A Sort Of Tribute: Meteor

meteor poster

Before the Bayhem of Armageddon, pre-dating the drama of Deep Impact, there was 1979’s Meteor! (a film that would be improved, Airplane! style, by an exclamation mark and a heavy does of humour).

To my young eyes back then it was an awesome concept– a meteor fragment five miles wide, sheared off Orpheus, the largest asteroid in the belt, by a rogue comet, is on a collision course with Earth. Heading straight for New York, of course – the disaster magnet zone. The only thing that can stop it is two orbiting weapons platforms – America’s Hercules, and Russia’s Peter The Great. Each Cold War warrior must work with the other to destroy the star beast before it plunges us into another ice age.

Grumpy Hercules proginator, ex- Nasa scientist Dr Paul Bradley (Sean Connery), is pissed off because the Air Force have taken over Hercules and aimed it at the Soviets. He had created it precisely for the purpose for which it is now needed – to destroy foreign objects threatening to impact with the planet. Karl Malden (Harry Sherwood) brings him back into the fold, and against the wishes of hysterical General Adlon (Martin Landau), team up with the Russians. They send over cuddly chief scientist Dubov (Brian Keith) and his assistant / interpreter, Tatania Donskaya (Natalie Wood).

Meteor was years in the making, but the results are very disappointing. Director Ronald Neame had previously helmed The Poseidon Adventure, but whereas that film had the suspense of who will live, who will die? as the survivors struggle through the submerged vessel, here the “drama” is mostly cold war politics, and endless shots of scientists looking at computer monitors, or tearing off printouts while gulping down coffee.

YouTube was shit in the '70's

YouTube was shit in the ’70’s

Once again, Connery committed to a project, didn’t like it, and, along with Neame, was involved in rewrites. That still didn’t stop him dismissing it as “a piece of shit.”  You would think the writers could come up with something more exciting – Edmund H North had written The Day The Earth Stood Still – actually, in retrospect, this comes across as a film with that 1950’s vintage, rather than a film riding the crest of Irwin Allen’s spectaculars.

The film makers seemed very proud of their research about the devastating effects such a large meteor would have should it crash into us. A shame they didn’t pay attention elsewhere. Early on, a tiny manned(!) Mars space probe is diverted (with real time two way communication) to investigate the comet just before it hits Orpheus, its astronauts pretending to subtly bob about in zero-G. When the President (a phoning it in Henry Fonda) finally reveals the truth about the shit storm about to come down, and the US attempt to avert it, no-one at the press conference, or watching on TV, goes apeshit. Everyone just carries on like he’s announced a set back in Obama care. Connery, as the one man who can save the world, growls, “Why don’t you stick a broom up my ass? I can sweep the carpet on my way out.” The prevailing colour is beige (or shit) reflecting the turgid pace and bland direction. A highpoint for me on re-watching was Mr Fairbrother from Hi-De-Hi! pop up as a BBC reporter.

It takes a full hour before anyone on Terra Firma cops it as the smaller meteor fragments hit us. Even then, the effects are lousy, and most footage is lifted from another film. Neame said, “What changed the film from being something I could have been proud of to a horror were these special effects. The head of that lamentable department has insisted on taking his own camera on location. The producers accepted this request, despite the advice of our camerman, Paul Lohmann, who wanted him to take a guaranteed steady Panavision camera. He assured us his was equally steady – but it wasn’t. Consequently, the footage he filmed could not be married precisely to our shots. No amount of lab work could put it right.”

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In fact, three separate FX and Optical supervisors worked on the film. The final unlucky sod, Bill Cruse, ended up using avalanche footage from another film he’d previously worked on (Avalanche, funnily enough – also crying out for exclamatory punctuation), as a meteor ploughs into the Alps. A skier was matted in as the snow buries him and the chattering ski lodge set (not to be missed). A large miniature of Hong Kong harbour was built for the scene of its destruction by a meteor caused tsunami, but the hard work is undone by the water, impossible to scale correctly. It just looks like something out of Thunderbirds.

meteor hong kong

The sight of New York being completely levelled is very disappointing. Apart from a nice shot of the Twin Towers being obliterated, the rest is just a huge series of explosions filling the screen, intercut with stock footage of what looks like buildings being destroyed in films illustrating the effect of a nuclear blast.  Connery and co are in the top secret Hercules control room beneath New York’s AT &T HQ, and have to launch their missiles forty minutes after Russia so that they synchronise correctly at the planned impact point in space. This is just before the city is to be destroyed above them, and has all the suspense of a deflating balloon. To cut the tension, Connery tries to seduce Wood into staying in America. “You’d like it here you know. We’ve got everything:power cuts, strikes, unemployment, race riots, and a terrific crime rate.”

Rob Black, who had worked on Star Wars, handled the space effects. The model rockets are too brightly lit, looking every inch the tiny size they probably were. The New York times described them memorably as “undernourished bowling pins”. When they impact with the meteor (actually a piece of volcanic rock, rather than a model) it is laughable, multiple snapped close ups of shiny rocket noses filling the screen before the big bang.

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Meanwhile, back on Earth,, there’s a priceless scene where Connery forces the doors of the base open after they’ve been caved in. His shocked face in close-up cuts to the meteor, seemingly tumbling towards him.  Whoever edited this gets my vote for comic timing there.

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Audiences and critics taking a dump on Connery

Connery’s shit sandwhich is complete as the muddy (read shit infested) Hudson river breaks through the walls, covering the base workers in brown stuff. As they make it past this and wait for rescue, they team up with what I presume are a couple of hookers who were working the subway above them. As rescuers drill through the debris, the women nonchalantly light up cigarettes. Ah, New Yorkers. Nothing fazes them, not even the complete destruction of the Big Apple…

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“Y’know what? it doesn’t look as bad from up here.”

Originally posted 2014-03-09 17:26:42. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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