'Deep Impact': THR's 1998 Review

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'Deep Impact'
A production whose sum is less than its parts.

On May 8, 1998, Paramount unveiled disaster film Deep Impact, featuring a cast that included Téa Leoni, Robert Duvall and Morgan Freeman. The film went on to gross $140 million stateside, not adjusted for inflation. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below: 

Last year, it was volcanoes; this year, comets seem to be on the disaster movie horizon.

The summer season unofficially launches Friday with Deep Impact from Paramount and DreamWorks. It's a visually stunning movie with a bevy of personal stories undercoating it, but Deep Impact is a pretty slow-moving object. It drags considerably, and mainstream action audiences are likely to find it tedious and undeniably old-fashioned.

While it will win a substantial domestic and international take, this tale about a comet headed toward Earth is unlikely to reach the box office stratosphere.

In this scenario, the sense of urgency that devastation is on the way is, perhaps, the film's strongest emotional component. Unlike other natural perils such as twisters, hurricanes and volcanoes, the sense of impending doom here is more substantial. The public has a significant amount of time to learn of the comet and react — in essence, there is panic in the streets. What is most intriguing about Deep Impact is its respectful wisdom that mankind will survive despite such an awesome calamity.

The story itself is rich, centering around an attempt by an ambitious journalist (Téa Leoni) to find the truth about a massive comet heading directly toward Earth. Not that she's any sort of scientist; she initially learns of the comet while ostensibly covering a mysterious woman named Ellie. That's the code name for the comet.

Screenwriters Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin have sagely created a human tale about the perilous grasp we have on life. The story is full of characters that are more deeply revealed than in the standard, five central members of a film of this nature. In addition, it's a smartly executed encapsulation of a plausible scientific fact — we could be struck by a comet or asteroid and suffer immediate, incendiary extinction.

In short, though, this is a production whose sum is less than its parts.

The performances, though, are moving. Indeed, the producers have assembled an all-star team of players: Morgan Freeman as a compassionate and noble president, Robert Duvall as a tenacious and heroic former astronaut, and Elijah Wood as a 14-year-old who unwittingly discovers the comet's existence.

As the dedicated journalist who has to weed out the facts, Leoni conveys a deep sense of propriety as well as the dedication of a woman on the trail of something earth-shattering.

As one would expect from the company that released Titanic domestically and another team headed by the ultimate summer director, Steven Spielberg, Deep Impact is, well, impacted by a terrific technical team.

While Mimi Leder (The Peacemaker) has a talent for directing actors and a solid visual sense, her sense of pacing is lacking. Even some of the big effects scenes seem dull. The cinematography captures a vast scope, a tribute to director of photography Dietrich Lohmann, and production designer Leslie Dilley's sets capture a sense of character and panorama. As usual, the ILM team has heightened the film with mesmerizing images. — Duane Byrge, originally published May 6, 1998.