Tea Leoni may be one of the worst on-screen TV news anchors in all of film, excluding those that exist purely as bit parts. She is stiff, awkward, and her inexperience shows as she is thrust into the spotlight as global annihilation possibly dooms us all.
Deep Impact overcomes that though, producing what is, quite simply, the most emotional moment of the genre. Jenny (Leoni), now in the arms of her estranged father Jason (Maximillian Schell) stand on the beach, exchanging secrets and faults. The comet, the smaller of two pieces, passes overhead, smashing into the ocean. The tidal wave is ignited, Jenny grabs onto her father, says her final word, and we see the beginning of the devastation.
A lesser film would show their actual demise; Deep Impact only shows the horror. The camera looks down from the sky as the wave washes ashore, taking away the personal element for a more widespread tragedy. It is brilliant in its emotional pull, some to follow involving heroic sacrifices and children left without a parent, these equally effective because the film focuses on the Earth aspects, not the special effects.
Deep Impact has plenty of effects, Robert Duvall sent into space in an attempt to deflect the comet. The whole thing was a dramatic case of bad timing, released just months before Armageddon’s brand of absurdity hit the screen, and in much the same fashion. Nukes are drilled into the core of the comet, ripping it apart. The difference is the disaster doesn’t end. It’s not a celebration, it’s about realization of the inevitable and how we deal with it.
The romance, the family bond, and character traits are there for added emotional pull, effectively too. Seeing people come to terms with their own demise is far more dramatic than seeing the comet hit the ocean. It’s tragic to see the streets of New York become flooded, taking countless lives with it, but it’s more involving when you see the precursor to it all.
Seeing all of the destruction, whole cities swallowed by the onslaught of comet-induced impact is what we pay to see, but it’s not what we pay for to experience the sadness underlying it all. When a movie like this, loaded with hackneyed science, world-uniting nuking, and terrible reporting can cause such a wealth of emotions, it’s done the job.
Paramount’s Blu-ray of the film uses what appears to be a dated master, and no amount high bitrate encoding will do it any favors. Maybe the film was being prepped for HD DVD and never released, because the whole thing appears like little attention was given to it. You can take your pick of the litter when it comes to technical problems. High contrast edges are brimming with edge enhancement, some worse than others. People are regularly surrounded by dark or light halos.
Grain appears clumpy and noisy, poorly resolved when its at its best. Mid to long-range shots are rather abysmal, carrying all digital qualities, few film-like ones. The first shot inside the newsroom at 7:25 appears significantly processed, the results of the sharpening and whatever else happened to this encode readily apparent. Establishing views, James Cromwell’s home at 12:33 especially, feature limited definition. Various plants, trees, and the home itself are muddy and indistinct.
Late special effect scenes suffer from significant banding (1:27:56), more than likely the now dated CGI than any compression issue since the AVC codec stays well above 30MBPS. Flesh tones vary, the scene with Cromwell warmer than anything else in the film, but the majority settle within a flat pinkish hue, a few steps below natural. The color palette is typically muted, the general contrast and deep blacks generating any depth within the image. Minor print damage in the form of brief specks and scratches are apparent as well.
It’s a shame most of the film looks like it does, the number of superlative close-ups rather high in number, sadly sedated whenever the camera pulls back. Even the close-ups are hampered though, the coarse, noisy grain structure hindering the full range of high-fidelity detail from coming through even at its peak.
A comet smashing into the surface of the planet should produce a wealth of bass since it would probably be the loudest thing humanity has ever heard. Oddly, the sound design doesn’t exactly accentuate the impact, the visual effects moving into space for the full breadth of the hit and the end result is a disappointing punch. Those looking for low-end work have their hunger satiated when the rock passes overhead on the beach, the roar as the atmosphere fights back increasing the scale of the event. The incoming wave does much the same, a real kicker in terms of bass as the cities fall under its height.
That tremendous rush of water pans through the surrounds from the stereo channels as well, creating the sensation of being swallowed by the tidal wave effectively. Screaming victims, cars picked up, and debris passing through are all effectively conveyed by this TrueHD effort. The most memorable moment of the entire film, at least in terms of surround engagement, comes inside the earth-saving ship Messiah as it begins its descent onto the space rock at 46:30. Smaller, scattered debris ping off the surface hull convincingly and aggressively.
Given the movie’s limited approach to its action, the sound design begins a focus on “being there,” whether that’s inside the news room as reporters scurry about or outdoors where bird chirps are heard spreading around the available channels. Inside a bar, the band mingles with the conversations on the floor, much like James Horner’s score mixes in with the most intense moments flawlessly. There are no moments where fidelity is lost, and no issues in terms of source flaws.
A commentary comes from director Mimi Leder and visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar. Three featurettes focus on the various parts of development, Preparing for the End detailing the conceptual origins, Making the Impact on the locations, and Parting Thoughts on various post-production topics, including the untimely death of cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann. Creating the Perfect Traffic Jam is an additional piece focused on the complexity of shooting the final scenes and keeping extras in line. A photo gallery and trailers remain.