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Movies & TV

22nd Jun 2018

The four-time Oscar-nominated movie that Michael Bay thinks is his worst movie turns 20 this week

Rory Cashin

It was also a disaster behind the scenes, but these things have a way of working out…

A few years ago, when on the red carpet for his movie Pain & Gain (a bad movie), which he directed in between Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (a bad movie) and Transformers: Age Of Extinction (a bad movie), Michael Bay was asked by a reporter what movie would he change if he could go back and do it again.

He told the Miami Herald the following:

“[We] had to do the whole movie in 16 weeks. It was a massive undertaking. That was not fair to the movie. I would redo the entire third act if I could. But the studio literally took the movie away from us. It was terrible. My visual effects supervisor had a nervous breakdown, so I had to be in charge of that. I called James Cameron and asked ‘What do you do when you’re doing all the effects yourself?’ But the movie did fine.”

Of course, the problem here is that he is talking about Armageddon (a good movie).

Bay was coming in hot off the back of Bad Boys in 1995, and The Rock in 1996 (which is better than Con-Air, don’t @ us), and was making a name for himself as the new go-to guy for action-packed blockbusters now that James Cameron was off making love stories on big boats.

So along came producers Jerry Bruckheimer (if you’ve seen any movie or TV show with an explosion in it in the last 30 years, he’s probably been involved in half of them) and Gale Anne Hurd (behind the majority of James Cameron’s movies, actually…) with a script co-written by real up-and-comer J.J. Abrams about an asteroid and a group of oil drillers…

With a lot of talented people behind the camera, it is sometimes easy to forget just how impressive the collection was in front of the camera, too: Bruce Willis (in between The Fifth Element and The Sixth Sense, so real PEAK Willis), Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Will Patton, Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson, William Fichtner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Peter Stormare, Jason Isaacs, Keith David and Udo Kier.

That is the kind of eclectic cast you normally associate with a Wes Anderson quirk-fest, or when The Coen Brothers call in all of their favours at the same time, not a big Hollywood movie about explosions in space.

That same year, another astronauts land on an asteroid to stop in blowing up the Earth movie went into production, with a less action-inclined director (Mimi Leder – Pay It Forward, The Leftovers), and a less impressive cast (apologies to Robert Duvall, Tea Leoni, Elijah Wood and Morgan Freeman, but facts are facts).

Affleck famously told Bay that it would be MUCH easier to teach astronauts how to drill, rather than the other way around. Bay’s response? “Shut up.”

NASA have since added the film to their training programme for new managers, asking them to point out as many technical issues with the movie as they possibly can. At last count, apparently they’ve found 168.

And that isn’t even mentioning the fact that in the movie, a lot of things seem to catch fire and loudly explode. Y’know, in the air and sound vacuum of space…

Clip via TheRobinsonCobras

Most of the cast seemed to know in advance what kind of movie they’d signed up for, with Buscemi saying the reason he got involved is because “I wanted a bigger house”, and Thornton often made jokes about starring in it, also saying he only did it for the money.

Even Willis himself was a late addition, only getting on board when the studio agreed to absorb the cost of a failed project of his (the awful sounding Broadway Brawler) against his salary, as part of a three-picture deal with them, which ended up working out quite well for Willis, as the other two movies turned out to be The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable.

Affleck later said he would never work with Bay again, apparently not a huge fan of his directing style, and Bay admitting earlier that the production itself all started to fall apart towards the end, after his special effects guy had a nervous breakdown and he had to take over things himself.

But like we said, these things have a way of working out. Released in cinemas on 1 July 1998, the $140 million production went on to make almost $555 million worldwide (over $200 million more than Deep Impact), and actually was nominated for four Oscars – Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects (which it shockingly lost to Robin Williams’ heaven-set drama What Dreams May Come), and of course, Best Original Song, for ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’, which it lost to ‘When You Believe’, the Mariah Carey/Whitney Houston duet from The Prince Of Egypt.

Bay would never be this good again, next working on Pearl Harbour (Titanic with explosions!), then The Island, and then what felt like forty-seven Transformers movies.

And critics at the time weren’t terribly kind, as it stands with a 39% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with the New York Times simply describing it as “The end of the world is going to be very noisy and filled with some of the worst dialogue ever.”

In spite of all of that, Armageddon has retained a certain kind of title in the last 20 years, staying alongside the likes of The Rock, Con Air, Face/Off and Speed as action movies that are impossible to turn off if you happen to be scrolling through the stations.

Despite being over two-and-a-half-hours long, the whole thing zips by in a purely fun, totally frenetic blur, and even if they did get most of the actual science wrong – apparently tying someone to a chair with duct tape is the actual NASA protocol for immobilizing a crazed crew member. Although ‘space dementia’ itself is absolutely not a thing.

Clip via Jonathan Syu

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