Despite being derided as being so terrible that it helped create its own mass extinction level event (the end of the 1970s disaster movie genre), if we’re being honest, Meteor is a painfully accurate depiction of what would happen if the Earth was about suffer a large asteroid impact.
Namely, that our heroes would push a few buttons, turn some dials, and watch countdown clocks and computer monitors until the giant rock either hit us or it didn’t while bustling around huffing and puffing to disguise the fact that they really had nothing to do but stand around with their thumb in their asses the whole time.
It must have been an hour or so into this astrological atrocity, when I finally began to wonder just why exactly was star Sean Connery’s Paul Bradley involved in any of this. He was in charge of the Hercules project which was an orbiting platform armed with nuclear missiles. He quit NASA when instead of them pointing Hercules at deep space to protect against an asteroid attack, the government instead pointed it at the Soviet Union.
Bradley’s naïveté that the government would spend all that money to guard against a theoretical deep space threat instead of an actual threat on Earth is matched only by his holier-than-thou attitude about it all. His know-it-all obnoxiousness though is thankfully overshadowed by the temper tantrum prone general played by Martin Landau.
His General Adlon ably demonstrates how bad the dialogue is and provokes unintended snickers when he makes his displeasure with not being in charge of Hercules anymore known by ranting, “When common sense is restored! And the President has returned control of this center to me! I shall return! To this center!” With the odd pauses in those awful lines, I thought maybe Landau had either forgotten what he was going to say or was just making it up!
But the story actually demanded such silly moments because otherwise, nothing would be happening other than the following sequence – long shots of a rock flying through space, close ups of the rock, reaction shots of people in the command center looking at the cheesy low tech trajectory map showing how many days until impact.
It’s also probably why we had to have the sexy Russian translator Tatiana (Natalie Wood) tell Bradley about her personal life at the command center’s canteen. (Try not to laugh at the lazy set design when you see the canteen is just part of the same room as the command center, stocked with a single pathethic salad bar, some tables and chairs and two space-themed pinball machines.)
The first part of the film’s drama is supposed to come from whether we can convince the Russians to use their secret orbiting missile platform in conjunction with Hercules as the only chance of success is with their combined firepower. The Russians have access to the same data as the U.S. so there really wasn’t any doubt they would. After that though, Connery is just reduced to getting reports from different parts of the world getting hit by splinters of the asteroid. Avalanche in the Alps? Tidal wave in Hong Kong? Yikes, what’s on the other channel?
But then one hits New York City and causes a cave in at their underground command center! An underground command center next to a subway tunnel which is next to the Hudson River! Connery half-heartedly moves a few pieces of debris, climbs on some rubble in the tunnel and ends up taking a mud bath when the river fills the tunnel. Then he and most his crew make it up the stairs to the platform where they wait for someone on the surface to dig them out. The real unexplored drama was whether Natalie Wood’s beautiful hair would ever be the same after being soaked with all that fake mud!
Since our earthbound characters have nothing to do but wait before swimming out of a giant mud puddle, the real stars of the film have to be the special effects. Specifically a rock and two models of the missile launching platforms. Sadly, the rock looks like a rock. And the models look like models. Looking at how delicate and tiny looking the models appeared to be made me fear not they wouldn’t destroy the asteroid, but that they wouldn’t make it through filming without breaking. But to be fair, if my kid built these models, I’d be impressed. Not so much though in a $16 million movie.
Even more astonishing is that the money apparently didn’t go to all the destruction seen in the film. Portions of the disaster in the Alps were borrowed from the Roger Corman produced Avalanche, while the buildings being blown up in New York City were really housing projects in St. Louis which were demolished several years before! Sean Connery was probably wondering why they couldn’t scrape up some mudslide stock footage that would have saved him the respiratory ailment he came down with in those scenes!
While Meteor didn’t single-handedly snuff out the era’s disaster genre (the notoriously hilarious The Concorde … Airport ’79 and the 1980 mega flop volcano eruption film When Time Ran Out helped to triple team the genre into going the way of the dinosaurs), it cluelessly wallowed in the worst tropes of the genre.
Big name actors (Connery, Wood, Karl Malden) and cameos by legends (Henry Fonda), all with dopey dialogue, pointless backstory (Bradley’s estranged wife is established in a single phone call and she’s never seen again), moronic decision making (even if you have no scientific training, who would ever give the order to have astronauts to fly their spaceship in close proximity to two asteroids about to collide) and nothing to do of any consequence all combined disastrously with consistently substandard effects, goofy music and a limp payoff made all the worse by the cringe-worthy red carpet departure for the Russians complete with Bradley forcing an icky kiss on Tatiana.
Even the movie’s best special effect, having the Russian-fluent actors Wood and Brian Keith speak Russian during the film eventually became annoying and just reeked of them showing off. This Meteor is five miles wide of crushing boredom.
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