"I take orders from the Octoboss."


July 1, 1998

“There was some criticism that I made NASA look dumb in certain places. In fact if you heard some of these asteroid theories of what they are thinking of doing, it just sounds asinine.” –Michael Bay

ARMAGEDDON is Michael Bay’s third movie, but in some sense it’s the one where he revealed his true face to the world. There were plenty of examples of his style and character in BAD BOYS and THE ROCK, but it was ARMAGEDDON that first presented the full breadth of his trademarks: awesome awesome macho bros, pretty pretty sunsets, government employees portrayed as insufferable weiners even though they’re in the right, spinning cameras, haphazard editing all over the fucking place, chaotic mish-mashes of explosions and sparks and machinery and debris and smoke and crap, beautiful shots of people in various locations around the world, weirdly hateful characters presented as cutesy comic relief, an army of highly qualified writers seemingly locked in a cage and forced to duct tape a bunch of dumb ideas into the most unwieldy structure they can come up with that has a running time at least 30 minutes longer than the story has earned, and of course an ensemble of talented actors improvising jokes with no regard for any sort of desired rhythm or tone of storytelling.

In 1998 I hated this fucking movie. It was one of my big disconnects with mainstream audiences, following BATMAN FOREVER and INDEPENDENCE DAY, giant hit summer blockbusters that most people liked but I couldn’t stand. It seems like many of those people have disavowed it over the years, but it definitely has a following. I have one personal friend and a few internet acquaintances who consider it among their favorites. I’m not sure how much of that is ironic.

I guess I can partly understand in that it stands out as a particularly crazy example of the form. Before we even meet most of the main characters we already have

1) A space-eye view of an asteroid destroying the dinosaurs (narrated by Charlton Heston!)

2) An exploding logo


3) A spectacular astronautical disaster. It’s the only movie I know of that wants you to have a profound and overwhelming patriotic reverence at the sight of a Space Shuttle, but also to whoo-hoo and high five your buddies when it explodes and sends seventeen types of debris at the camera like an old school show-offy 3D movie. ARMAGEDDON believes that you are in absolute awe of anything having to do with NASA, and also that you definitely weren’t traumatized by watching the Challenger astronauts disintegrate on TV as a kid. In fact it thinks you were disappointed that that shit didn’t blow up cool enough.

On the famous Criterion edition commentary track, Bay credits the idea to an unnamed “very young writer” who “rewrote 53 pages in two days and I read the script and it was pure shit,” but when Bay told him that the opening was boring and “you’ve gotta grab the audience by the balls,” this writer pitched blowing up the Space Shuttle. And I guess we can infer that Bay considered that to be a worthwhile ball grab.

The main character, arguably, is The Best Damn Deep Core Driller There Is Harry Stamper, played by The Best Damn Hollywood Actor There Is Bruce Willis. When NASA (Billy Bob Thornton, ON DEADLY GROUND) figures out that an asteroid the size of Texas is about to knock Earth the fuck out and the one way they can maybe stop it is to send guys to drill a big hole and put a nuclear bomb in it, they make some calls (and probly type “best damn deep core driller there is” into Yahoo! or AltaVista) and find out Harry is the guy. Next thing you know he and his rowdy team of macho oil jockeys are being briefly trained to astronaut shit up so they can save the world, maybe.

The part of the movie that I most understand the appeal of is this chunk after a bunch of buildings get destroyed but before any amateurs go into space. As Affleck puts it on that same commentary track, it follows “the sort of DIRTY DOZEN model… a gang of rough and tumble everyday guys that are needed to do a job.” Bay also calls them “everyday guys,” but his take is that “That’s what makes this movie fun. It’s the everyday guy given the opportunity to save the world or just sit back and watch it end.” So, not just that underdogs get a chance to be heroes, but that they could end all human life if they chose to, that power is what makes it fun. I guess if that’s what gives you a boner, Michael Bay.

Anyway they ride motorcycles and go to strip clubs, trying to live the HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN lifestyle, and oh my goodness, old man science is really gonna have to loosen up that starched collar and take off that pocket protector if he’s gonna rock ‘n roll with these outrageous party animals. For example “NASA” shows them their “space vehicle” The Armadillo and they’re like look pal, real Americans don’t need all this smarty pants space machine crap, and they yank out the equipment they aren’t familiar with and throw it on the ground and plan to make a few changes to the thing. NASA probly spent years and millions of our tax dollars researching and designing and building that stuff but since some oil drillers didn’t know what it did FUCK YOU EGGHEAD, IT GOES IN THE TRASH. I’m gonna put a skull handle on the gearshift though. HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES? IT’S A SKULL. THAT’S MY THING. GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT, I WALK.

I don’t like this part of the movie, but I get it. In the tradition of the ol’ “Just How Badass Is He?” speech Thornton gets to do a “Just How Good At Drilling Is He?” voiceover. These guys are the best in the world, blah blah blah. I tend to enjoy that type of shit. And there are some training montages and they have their last night out and etc.

Bay talks up his NASA consultants, but admits that rather than try for an accurate depiction of the agency he wanted to show “what my perception of NASA would be,” which mostly means that he went to their real offices and didn’t think they looked cool enough. “I was VERY unimpressed when I went to NASA. Just in terms of the look and the lack of design. Um, but I was also very impressed with, just, the intelligent people that I met there and the systems that they’re doing.”

For the movie he gave them a cooler building, and an office that has weird spikes on the wall (?), making sure it doesn’t look like the real place, which he claims more than once on the commentary smells like your grandma’s old TV (I can’t relate to this, seems like a pretty specific memory).

“What I tried to do with NASA is sexy it up… the astronauts we saw, they’re not studly, they’re little guys, you know, they’re not the guys you saw in the movie THE RIGHT STUFF. Astronauts are… they’re scientists.”

So now that the Everyday Guys are teamed up with Sexy NASA, I guess we got ourselves a movie, right? The trouble is that they have this mission to go on this asteroid, and then they go on the mission, and you realize “oh shit, this really is gonna be about them being on the asteroid now, isn’t it?” And from that point on it’s mostly irrelevant that they’re “rough and tumble” or “everyday guys.” Now they’re just astronauts who look and behave the same as the professional astronauts, except for the occasional Steve Buscemi wisecrack or whatever.

To me, anyway, it’s really boring, these adventures on this soundstage set of a spiky planet. They have to drill a hole, and get to a certain depth. Strap yourself in, this is gonna be the main section of the movie. The most exciting thing they do on the asteroid is jump the Armadillo over a ravine and compare it to Evel Knievel. That can only take up so much screen time, I’m afraid.

I guess it’s arguably more exciting than the earlier part on the MIR space station, where they meet a cosmonaut (Peter Stormare, THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK) and refuel and then there’s a big explosion. I can’t follow the geography of this action scene even though they literally have a computer readout showing everybody as dots on a map, which Bay admits on the commentary they added as a last resort when the editing was not communicating where they were. I’m honestly impressed that he was conscious of that. Doesn’t always seem to be of concern to him, especially in those days.

Of the many reasons I hated this in 1998, that was the main one. I remember at a certain point in the movie becoming very distracted by the pace of the editing, ignoring the conversation and trying to count how many seconds each shot lasted. It was a while before I noticed one longer than two seconds. That was only the second time I’d noticed fast edits and haphazard camera placements making a movie difficult for me to watch, so it was a new phenomenon. The first one was CON AIR, which shares a producer and two editors.

I think the buck stops with Bay on filmatism, but I should mention he’s working with cinematographer John Schwartzman (ROCKULA, AIRHEADS) and editors Mark Goldblatt (ENTER THE NINJA, NIGHTBREED, T2, SUPER MARIO BROS.), Chris Lebenzon (TOP GUN, HUDSON HAWK, CON AIR, MALEFICENT) and Glen Scantlebury (CON AIR, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES).

In 2018, ARMAGEDDON still feels pretty chaotic. There are sequences where everybody’s wearing the same astronaut outfits and vibrating, so I can’t make out their faces. There are a bunch of astronauts who are barely if ever introduced and I can’t keep track of them. There are a couple odd things like closeups of Thornton having a brace on one foot when he mentions it, but I never saw it in a wide shot. But, as I suspected, all this is tame compared to some of Bay’s TRANSFORMERSes, the Neveldine/Taylor movies and some of the post-BOURNE shakycam action, so honestly it didn’t bother me much this time. I guess my brain has adjusted to this type of shit.

So the bigger problem now is that – how can I put this? – I don’t like Bay’s attitude. Any time you hear rock ‘n roll guitars on the soundtrack it means someone is about to do a “funny” rebellious thing, so Harry is introduced on his oil rig hitting golf balls at a Greenpeace boat. Bay claims that “the only reason” he’s attacking Greenpeace is for being hypocrites because their boat needs gas to run, and Harry claims to donate to them, but I don’t see any way to interpret this that doesn’t include fuck you you hippie dweebs the environment is for pussies.

Then Harry catches his adult daughter (Liv Tyler, THE INCREDIBLE HULK) in bed with his employee A.J. (Ben Affleck, PAYCHECK) – as is her right – so he chases him around the rig firing shots at him. The ol’ “get away from my daughter’s vagina, it is my most sacred possession” routine, always good for a laugh. There are jokes about Rockhound (Buscemi) enjoying underage girls, and maybe this is a petty thing to complain about, but it annoys me how delighted they are with their plan of demanding to not have to pay taxes anymore. No, I’m not gonna ask for a million dollars – I’d rather have less if it means not having to do my part to pay for infrastructure and social services. On the commentary track, of course, Bay proudly takes credit for the line, because “what better way to screw with the government than to never pay taxes again?”

Take that, the government who prevented the extinction of all life on Earth (SPOILER). We didn’t need your dumb space shuttles. We could’ve just stayed here and pointed our drills upwards and drilled it when it hit.

Of course, Bay seems less passionate about stickin it to the Man than stickin it to women, or at least the wife of the amateur astronomer who discovers the asteroid who storms into his telescope wearing a bathrobe over a nightgown and growls “Your Stouffer’s pot pie’s been on the table almost ten hours. I want a divorce!” The “Stouffer’s” detail is the kicker for this scene. Clearly we’re supposed to scoff that it’s only a frozen meal. A good wife would’ve prepared a pot pie from scratch for him to waste! So the crowd goes wild when he yells “GO GET MY GOD DAMN PHONE BOOK! GET THE BOOK! GET THE BOOK! GET THE BOOK!” If it was now they’d start chanting “Lock her up!” And even moreso in the later scene where he asks if he can name the asteroid “Dottie, after my wife.” She looks very surprised. Touched. Then he adds, “She’s a vicious life suckin bitch from which there’s no escape.”

Am I right, fellas? Ha ha. Wives are the worst. Always ruining our lives trying to be ghostbusters and have access to health care and taking too many short cuts in the preparation of food.

Like INDEPENDENCE DAY or other disaster movies, Bay has the occasional montages of people in different parts of the world looking up at the sky or spending their possible last moments with their family or watching the live coverage or whatever. He uses real people and locations and gives it the majestic look of some heart-string-pulling commercial for AT&T or something that would play during the Super Bowl. On the commentary, Bay refers to some of them as “these Americana bits” – timeless, picturesque farmland stuff with little boys running in slow motion playing with toy Space Shuttles. This is it, the real world, the real people, living their real lives. We are all around the country, all around the globe, but we are all the same, united in our fate. We are together. We are one.

Except for some reason the parts in Shanghai are filmed on an enormous, stylized set on a soundstage and it looks like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN or some shit

For a movie about an international team fighting stateless space debris, it’s surprising how much Bay can make it feel like flag-waving propaganda. Willis and others are occasionally framed in front of American flags, which also wave in glorious slow motion in some of those “bits.” The two shuttles on the mission are named “Freedom” and “Independence.” In the opening space disaster there’s a closeup of debris hitting and destroying the flag patch on an astronaut’s shoulder, like a not-very-subtle director might do with a bullet hit in a war scene.


He knows people get a boner from this stuff and thinks it’s okay to throw it in there devoid of any meaning.

“It was a movie that really hit the chord of America, it was very patriotic,” Bay explains. “We made it that way because, as my grandfather always told me, you can make money if you sell stuff to middle America, and that’s what this movie– this movie really hit the heartland of America. And you know, it’s kind of odd when you make a PG-13 movie. You’ve got to actually kind of dumb it up, you’ve gotta kind of, you gotta make it for that 13 year old and, but you’ve gotta make it interesting enough for an adult.”

Failing to walk that delicate line are an elite team of deep core screenwriters, “the best money can buy” according to producer Jerry Bruckheimer. It’s always been easy to joke about it taking, according to the credits, five writers to concoct a movie of this, uh, quality level. Most of them have done stuff I like, too. The idea reportedly came from rough and tumble Jonathan Hensleigh (DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, THE PUNISHER, KILL THE IRISHMAN), but I also read that the first draft was by the everyday Robert Roy Pool (OUTBREAK). There’s also J.J. Abrams (JOY RIDE, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3, SUPER 8, THE FORCE AWAKENS), who at that time was starting to do TV shows I believe but I don’t know much about it. And there’s Tony Gilroy (the BOURNE movies, MICHAEL CLAYTON, THE GREAT WALL, ROGUE ONE). My guess for the “very young writer” is Shane Salerno (SHAFT, SAVAGES, the upcoming AVATAR sequels, though he also wrote ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM). Uncredited writers who worked on it were Paul Attanasio (QUIZ SHOW, DONNIE BRASCO, creator of Homicide: Life on the Streets), Ann Biderman (COPYCAT, PUBLIC ENEMIES, creator of Ray Donovan), Scott Rosenberg (CON AIR, GONE IN 60 SECONDS, KANGAROO JACK, PAIN & GAIN) and might as well throw in Robert Towne (CHINATOWN, TEQUILA SUNRISE, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE).

As crazy as that is, I’ve always thought the real joke was how many acclaimed or award winning screenwriters were in the cast itself. Thornton had won the Oscar and WGA awards for best adapted screenplay with SLING BLADE in 1997. Affleck had just won the Oscar and Golden Globe for best original screenplay with GOOD WILL HUNTING. Owen Wilson had written BOTTLE ROCKET and had RUSHMORE coming soon. Buscemi had written and directed TREES LOUNGE.

Just as Summer of ’98’s first space debris ensemble movie DEEP IMPACT used Jon Favreau’s SWINGERS heat to add indie respectability to the cast, ARMAGEDDON had Wilson at a point when Bay could call him “a great new up and coming kid who I found in BOTTLE ROCKET.” His only previous Hollywood movie was ANACONDA. As mentioned, Thornton and Affleck were a few movies into cashing in on major indie success; likewise Stormare was only two years into his FARGO career breakthrough.

That’s a cooler cast than GODZILLA or LOST IN SPACE, that’s for sure. But I bet it trailed behind them in the selling-crap department. The Armadillo has guns on it. Bay says they cut the scene that gave an explanation for it, but that the real reason is that toy companies told him guns sell well. There was a Revell model of “Space Shuttle with Armadillo Drilling Unit” and a “Russian Space Center.” Hot Wheels also made an Armadillo and a “Shuttle Launch Microscape” as well as big ass action figures of Harry and A.J. in their space suits. And they come with drills for heroic drilling in your backyard.

There were also… cups or something at McDonalds.

When Disneyland Paris opened in 2002, it memorialized ARMAGEDDON’s space station explosion scene with a how-special-effects-are-done attraction:

But it will soon be closed to make room for Marvel Comics rides, so now the movie’s most lasting marks is giving us the god damn Oscar nominated “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” Aerosmith love song to get stuck in our heads for an unfortunate number of days after watching the movie. According to Bruckheimer, the song came about because Bay read in the newspaper that GODZILLA had a soundtrack album, and he said “How come we don’t have a soundtrack?” And he heard a Diane Warren song and knew that Tyler’s dad was in Aerosmith, so luckily

Doing what?

she had another job in the movie besides sitting alone in a dark NASA office worrying. There’s two Aerosmiths mixed in there with ZZ Top, Bob Seger and Jon Bon Jovi. Whoever said Nirvana killed the old long haired style of rock n roll obviously never mentioned it to Armageddon: The Album.

Meanwhile, the score by Trevor Rabin (THE GLIMMER MAN, REMEMBER THE TITANS) alternates between trying to make you put your hand over your heart and sounding like TITANIC, and I don’t think the latter is an accident. Multiple people on the commentary mention bulking up the love story in response to the success of that movie.

Long before fellow Summer ’98 releases FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, INSOMNIA and THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, ARMAGEDDON was enshrined in a special edition DVD release from the prestigious Criterion label, a controversial choice that inspired rumors and head scratching. The edition (never ported to Blu-Ray) includes a director’s cut, a laudatory essay by Bay’s Wesleyan film professor Jeanine Basinger, and the commentary track I’ve been quoting so much in this review. The track (edited together from separate interviews) is legendary for how much Affleck makes fun of the movie’s logic, but he doesn’t necessarily come out looking great. It pointedly cuts from Affleck mocking the goofiness of “stunt acting” to Willis solemnly noting that his stunt double almost died when a pipe hit him in the head.

Affleck does have some funny comments, but I hadn’t heard as much hype about what a weirdo Bay is. He brags that he thought Affleck had “baby teeth” and that he made him wear fake teeth to look more heroic.

Thanks to that illusion of manly incisors, ARMAGEDDON was the #1 worldwide moneymaker of the year (behind SAVING PRIVATE RYAN in the U.S.). And other than the Spielberg one it might be the Summer of ’98 movie people still bring up the most two decades later, even if it’s to complain or argue. It definitely caught on more than its nemesis DEEP IMPACT, even if that one seems to play more often on basic cable. Man, I really don’t like this movie, but unlike the dinosaurs it seems to be here to stay.

(please read this review in Charlton Heston voice)

Summer of ’98 connections: They put in a scene right at the beginning where Eddie Griffin’s dog attacks a toy Godzilla. Willis and Stormare already had MERCURY RISING playing in theaters. THE X-FILES also starts with a prologue where something bad happens millions of years ago that is about to come back in the present day. According to Bruckheimer, they originally had the asteroid discovered by kids. He didn’t find it believable, so he had it changed to the wacky woman hater character with the telescope. He doesn’t mention that that also would’ve been the same as what happened in DEEP IMPACT.

Unfortunate dating: They show one of the World Trade Center towers on fire.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 24th, 2018 at 10:20 am and is filed under Action, Bruce, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

53 Responses to “Armageddon”

  1. Interesting that Batman Forever was also considered a movie everybody loved and would give you shit for hating. It’s damn unwatchable now, worse than Batman and Robin.

    I know this didn’t apply to Vern but I was on the Bay train for Bad Boys and The Rock. I thought this guy had a promising style, but maybe it was just that the casts of those movies carried them for me. The Rock has a good script too, but it’s the Cage/Connery show with a side of Ed Harris. Will and Martin have good banter I guess, but Bruce (remember when this was supposed to be his action swan song?) couldn’t make this palatable.

    I’m so glad you point out the sexism of his shotgun chase around the oil rig. What bothered me most about that at the time was “haha isn’t it funny to be shooting firearms all around a flammable oil station!” I wasn’t even mature enough to appreciate the misogyny right on the surface there.

    Also the whole “it’s the size of Texas, sir.” Yeah, because fuck all your measurements and accuracy. We don’t need information about the thing that’s going to destroy us! And I’m sorry, but once they are on the rock, it did not look as vast as the state of Texas to me, so I’m going to call bullshit on that metaphor.

  2. I was 14 years old in the summer of ‘98, which is still young enough to enthusiastically love every movie you’re lucky enough to see in the theater, but I nevertheless have a very distinct memory of sitting in the theater during the scene where Steve Buschemi straddles the nuke and talks about wanting to feel the power of it between his legs and thinking “I…I’m not enjoying this movie at ALL.” It was a new sensation.

  3. Haha, you guys are making me happy all over again that I’ve never seen this (presumed) turd.

    Having said that, I’ve always thought — and this review in particular brings those feelings back — that the story itself has goofy potential in the right hands and with the right (aka goofy and fun) tone. Bay is obviously not the guy for that, and I’m quite sure Bruce isn’t either, but imagine some goofball like Kevin Smith directing Affleck and Buscemi….

    Nah, strike that. Maybe someone skilled like Taika Waititi directing Hemsworth or Jemaine Clement instead of the self-serious, patriotic nonsense we evidently got. I’m not saying you’d start up an Oscar campaign, but I think I could potentially get behind a movie like that.

  4. I’m one of the ones who like later Bay way more when he started to overtly not care about telling a story. BAD BOYS II and all the TRANSFORMERS sequels (not the first one) are the mainstream-Bay for me*. I still find it a bit head-scratching all the Bay fanboys I meet who whine he sucks now when I instead see a filmmaker who has evolved and is having much more fun while also having a much higher command of his ‘craft.’ Yeah they still go on way too long but at least it’s not filled with a terrible love story (this one and PEARL HARBOR) that Bay clearly doesn’t care about or some other bullshit.

    *PAIN & GAIN and 13 HOURS are his ‘best’ though and gives us a look into the filmmaker he wants to be.

  5. Nice. I’m just going to go ahead and cut n’ paste my Letterboxd review:

    If you could crack open the head of a Trump voter and get video of their id, I bet it would look a lot like Michael Bay’s ARMAGEDDON:

    The eternal sense of ill-defined, unlikely, but nonetheless imminent apocalyptic dread.

    The butterscotch-hued fantasy of a pre-1960s America untroubled by the JFK assassination, Watergate, or the Civil Rights Movement, in which denim-overall-clad children run free in eternal sunset and flags wave grandly in slow motion.

    The simultaneous gobsmacked fascination with technology and head-in-sand scientific illiteracy.

    The contempt for/terror of/pandering enjoyment of the foibles of immigrants, women, blacks, city folk, gays, the French, old people, wacky Asians, scientists, Hindus, Russians (oops! Not anymore!), nurses and other medical personnel, government officials, pretty much anybody who uses multisyllabic words on a regular basis, logic, sanity, coherence, and meaning.

    The mighty conviction that a bunch of blue collar white men (okay, okay, and one wacky black guy) know better than all them NASA eggheads and Librul bureaucrats could ever learn from having dedicated their lives to some particular subject. Whadda they know about astrophysics??

    And, of course, the beauty of chaos and violence…

    Hard to believe this was made twenty years ago. But one of the lessons from studying the Bay canon is that the terrors of Bushism and Trumpism were always with us, hiding inside like the chestburster in ALIEN.

    ARMAGEDDON is an unironic masterpiece of sociopolitical insight, in its way just as timely and relevant a road map to the modern cultural landscape as THE PARALLAX VIEW or TRIUMPH OF THE WILL are to theirs. It stands as a portrait of American culture just before it began to circle the drain, a prophetic vision and a key document for the understanding of future generations, assuming there are any.

    Too many Aerosmith songs on the soundtrack, though. Minus one star for that.

  6. I can’t argue with any of the opinions in the review or the above comments… even the ones that contradict each other.

    I was forced to watch this many times in the early 2000s at the laundromat in my old neighborhood. (well, I guess I could have kept my eyes closed) In that environment, I remember thinking it was a fun brand of ridiculous. I dread to think what it would be like to watch this now, or what it would have been like to see it in a darkened theater then. (as opposed to a Brooklyn laundromat)

    Some friends and I saw The Rock on opening weekend — I had never heard of Michael Bay and at that time, the frenetic editing and camera movement felt positively avant-garde. I remember that involved a Hummer, nerve gas and Alcatraz… not much else.

    PS The same laundromat also had Escape from New York in rotation — a very different movie experience.

  7. J. Eff: that was great. I’d tell you that you gained a new follower on there but I was already following you.

  8. At best I’m a moderate Aerosmith fan, really more of their initial 80’s-90’s comeback material than their classic 70’s stuff. I was of age when they were MTV’s oldest darlings, and their 1997 album NINE LIVES came out and it’s one I really enjoy to this day. But when “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” reached no. 1 on the Billboard charts, it revealed them as the corporate band they were re-designed to be a decade earlier when they quit snorting and injecting everything under the sun, and got hip to the 80’s idea that money was a better drug.

    Not unlike Vern’s statement about this revealing Bay’s true face to the world, the aftermath of their career showed them to be a bit more shameless about it. They jumped the shark to the point where now it wasn’t surprising that the band the Grateful Dead once called the druggiest bunch of guys they’d ever been around, was now slapping their names onto Disneyland rides, playing the Super Bowl halftime show with Britney Spears and spurning audiences for corporate gigs (which they were sued for once).

    This is a more amusing and comprehensive take on why they went the way they did.

    The Winners’ History of Rock and Roll, Part 4: Aerosmith

    How a big, bad drug monster begat a big-business rock band.

  9. “He’s got space dementia!”

    I liked this movie at the time for sentimental putside reasons. Havent watched it since because I’m pretty sure its dumb as hell.

    But I gotta point out how little a fuck Billy Bob gives at the end when Affleck gives him Willis’ mission patch. Billy Bob just nonchalantly goes “He did?” And thats the last line of the movie!

    Also, Bay’s sexy-ing up of NASA reminded me awhile back I interviewed an actor who had a bit part in Transformers as a secret service agent on air force one. He relayed this story to me: Someone pointed out that the flight attendants on board would not have skirts that short, and Bay said “They do in MY Air Force One”.

  10. I liked both Bad Boys and The Rock when I saw them back in the day, but man did I hate Armageddon. I vowed to never see a Michael Bay film again. I actually kind of forgot about this promise to myself until about a year ago, I was randomly checking his IMDb page and realized that I haven’t seen any of his films since Armageddon. It really wasn’t that difficult of a cow to keep it timed out.

  11. AJ sure set up his Oil Company fast. Just hours after getting off the Rigg.

  12. ARMAGEDDON is still not that great and features way more bad Bayisms than good ones, but that commentary track is a gem. All participants are giving you a glimpse at their true selves: Bay, the detail-oriented weirdo who can never see the forest for the trees in any endeavor and has no idea how crazy he’s coming off; Bruckheimer, the louche fixer who never met a problem he couldn’t throw money at; Affleck, the self-hating sellout who’s way too smart and funny for this shit but too weak-willed to turn down the paycheck; and Bruce, 20 years ago still the bored, over-it professional just trying to beat the traffic at the end of the day. You simply don’t get that degree of unvarnished honesty from commentary tracks anymore. At least not the ones for current movies. Criterion did the world a favor with this one.

  13. I think that there are too many Aerosmith songs on this soundtrack, but it’s just my opinion

  14. grimgrinningchris

    July 24th, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    Vern- Funny you mention this being the first time you were consciously aware of bad editing and camera placement, because BATMAN FOREVER was actually that movie for me. Specifically during the fight with Two Face’s thugs in the bank at the beginning. I just couldn’t figure out what was going on- either on screen (duh) or behind the scenes (“wait, this can’t be on purpose, can it? who let this scene through- shot and edited like this? what the fuck?”)

    As for Armageddon, it is a special kind of stupid. The scenes rounding up the crew and their psych evaluations and apptitude tests were funny. And even though it is COMPLETELY unearned, somehow Bruce’s kamikaze turn and “goodbye” to Liv Tyler and then the whole “permission to shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I’ve ever met” thing somehow still work to tug on the ol’ heart ropes.

    The rest of the movie is, for sure, garbage.

  15. Mr. M: It probably explains why Disney never put the track on it’s Blu-ray release, or whenever it was the Criterion went OOP. Even though people’s monocle’s drop in their tea whenever you mention the Criterion version of this, I think it was a good move for that company. It probably was a help in getting their co-operation in putting out the three movies Wes Anderson did for them, and if that’s true it may have been worth it.

  16. Grim – Don’t forget Will Patton. He’s almost too good for this. “That Salesman’s your daddy!”

    What’s he doing these days anyway?

  17. Drunk Irish Poet

    July 24th, 2018 at 7:15 pm

    There was also an ARMAGEDDON

  18. Drunk Irish Poet

    July 24th, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    There was also an ARMAGEDDON promotional candy bar, similar to a Nestle’s CRUNCH bar but made with POP ROCKS instead of puffed rice! It was an awesome piece of candy. Explosive. I wish they still made them; this would be perfect for Wonka.

  19. onthewall2983- Yeah, for all that the Criterion release of ARMAGEDDON (and, to a lesser extent, THE ROCK) gets raised eyebrows for its very existence, I think it’s pretty justifiable and I kind of wish Critereon would re-release it. It’s a bad movie for sure, but it’s really the pinnacle of a certain KIND of bad movie, and that’s not worth nothing!

  20. Christ on a crutch, I hate this movie.

    I got dragged to this one in ’98 by a (former) friend of mine. I hope that SOB rots in hell. Because he’s an SOB, not necessarily because of his making me watch this movie. But still.

    I was an Aerosmith fan before this came out. I haven’t been able to listen to them since. It didn’t help when a buddy of mine told me that their musical contributions to the movie were mainly cut tracks from recent albums.

    The stupid plot, inane explosions, vapid characters…Jesus, this thing was custom-built for an audience of Trump voters, lining up to believe whatever idiotic crap the huckster on the stage is telling them.

    Sadly, it was my niece’s favorite movie. I suspect she may have been dropped on her head a few times, and suffers brain damage.

  21. You say the editing doesn’t bother you as much anymore, but I still can’t stand it.
    Somehow, I think the frenetic bad editing from Bad Boys 2 through the Transformers’ feels of a piece with the movies, the set design, the bizarro tone, and he becomes a bit more competent at utilizing that style.

    Armageddon just feels completely incoherent, like its trying to murder you with these random angles with zero rhyme or purpose. Like the big presidential speech as they’re walking to the rocket, which should be this dramatic patriotic montage, except there’s no pacing to it because it’s just cutting to a new shot every single second, it drives me nuts.

  22. Back then that was the first Michael Bay movie that I liked. I was bored out of my mind by BAD BOYS and THE ROCK, but this one absolutely did it for me. I haven’t revisited it since its Free TV premiere, although I bought the (German, so sadly not Criterion) DVD a few years ago for cheap. And honestly, I still enjoy most of Bay’s output more than most of you here, so I won’t rule out that I still like it.

    I think I told this in another comment section, but Udo Kier (Also in BLADE that summer) once said in an interview that Bay gave him for his cameo as psychiatrist one hour with each cast member and everything that happened there was improvised. According to him, Buscemi and Michael Clarke Duncan were the most fun and came up with the greatest stuff, while Bruce Willis was the worst. (But judging by some of his earlier work, he probably just wasn’t in the mood to improvise.)

  23. @Geoffreyjar — Thank you! Tell your friends, etc.

    Definitely would like to see a Blu-Ray release of the Criterion DVD. There are many indisputably great images: for instance, there’s a beautiful shot of Liv Tyler silhouetted against a room full of blue monitors that looks like something out of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. My copy is of the first edition and its not even anamorphic.

  24. Darth Irritable

    July 25th, 2018 at 5:42 am

    I can confirm NASA offices are boring. They do not smell like my grandmother’s TV however

  25. Just wondering, is this Bruce’ first movie with a hairpiece?

  26. Boy I wish AsimovLives was still with us for this one! /s

  27. Careful what you wish for!

  28. grimgrinningchris

    July 25th, 2018 at 3:49 pm



  29. What a terrible fucking movie lol

    I think the biggest problem is just how absurd the premise is, why would you train oil drillers to be astronauts instead of training astronauts to drill a big hole? Think of how hard it is to be an astronaut.

    And the fact that Michael Bay thinks being a scientist makes you a “pussy” I guess even though astronauts are one of the most badass things you can be, proves how truly, utterly a moron he is.

    Anyway I saw it on VHS as a kid, I had just turned 9 years old and I thought it was stupid and boring, Bay failed to entertain a 9 year old.

    In fact the only reason I didn’t just turn it off unlike the time I tried to watch THE ROCK was I was watching it with my parents, but we all agreed afterward that the movie was bad.

    Michael Bay just sucks, I can understand why people want to go easy on his movies, ridiculous Hollywood bullshit can be charming, in the increasingly frightening 21st century there’s a certain comfort to be gained from movies of this type, I’m not coming at it from the perspective that I think I’m “too smart” for his movies, I can see what Bay is going for, but he just fails at it.

    I did give him one last chance and saw the first TRANSFORMERS in theaters way back in 2007, but I fucking hated it and I’ve never watched another of his movies since.

  30. I also have not paid for a Bay movie since I saw this abomination in the theater. I have a kind of sick fascination watching Transformers movies when they come on TV but I can barely ever make it to a commercial break they are so bad.

    Bay is a very good cinematographer. He sucks at pretty much everything else, and his “humor” is childish in a middle-school bully sort of way. His very existence is a travesty and a monument to the stupidity of audiences worldwide. Don’t blame this shit on America… years ago producers realized they could market incomprehensible crap to the entire world and Bay is a big part of that. Movies are now dumbed down for international viewing, to some degree because the money guys at the top see that smart movies with plots and characters don’t translate well, while explosions, pretty girls, and expensive cars are the universal language.

  31. My god is this movie terrible.
    Me and my buddy saw it at the theater and were actively groaning as the movie wore on and wore us down.

    Finally, during some nonsense about trying to fix the engine that would save everyone, my buddy turns to me and says “If this guy hits it with a hammer and it works, let’s leave.” Two minutes later we were gone.

  32. Aggressively dumb is how I always remember this movie. Lots of eye grabbing visuals that were either unnecessary or overwrought to get across the basic, fairly dumb themes. Great job dissecting all that dumbness at length.

    Here’s a great video essay taking a look at the Bay-style

    Interestingly, ARMAGEDDON barely pops up in the essay. If memory serves, ARMAGEDDON would’ve been the movie where Bay pushed things a lot with quick cutting. It’s also very striking as Vern correctly points out how culturally conservative a lot of this movie was, which I might’ve understood when this came out but probably at more of a subconscious level since I was fairly young and partly why it was such a big hit in 1998.

  33. Larry Sternshein

    July 25th, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    I hate this fucking movie. I’m so tired of these movies where everything that goes wrong does. Like in real life maybe one or two things but I’m sure blowing up a space station for reasons I still don’t understand probably wouldn’t occur.. Fuck I hate this movie.

  34. I always thought this movie was – visually – about the rise of suicide bombers. Anyone else get that vibe?

    I tried to watch this one Netflix about a year ago and couldn’t even get to the part where they go to space. It’s terribly boring, which I did not expect. Loved it when my dad took me to see it at 9, however.

  35. Pegsman – The first movie where Brice wore a hairpiece was definitely The Last Boy Scout. I read an interview with someone who worked on that and mentioned it… and he wore it again in Striking Distance.

  36. I had a friend of a friend once tell me this was her go to movie when she needed a good cry. I just stood in shock for a few beats before sputtering out, “But there are so many better…. WEST SIDE STORY!”

  37. What a truly terrible fucking movie lol

    I saw it on VHS as a kid, I had just turned 9 in fact and I thought it was stupid and boring, Michael Bay failed to entertain a 9 year old.

    The only reason I didn’t simply turn it off like when I tried to watch THE ROCK was because I was watching it with my parents, though we all agreed afterward that it sucked.

    I can understand why some people want to defend Bay, ridiculous Hollywood bullshit can be charming, but Bay is no master of that craft, he is in fact a master of taking perfectly good ideas and ruining them, last movie of his I tried was TRANSFORMERS way back in 2007 and again, it was stupid and boring, for all the action, explosions and chaos of his movies, it’s amazing how fucking boring Bay makes it, it’s the very definition of “sound and fury signifying nothing”

  38. Has anyone mentioned how much the toy Bruce in Vern’s Summer of ’98 photo (apparently) reflects his performance in the movie?

  39. Strangely enough, I enjoyed The Rock when it came out. I didn’t think it was a world-beater, but I enjoyed it.

    Which makes me wonder. Am I truly a Bay type of guy at heart, but I refuse to open myself to it because I want to be a hater? I don’t want that to be true, but I want to be honest with myself too. Is The Rock less Bay-like, or is it that I didn’t know who he was when I saw it?

    Having said that, I don’t think god itself could convince me that any moment of any Transformers movie is better than garbage.

    (And having said that, I quite enjoyed Pain and Gain, and also, to a lesser extent, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, so maybe I can be honest with myself when I enjoy some of his work.)

  40. I gave THE ROCK another try as a teen and once again, couldn’t make it far before I turned it off.

    Something about Bay’s movies is just oil and water to me, I think it’s that’s mix of cynicism and overly sincerity coupled with forehead slapping stupidity.

    THE ROCK does at least have Ed Harris.

  41. L-O-fucking-L. Michael Bay went to Wesleyan. You cannot make this shit up.

  42. He’s probably a smart guy, but one that assumes you, the audience, is a total fucking idiot.

  43. It’s not the caliber of the school that’s funny. It’s funny that a guy whose whole career is faux macho bluster went to the prototypical liberal arts school, with everything that implies.

  44. Don’t be scared to admit that you liked Armageddon (if even in secret), no one will throw you out from movielovers’ circles or some shit. Why hate Bay so much – Bad Boys and Armageddon and couple more movies are perfect popcorn fun, do not search “Stalker” in it. And you’re still no Ebert when claiming HOW much you hate Armageddon.

  45. Griff, THE ROCK at least has Connery’s only cool role since OUTLAND.

  46. I’ve never visited NASA, but I work at a similar science facility. I think I know what Bay was getting at when he said that NASA smelled like your grandma’s old TV: there’s a particular odor old electronics can emit that’s like a mix of ozone and hot dust cooking on the components. I have an old tube radio that smells like this, and I’ve definitely smelled it at my workplace at times. I’m guessing when Bay visited NASA in the 1990s, there were plenty of older electronic components around. Possibly they were outgassing decades’ worth of absorbed cigarette smoke, too!

    It’s such a weirdly specific description of a place. I really like it. It’s easily my favorite thing Michael Bay has ever done.

  47. I’m sure Vern wants to hear more complaining about Armageddon’s editing style as much as he wants to hear more about JJ’s Lens Flares, but HOLY SHIT has anyone tried to watch this movie recently? I thought it was probably Bay’s best film so far back in ’98, but man, this thing is unwatchable today. I figured the editing wouldn’t be that big a deal and I probably wouldn’t even notice it – but it’s even WORSE than its reputation! I’m sure people have already joked that it’s edited like a trailer for itself (which actually sounds like a fun and interesting approach) – but the truth is Armageddon is edited like those “trailers for the trailers”, aka the first 5 seconds of a trailer on Youtube that gives away the moneyshots of the actual trailer. It’s so aggressively cut you can’t tell what’s happening, you can’t get involved in the story, and just from an aesthetics standpoint you can’t even appreciate the supposedly “kewl” visuals that Bay thinks are so iconic and who knows, they might be if you could actually see them. I mean, they even chop up and remove verses and lines from “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” at the end to get the chorus and bridge faster even though it makes the song sound jarring and weird. Perfect metaphor for the rest of this movie.

    Unpopular opinion though: Look I’m not saying the script to Armageddon is Oscar-worthy or anything, but can we agree that a version of Armageddon that actually hit its marks and achieved what it set out to do – would actually be kind of awesome? Like a version of Armageddon where the visuals were amazing, where the action scenes were exciting, where the 15 or so comic relief characters were actually funny instead of irritating, where Ben Affleck was actually charming and likable, where you actually got sad and cried when Bruce *spoilers* at the end? It’s like if I told someone everything that happened in this movie, they’d probably go, “hey that actually sounds pretty good!” but then actually watching it is a freaking endurance test that gave me a splitting headache. It’s a two and a half hour popcorn movie so full of filler and wheel-spinning it feels like 90 minutes of content stretched into four hours. It’s so weird that this movie is simultaneously Peak Bay, but he also seems to be the completely wrong director for the job since it doesn’t really have that much Bayhem and he seems completely disinterested in the drama.

    I kinda hated Interstellar, but Christopher Nolan’s Armageddon would probably be more better than this. Zack Snyder’s Armageddon would blow this out of the water. Denis Villeneuve’s Armageddon? Sign me up. Shit I liked Danny Boyle’s Armageddon (Sunshine), Adam McKay’s Armageddon (Don’t Look Up) and Mimi Leder’s Armageddon (Deep Impact) better. Dean Devlin’s Armageddon (Geostorm) is a freaking delight and I had a big smile on my face the entire time watching it. Too bad the real Armageddon is easily the worst possible one.

  48. Yeah, but did you listen to the commentary track? Truly one of the wonders of the digital age.

  49. Majestyk – Thus lies the problem – I know the Criterion Collection only exists on DVD, and I figured I’d watch the snazzy HD version on Amazon Prime right now, which unfortunately a) obviously doesn’t have the legendary commentary track I hear so much about and b) still managed to look like shit. I mean, I don’t know if it’s Bay or the editors or maybe this movie just needs a remastering, but it’s rare for me to see a big expensive blockbuster and not be able to say “well, at least it looked cool”.

    Like, the entire last third of the movie when they’re on the asteroid – Bay is clearly trying to make it look like the planet in Alien, which sounds awesome in theory but there’s no mood or atmosphere because it just looks like a big dumb set (which I’m sure Alien was too, but at least it looked amazing). This whole movie is just a bunch of visual references that aren’t as good as the real thing – Alien, The Right Stuff, Top Gun, even the end credits at the wedding tries to look like November Rain but it doesn’t work. Even Bay’s Meat Loaf music videos at least make their borrowed imagery look interesting and memorable.

    But yeah, I may have to get a used copy of that Criterion Collection because I’m sure it would provide more entertainment than the movie.

  50. Bear in mind that the Criterion DVD is inexpicably non-anamorphic. There’s really no great way to watch this really, really not great movie.

  51. You can listen to it here, on a cool YouTube channel which has commentary tracks under slightly disguised names.


    Share your videos with friends, family, and the world

  52. The editing was always my problem with Armageddon.

  53. Pacman – thanks for the link! Saved me a few bucks and precious DVD shelf space. Besides, I’d hate to buy a non-anamorphic DVD when I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a future Criterion Blu Ray, especially since who knows, there could one day be a director’s cut which I’d actually be interested in seeing. Yes, I know I just crapped on this movie for several paragraphs, but after Zack Snyder’s Justice League showed what a night-and-day difference editing the same footage can make, I can see a pretty decent version of this movie being a possibility.

    Fred – yeah it’s so weird that even though I knew what “editing” was back in 1998, I somehow didn’t notice how crazy this movie was back then. Like, I remember having an OK time at the theater, and my friends all liked it and the audience laughed at all the comedy bits, and I thought even though it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, it was perfectly fine and inoffensive and I remember being kind of perplexed by all the pearl-clutching “death of cinema” reactions from critics. But yeah, after watching it the other night, my first reaction was “this totally is the death of cinema”.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>