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Movie Review: Armageddon

For some reason, I thought I needed to see this movie when it was released in 1998. The marketers successfully tapped into my psyche to get a few dollars from me.

Within a half hour, the movie insulted both the petroleum industry and NASA. Corny, corny, corny! Corny! A part of me wanted to leave the movie theater; another part said the show might get better and I had to get full value for my ticket. I finished the movie with a wasted evening and no value for my money.

I had no inclination to watch this movie again. But these days, I have a sore back—and lying on the back is good healing. And watching TV is a good diversion when lying on my back. Then a few evenings ago, I clicked to the American Movie Channel, and Armageddon was just starting. I could play iPhone games while watching this bad movie again.

Harry Stamper, played by Bruce Willis, has johnwayned his way into the American petroleum industry. He has built up Stamper Oil from nothing to an offshore drilling platform. He calls all the shots, from sniffing for oil locations to delivering oil to the refinery and collecting a big, big check. He knows everything there is to know in this industry. No one in his crew is allowed to make suggestions. If there ever is an example of an American finding success mostly on sheer willpower, Harry Stamper comforts us.

But the truth is that the petroleum industry comprises of many different sub-professions, each with its own experts. No one knows everything. And many specialized companies are involved with drilling a well—not just one!

On the offshore drill rig. Harry’s crew deliberately entices a blowout to prove that Harry has found oil. While his crew panics with erupting oil (which somehow does not catch fire), Harry rushes through spewing oil to shut off a magical valve that only he knows about. He saves the day. What an American!

The truth is that the petroleum industry goes to great lengths to not have blowouts. Before a blowout, the well may kick. Kicks need to be killed before they become blowouts. Drilling crews have established procedures to identify and kill kicks. But kicks do not provide the excitement to make a good scene for a blockbuster movie. And kicks require more than one secret valve to be turned. In fact, the rig crew is aware of these valves—and is well trained to operate them.

But drilling oil wells is not the main plot to Armageddon. An asteroid the size of Texas is coming to earth. NASA has secretly been preparing for such an event. It has developed two specialized space shuttles and two asteroid drilling rigs. The shuttles will land on different parts of the asteroid. Each rig will drill a hole; then the crew will insert a nuclear bomb. If one rig is successful, the asteroid will be blown up.

But all of this machinery has been a state secret—with American taxpayers not knowing about it. Typical American government, right?

The trouble is that the NASA astronauts are not able to run the drilling rig to make a hole in the rock. The smart people did not foresee this, which makes them look silly. Tail between their legs, they try to convince Harry’s crew to run the two rigs—because drilling is “an art, not a science.” Not anybody can drill holes into rock.

Harry’s crew accepts the mission—under the condition that they don’t have to pay taxes ever again. Paying taxes is so un-American. Especially for American heroes.

There are only two weeks remaining before the asteroid crashes to Earth. In a few days, Harry’s crew is trained to be astronauts: capable of putting on spacesuits, working in a low gravity environment, and running those asteroid drilling rigs, which look nothing like the drilling rigs on Earth. This shows any American can be an astronaut with minimal training. But a good driller requires years and years of hands-on experience. Go figure!

For some reason, the movie did not stretch the plot to where Harry’s crew was driving the shuttles. Real movie astronauts did that. But these movie astronauts had another theatrical purpose. They provided great foils in the battle of The Educated vs. The Uneducated. Guess which side Harry and his crew belonged to! When the plotline proves Harry’s crew is actually smarter, Americans can feel good about themselves with their state of being less uneducated. 

Once in space, Harry’s crew goes through a series of dramatic accidents, each of which gives them a 3% chance of survival. A few of the crew are killed off. But most cheat death and injury several times over to show again how Americans are able to johnwayne their way through most obstacles.

Like any good action movie, there is a lot of conflict. If Harry and his crew did not get their way, a shouting match ensued. The uneducated victors shouted louder and longer than those they disagreed with. Now where have we seen that before?

And when shouting didn’t work, it was time for physical intimidation and violence. Even Harry’s voluptuous daughter gives NASA officials several haymakers to help them understand her point of view. Yep, that is the American way to solve American problems.

In the end, Harry sacrifices himself to activate the nuclear bomb in the asteroid. His motive is to give his daughter a good, long life. He doesn’t seem to care that he is saving billions of people.

When this film was released in 1998, we could claim it was mostly entertainment or escapism. No real harm was done with these comical characters and comical plot. The big money behind the film was only trying to make a bigger pile of money.

But it is now 2021. All the traits of these comical 1998 characters have become more mainstream. This film reinforced values that were not conducive to an advancing civilization. There is a connection between Harry Stamper’s crew of 1998 and the USA’s current political chaos in 2021.

The artists and financiers behind Armageddon fattened their bank accounts at the expense of a better society. Someday we will truly understand the forces that come from talented artists.

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