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Deep Impact: Special Edition

In the ever-growing litany of disaster films, 1998 can be catalogued as the Year of the Comet. While Armageddon received more acclaim in the form of Oscar nominations for effects and sound (and an equal amount of derision from the Razzies), Deep Impact presented the same dilemma — a comet was on a crash-course with the Earth, and if it couldn't be stopped all of mankind would be destroyed — to an audience that was perhaps tired of the concept. As both films take place in our relative "modern day," the solutions available for eliminating the threat are predictably similar. But where Armageddon reflects the overblown sensibilities of Michael Bay, Deep Impact attempts to focus on the people as they deal with their imminent demise. Jenny Lerner (Tea Leoni) is tracking down an affair by a former government official when she discovers that the supposed-mistress Ellie she seeks is actually "E.L.E," a government plan to protect the Earth from an "Extinction Level Event." A New York-sized comet, discovered a year prior by Leo Beiderman (Elijah Wood), is on a collision course with the planet. Under the guidance of the American and Russian space programs, a crew will be launched on a state-of-the-art spacecraft, which will attempt to divert the course of the comet with nuclear detonations. Capt. Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall) plays an old pro, struggling to find his place in a crew of young talent, and of course they eventually come to respect the old man as a father figure. Instead of sending drillers into space, the crew of the Messiah is composed of trained astronauts and scientists who will use drilling machines to imbed the nukes. The story of Deep Impact doesn't really begin until the mission fails. The contingency plan is for the best and brightest of mankind to be placed in vaults deep within the earth, where they will ride out the years of destructive atmosphere in relative safety. The tunnels are a modern Noah's Ark, with animals, plants, and seeds in storage, as well as enough room for one million people, 800,000 of which will be selected from a lotto, with the remainder pre-selected from a pool of scientists, doctors, and artists. This, of course, leads to the predictable mass hysteria as those left behind search for any hope of survival. As Jenny reports to the country from her desk at MSNBC, Leo attempts to save his girlfriend and her family, and Tanner and the crew of the Messiah must find a way to fulfill their heroic destiny. Primarily a TV director, Mimi Leder took on Deep Impact as her second feature, and the result is a touch overly melodramatic. The trio of story arcs follow three characters at different stages of life — Leo is a bright young man with a stellar future, Jenny is finally achieving her goals while also dealing with her poor relationship with her father, and Tanner is near the end of a lifetime of heroics in the space program with one last chance at glory. But the intercutting between these arcs fails to take advantage of the potential for relating them together. In fact, Tanner and the crew of astronauts disappear for the better part of the second and third acts, until the plot is in such a position that all hope is truly lost. And then, instead of allowing the story to reach its devastating conclusion, the film arrives at a more typical Hollywood ending. The result is odd — without devoting itself completely to the impact on the human psyche of a potential extinction, and while only having a short display of the destruction, Deep Impact fails to hit its notes on either level. Paramount presents their second DVD release of Deep Impact in a "Special Collector's Edition" with a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Mimi Leder and visual-effects supervisor Scott Farrar provide a feature-length commentary. Three short featurettes are included: "Preparing for the End" documents the origins of the screenplay, "Making an Impact" describes the creation of the effects for the comet's landing in the Atlantic, and "Creating the Perfect Traffic Jam" displays the manner in which one might get a bunch of parked cars onto an interstate. Trailers and a photo gallery are also included. Keep-case.
—Scott Anderson

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