Armageddon:  the bête noire of the Criterion Collection.  When I explain what the Criterion Collection is to friends who aren’t familiar with it, I rattle off the usual suspects:  Kurosawa, Truffaut, Fassbinder, Hitchcock.  But each and every time, I leave out Michael Bay.  His name slips my mind.

The rabid fans of the Criterion Collection have conflicting feelings regarding Armageddon:  more than a few think that having Michael Bay in the Collection legitimizes his brand of filmmaking:  big, noisy, and hyper-masculine to a fault.  Others see Bay’s presence as “guilty pleasure,” the cash cow that funds overlooked gems.  But why can’t it be both?

As to where I fall on the Armageddon divide, that question has already been answered.  In the summer of 1998, when it came out, I had already chosen the other “killer asteroid” movie, Deep Impact, over it. My small, reptilian brain casing only has enough room for one apocalypse at a time, and Hollywood has a penchant letting similar films compete with each other — witness 1997’s battle royale between Volcano and Dante’s Peak.  This cutthroat release schedule is the entertainment-biz equivalent of Godzilla vs. King Kong.  Except that no one wins.

Why I saw Deep Impact instead of Armageddon, I’m not sure.  It might be that Deep Impact came out first.  Or it could be my innate distrust of Bruce Willis.  Or, it could simply be that I snuck into the film after watching something slightly more reputable.  While I was living in Washington, D.C., I did this often:  paying to see one movie and spending the entire afternoon wandering from one theater to another, taking in whatever spectacle happened to blossom after the trailers.

I try to be immune to Hollywood blockbusters, but part of their charm is their inherent ridiculousness.  Michael Bay recognizes it — on his commentary track, he explains the reason his asteroid-exploration vehicles have machine guns was because of the Mattel tie-in:  trucks with guns sell better.  Ben Affleck, on the same track, compares the über-patriotic scenes of Americana to a commercial for Miller Genuine Draft.  So even if I groan during the ‘heartland of America’ sequences, I also duly note an increased heart rate as the Russian space station is about to explode, threatening to take the poor cosmonaut with it.  (Ben Affleck, I don’t care so much.)

With Deep Impact, all I remember is end of the world:  Téa Leoni embracing her father as the mile-high tidal wave comes to consume them.  1998 was my last summer in D.C.  Soon, I’d return to my parents’ house in Denver, that momentary post-collegiate freedom swallowed by economic necessity (also:  an extravagant trip to Vietnam).  At the time, I didn’t feel like embracing my parents in the face of the cataclysmic destruction of my God-given American lifestyle, but if I could kill a few hours wallowing in some harmless, ear-shattering blockbusters, why not?  No one watches these movies pretending they approach anything to real life.  Real life waits outside the theater, waiting to clobber you over the head, like the piece of asteroid the crew don’t manage to destroy.

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