Deep Impact (4K UHD)

Director: Mimi Leder
Screenplay: Michael Tolkin and Bruce Joel Rubin
Stars: Robert Duvall (Spurgeon Tanner), Téa Leoni (Jenny Lerner), Elijah Wood (Leo Biederman), Vanessa Redgrave (Robin Lerner), Maximilian Schell (Jason Lerner), Morgan Freeman (President Beck), Leelee Sobieski (Sarah Hotchner), James Cromwell (Alan Rittenhouse)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 1998
Country: U.S.
Deep Impact 4K UHD
Deep Impact

The year before, it was the battle of the dueling volcano movies—Dante’s Peak and Volcano. In 1998, history repeated itself, except volcanoes were replaced with giant comets on collision courses for Earth. Michael Bay’s Armageddon wasn’t due for several months, so those who couldn’t wait to see Earth destroyed by fire from the heavens had to jump on Deep Impact, whose producers swore up and down during the film’s promotional lead-in that their film was drastically different than Armageddon. They insisted that Deep Impact was really a drama, with the emphasis being on realism and how various characters react to the knowledge that their death is imminent. Maybe the deep impact of the title wasn’t meant to evoke the physical collision of the comet with the Earth’s surface, but rather the psychological and spiritual impact the impending disaster has on the many members of the human race.

Or maybe not. Let’s get real here.

Deep Impact, unlike Testament (1983), which honestly and effectively explored the dramatic reality of a nuclear war without ever showing the war, is not a drama. Not really. Like all disaster movies dating to the beginning of the cinema, Deep Impact is about the vicarious thrill of watching things destroyed. It is a vicious, cruel-hearted thrill when you really boil it down, but audiences seem to love it. No matter how much strained drama is inserted into the first hour and forty-five minutes, it is the grand climax people want to see. Just think how ticked the throngs of moviegoers would be if the comet was thwarted in the end and never hit? But, then again, what fun is it going to a summer movie where the entire human race is wiped out?

Screenwriters Bruce Joel Rubin, then best known for the supernatural dramas Ghost (1990) and Jacob’s Ladder (1990), and Michael Tolkin, who had recently adapted his own novel for Robert Altman’s The Player (1992), are actually quite creative in solving this dilemma: They have heroic astronauts break the comet into two pieces while attempting to change its course. This way, we can still have the smaller piece hit the earth and cause enough destruction to satiate the viewers who were looking for another Independence Day (1996) while keeping the chances of the larger chunk hitting the Earth questionable. Plenty of death and destruction, but not so much that it becomes morbid.

The majority of Deep Impact plays out in standard disaster movie formula, tracing several intersecting subplots concerning a variety of characters. First off, we have Téa Leoni as Jenny Lerner, an ambitious MSNBC reporter (CNN apparently got too much flak for its omnipresence in the previous summer’s Contact, so they declined to lend their letters to this film). Jenny stumbles across the government’s knowledge of the approaching comet while investigating what she thinks is a sex scandal, which the President (Morgan Freeman) may know about. Jenny then spends most of the film trying to reconcile her feelings about her father (Maximilian Schell) leaving her mother (Vanessa Redgrave) for a woman half his age.

We also have pre-Lord of the Rings Elijah Wood as Leo Biederman, an aspiring teenage astronomer who is the first to actually discover the comet. When the President announces that the government has built an immense system of underground caves to protect one million people in a worst-case scenario, Leo marries his girlfriend, Sarah (Leelee Sobieski), so they can be saved together. Of course, 800,000 of the people to be saved are selected by a random lottery, and Sarah’s parents aren’t selected, thus forcing her to choose between leaving her parents so she can live or dying with them.

Last, but not least, there is the all-important American-Russian team of astronauts who go into space in an attempt to stop the comet with well-placed nuclear bombs. The team is led by crusty-but-likable Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall), an aging astronaut resented by his younger comrades. Their first attempt to deflect the comet results in its breaking into two pieces and the near deaths of all those involved. But, don’t count them out until the end ...

Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown (Jaws) first came up with the idea for Deep Impact back in the 1970s, the heyday of the disaster genre when movies like The Towering Inferno (1974) and Earthquake (1974) regularly sat atop the box office charts. (One of the genre’s dying last breaths was 1979’s Meteor, which bears a striking narrative resemblance to Deep Impact.) Although the script went through numerous re-writes, with writers ranging from A Clockwork Orange novelist Anthony Burgess, to executive producer Steven Spielberg, it is still the weakest link in the film. Director Mimi Leder, who had recently graduated from television work with The Peacemaker (1997), the first film produced by the newly created DreamWorks SKG, delivers all she can: tons of tear-jerking melodrama, lots of pseudo-scientific jargon and explanations, and a slam-bang finale that involves gigantic tidal waves destroying New York and Washington among other places.

Despite its various faults, Deep Impact is a cut above most disaster epics—although that is not saying much. On a tight schedule that involved finishing special effects shots less than two weeks before its theatrical release, Leder managed to get some fantastic shots, including a highway jam-packed with escaping cars for endless miles and the aforementioned tidal waves, which were created in convincing detail by the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic. But, because the story is divided into so many subplots, it is hard to get deeply involved with any of the characters. You can feel the filmmakers striving for the same kind of emotional effect evoked in James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), and in some instances it succeeds. There are a few moments of genuine emotion, especially the last scene between Jenny and her father. However, Titanic had the benefit of being derived from a historic event that already carried emotional weight; Deep Impact, on the other hand, will always be a(nother) movie about a giant comet heading for Earth. Somehow, it is just not the same.

Deep Impact 4K UHD + Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • German Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • Subtitles English, English SDH, French, German, Japanese, Spanish
  • Audio commentary by director Mimi Leder and visual effects supervisor Scott Farmer
  • “Preparing for the End” featurette
  • “Making an Impact” featurette
  • “Creating the Perfect Traffic Jam” featurette
  • “Parting Thoughts” featurette
  • Photo gallery
  • Teaser trailer
  • Theatrical trailer
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateMay 2, 2023

    Deep Impact’s newly restored 2160p/Dolby Vision UHD presentation is a marked improvement over the 2009 Blu-ray. The image is sharper, better detailed (which actually detracts from some of the digital effects), and boasts a stronger filmlike presentation throughout. The image is clean and largely free of any signs of age or wear, and the Dolby Vision color grading makes the film’s color palette pop with just enough extra vigor. Thankfully, there are no signs of excessive DNR or other unwanted digital tampering, as there is a nice sheen of grain that looks very good in motion. The 4K UHD includes the same Dolby TrueHD 5.1-channel surround soundtrack from the 2009 Blu-ray. And, while one could imagine how it might be improved with a Dolby Atmos mix, the one included here is nothing to sneeze at, as it includes plenty of separation and directionality, especially in the sequences in outer space. This being a disaster movie, a heavy low end is a requisite for when comet and Earth collide, and this disc doesn’t disappoint. Fans of the film might be a bit disappointed, though, that this new edition includes no new supplements. Rather, the 4K UHD disc is packaged with a Blu-ray disc that includes all the same supplements: an audio commentary by director Mimi Leder and visual effects supervisor Scott Farmer, several behind-the-scenes featurettes, a photo gallery, and two trailers.

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    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    James Kendrick

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