around on that set?
- “Now I know there’s no fire in space, but it is a movie, and most people don’t know that.” Who said it? Win a cookie.
- As Affleck remembers, even with all the hi tech equipment on set, the “weightlessness” in most scenes was very low tech. Bay would fix the camera and have his actors “act” as if they were weightless. Affleck describes it as a kind of bouncing around, but he wasn’t particularly good at it. Bay couldn’t figure out why they hadn’t taught Affleck this skill in acting school.
- Bay would have frequent meetings with his visual effects team and would meet with the different artists individually. He even asked James Cameron for advice on how to arrange editing and visual effects. Cameron’s advice was to have two meetings a day, one from 12–1PM and one at 7–8PM. Bay’s also notes his biggest concern with CGI, what he feels makes it look the cheapest and most fake, is how the light hits it and the quality of that light.
- The intention with the asteroid was to make it look “mean”, not anything like the hunks of floating mass other asteroid movies had had. Hubble photographs showed green and blue gases coming off of actual asteroids and stars being born, and this was one aspect to Armageddon’s asteroid Bay used to make it look more menacing.
- According to Bruckheimer, Armageddon has roughly 250 effects shots. Before that the most the producer had ever oversaw was around 80 in Crimson Tide.
- It was always Bay’s intention for Armageddon to be rated PG-13. He had decided on this shortly after The Rock. He wanted to shoot it like an R-rated film with all the sophistication and seriousness of an adult movie but with none of the R-rated trimmings like language or blood. He notes the falseness at work when the Independence crash lands on the asteroid. The way the windows blow out, the pilots and most everyone else on the ship would find the blood in their bodies being ripped out and their bodies generally being torn apart. He acknowledges how fake the crash is in the finished film. He notes something his grandfather told him: “You can make money if you sell stuff to middle America.” That’s exactly what he did.
- At one point during filming, Steve Buscemi mentioned to Bay that he was going to get dental work done. Bay convinced him that he had a “million dollar smile” and that he shouldn’t change a thing. Say what you will about Bay. That was a great decision.
- The scene at the crashed Independence was the first night of filming. Affleck, Stormare, and Michael Clarke Duncan, who are all in this scene, were essentially used as guinea pigs to test how the space suits looked and fit before Willis, who started late on the film and was very nervous about the suits, came to the set. According to Bay, nothing was working that night. At one point, while he was filming Affleck’s character from a distance, he kept seeing Affleck lean over as if he was looking for something. He finally yelled cut and asked Affleck what he was doing. He came to find out that the air supply to Affleck’s suit had completely shut off. Affleck was looking for any kind of rock to bust his helmet open.
- Bay remembers the biggest nightmare coming about three weeks before filming was to begin. He had worked with costumes and the production design team to come up with a workable yet cool looking space suit. When he went to see the suits they had made, he says they looked like an “Adidas jogging suit”. The gloves for the suit were store-bought gardening gloves the team was painting grey. Apparently, the designer on the suits was French and had worked with Luc Besson on a previous film. “They do things very differently in France. They’re more the artistes. This is not big, American movie making where if you don’t have a space suit that works for a big fucking movie star, you are FUCKED!” Bay apologizes for the language and the screaming, but he’s clearly still holding a grudge. Just so all of France is forewarned. He also mentions each suit cost about $1m to design and make.
- Mattel had a toy line attached to Armageddon. They told Bay that toy trucks with guns attached to them sell more. This is Bay’s reasoning for why there is a giant Gatling gun affixed to each of the Armadillos. There was a scene in the film that was to explain the gun, but this has been cut.
- The production on Armageddon shot over a million feet of Kodak film. As Bay notes, when you shoot over a million feet of Kodak film, the film company sends you a gift basket with six bottles of Korbel Champagne. He isn’t sure of the significance of six bottles.
- The idea of “secondary protocol” comes from an actual NASA fail-safe. Whenever NASA launches a shuttle, it is one man’s job to sit near a killswitch button, which, according to Bay, is a “self destruct button”. Bay likes how much NASA backs themselves up and the redundancy the company goes through on any and every mission. He notes NASA would never send the shuttles up as the do in Armageddon without the ability to remote detonate the nuclear bombs. He also mentions the bomb in Armageddon cost roughly $75,000 to design and create.
- According to Affleck, Keith David is awesome. We’re still waiting for a reason why Affleck wasted his breath telling us this.
- It was Buscemi’s idea to make his character, Rockhound, a genius who knew there was no way the mission would be a success. Buscemi played the part as a person who knew he was on a suicide mission, who knew the human race was about to become extinct, and who wasn’t going to “get his panties in a bunch” about it. Much of his dialogue, though, was deemed “too funny” and cut.
- The gun William Fichtner’s character pulls out was not originally in the film. Bay mentions they would not have gotten the Air Force’s approval if they knew someone playing an Air Force Colonel would recklessly brandish a weapon like that. The gun was added later during filming to give the scene more tension. Bay remembers being nervous as they showed the film to the Air Force, who could have had the entire scene cut out if they deemed it objectionable. Given the manner with which Fichtner pulls the gun and the overall situation, the Air Force ended up approving the scene after the fact.
- Affleck was the only actor who actually drove one of the Armadillos. He notes it had a Chevy 357 engine but was dressed up to look much more impressive. The Armadillo was much wider than a car, and Affleck remembers continually scraping the wheels along the sides of the canyon.
- As Bay remembers, the Armadillo-jumping-across-a-canyon scene was a big debate he had with the studio. The scene was complicated and expensive, but Bay felt it would work great with the younger audience and was short and energetic enough to grab the attention of adult audience members, as well. Bruckheimer had faith in Bay’s ability to read his audience, and he supported the scene staying in. The producer doesn’t always understand where Bay is coming from with some of his movies or scenes, but he fully believes in Bay being able to win over a mass audience.
- That same scene incorporates several different film making techniques like models, green screen, and an actual stuntman hanging from underneath the Armadillo. Bay notes the miniature Armadillo cost roughly $150,000 and currently sits in his office. He also says not to tell Disney. They’ve probably heard by now, anyway.
- The main drill site in the film was shot at Stage 2 at Disney, one of the biggest sound stages in Hollywood. Bay notes the stage, which is larger than a regulation football field, still wasn’t big enough, so the floor was taken down another 40 feet making the entire height of the set 90 feet. The set was also built wall-to-wall on the sound stage. Between the steam and the vast number of fans going, the spore count rose to the point that crew members and cast began getting sick. Willis remembers the smell from the cocoa mulch used to create the dust on the asteroid. The pit itself cost $2m to dig out. These numbers are just so you can add them all up and find out how much Armageddon really cost to make.
- The Gatling gun affixed to each Armadillo was an actual gun from World War II. A full-time police office had to accompany and guard it wherever it went. It fires roughly 1000 rounds in 15 seconds.
- The shot out from the Lincoln Memorial was achieved guerrilla film making style. Bay distracted the police while setting the crew up down near the reflecting pond, and he snuck inside the Memorial with a camera and a steadicam operator.
- The sequence where Paris is destroyed was added late in production, even after a test screening had taken place. Bruckheimer remembers how much sitting and waiting there was in the film after the Shanghai sequence. He always felt the sequence needed to be there, but it kept getting dropped from the script for budgetary reasons. Joe Roth, the head of production at Disney at the time, was the final decision maker on this and agreed to add it back into the final film after the test screening. The French woman who bought gardening gloves for the space suits was just trying to save up money for this sequence. That’s not explained, but it makes perfect sense.
- Bay had signed a deal with Disney for two movies, the first of them being The Rock. He signed for two movies, because he was certain The Rock would be a financial failure coming out the same Summer as Independence Day, Twister, and Mission: Impossible. He wanted to make sure he’d be tied down for one more film in case that happened, but once The Rock proved a success, Bay found himself in a predicament. He looked through every script Disney had, but none of them appealed to him. He did the same with the scripts Jerry Bruckheimer had with similar results. Bay set out with screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh who he had worked with on The Rock and who Bay claims is a good writer for big ideas. Hensleigh had the idea that would end up becoming Armageddon. It was Joe Roth’s idea to call the film Armageddon after Bay and Hensleigh pitched him the idea. Roth also decided at that time it would be Disney’s biggest film of 1998.
- The “I love you” scene between Affleck and Willis – told you we’d point this out – was initially going to be a much smaller moment between the two actors. Affleck notes the tough way to do it would have been to keep his cool and “keep a stiff upper lip”, but he wanted there to be an extremely emotional scene in a big, Summer blockbuster such as Armageddon. “People always shy away from showing all that much emotion. They’re afraid that if you get really upset that somehow that means you’re not cool or you’re not sufficiently heroic, but I thought Bruce is the hero, really, so I could have the opportunity to do that, and I thought why not.” We thank you, Mr. Affleck. Our collective tear duct thanks you, Mr. Affleck. Every damn time we watch this movie.
- The scene where Willis is saying goodbye to Liv Tyler over monitors was filmed on his first day of shooting. He was looking at pictures of his daughters while he delivered the performance to the camera.
- Bruckheimer and Bay note the risk they took killing off their main character in a movie this size, especially a character played by Bruce Willis. In fact, Willis went to Bruckheimer when he was still considering taking the part and told the producer he would do the film, but he had to die at the end. They all agree, though, that Armageddon has a bittersweet ending that retains its hopeful attitude with Affleck and Tyler’s characters. Bruckheimer notes that Disney never stepped in and tried to make them change it.
- Bay remembers how much Armageddon was knocked by the critics, who, as Bay notes, have an average age of 45. The director watched the film with the critic for the L.A. Times in attendance. The critic didn’t know Bay was there, but Bay watched him during the screening. “He literally looked like he had a scowl on his face, and, I’m telling you, the audience twelve times cheered. I don’t think he liked that.” Bay also notes he doesn’t believe audiences listen to what critics have to say in this day and age.
- “Once the enemy is destroyed, the movie is over,” says Bay explaining why many Armageddon’s subplots are wrapped up extremely quickly after the survivors land. He would later use this technique to its very fullest with Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
- Armageddon was originally going to end on the tarmac, but Bay and Affleck agreed they needed to show his character and Liv Tyler’s character getting married. It was Affleck’s idea to shoot a lot of the wedding celebration with a Super 8 camera and include this footage over the credits. These shots were done using Affleck’s own Super 8 camera.
- Bruckheimer remembers getting a call from Bay during post-production one day. Bay explained to the producer that he had heard Godzilla was going to have a full soundtrack and didn’t know why Armageddon didn’t. There were only a few moments in their film that had actual songs included on the soundtrack, but one of these songs was an Aerosmith song, likely their cover of “Come Together” over the montage scene where NASA is picking up all the men. They had a song they wanted to use, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” written by Diane Warren, and Bruckheimer and Bay decided they wanted Aerosmith to perform it. They invited the band to come to the editing room and watch clips from the film. Aerosmith was blown away and recorded the song three days later.
Best In Commentary
“Making films is like a war.” – Michael Bay
“Films have rhythms. There are peaks and valleys, and you certainly have to take an audience up and down, but you don’t want to bore them, and you don’t want to confuse them. At least I don’t.” – Bruckheimer
“’I shoot a lot of sexy stuff.’” – Affleck mimicking Bay
“God bless America.” – Willis at 2:32:50, literally the last thing heard on the commentary track
Yes, Jerry Bruckheimer, Bruce Willis, and Ben Affleck are included on the Armageddon commentary track, but this is really the Michael Bay show. There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you. Most of these 61 items revolve around Bay talking about equipment they were able to use, how he achieved some of the more spectacular sequences, and what he’s looking for when making a movie. Not a lot of people appreciate Bay’s brand of film making, but there’s no denying he firmly stands behind every decision he makes when making a film.
It’s probably a good thing Bay took charge on most of this commentary, which, it should be noted, is comprised of four, different tracks each of the men recorded separately from one another. Bruckheimer mostly talks in broad views, going over what he looks for in a film and what pleases the biggest section of the audience. It is nice to hear the passion in his voice and how clearly he loves watching and making movies alike. Willis doesn’t say much, and what he has to offer mostly backs up something someone else has already said. Affleck has a few pieces of real insight, but he constantly falls into doing impersonations and trying to make jokes. The Armageddon commentary track, which is as epic as the film itself, is worth listening to for Bay alone, really. It’s surprising, but it works, and you can rest assured knowing there are more Michael Bay commentary tracks we’ll be covering in future editions.