Meteor (1979)

Meteor (1979), directed by Ronald Neame, written by Stanley Mann and Edmund H. North, starring Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden. Brian Keith, Henry Fonda

After I wrote of Roberta Williams' Mission Asteroid I decided that it would be fun to check out an old flick about asteroids threatening the Earth. And by old, I mean older than Armageddon. Thus I came upon Meteor, a Sean Connery flick, where unfortunately we don't see Bond himself drilling a nuclear bomb into a dangerous space rock. Can't have it all, I guess, but it at least is Sean Connery trying to get the Soviets and the USA to fire their missiles towards the meteor (or an asteroid as it should be called as it's in space after all).

The tale begins when Bradley (Connery) is halted in the midst of a sailing competition and called to NASA. There he soon learns, that a comet has hit an asteroid in space, hurtling a chunk 5 miles in radius towards the Earth. Sherwood (Malden) wants Bradley to convince the top brass to aim the secret weapon of the USA, a satellite named Hercules and its 16 nuclear missiles, towards the nasty space rock. After some calculations, it becomes clear, however, that the USA misles aren't enough. Luckily the Soviet Union has their own space weapon as well, which would, in combined force, do the trick.

Actually, I lied a bit. Before we even see Bradley on his sailing ship, there's an opening narration about asteroids and comets hurtling through space. That's where the movie begins, really, with a bit of a science lecture and some half decent space shots. And obviously, some sci-fi noises for the comets when they fly past the camera.

Like I said though, there's no Sean Connery doing asteroid drilling here. The main focus of the story is on negotiations between the USA and the Soviet Union in order to make the big dogs work together in order to save the planet so that there's something left for the future people to argue about. The president of the USA (Fonda) is shown as the reasonable chap, who even declared the secret weapon of the USA to the world in order to make the Soviets do the same.

You'd think that with a story like this the movie itself could have been some sort of a hybrid political thriller/ disaster movie, but in the end, it's kind of a half-assed attempt at both. While there are scenes from the Soviets, showing their reluctance to reveal their secret weapon, as well as united nations negotiations, there's no real tension there. The political side of things clicks in place with relative ease with the Soviet scientists Dubov (Keith) and Donskaya (Wood) making things work during their stay at secret Hercules headquarters in New York. The thing is, that none of the characters really stand out. There are character scenes, but in the end, there's so little time given to the politics and the characters, that they all feel almost like side notes.

Meteor does feel more like a disaster movie though, albeit a bit dated one. The big destruction scenes include a ski resort avalanche when a meteor strikes a mountain, a destruction of a manned spaceship that was on the asteroid belt taking measurements of the comet passing by, a tidal wave flooding Hong Kong and the devastation of New York when a fragment hits the ground. And then there's a tonne of shots of nuclear missiles launching,  flying slowly through space and finally hitting their target. There even is a mandatory "main protagonists leads people to safety from ruins" scene at the end of the movie when Bradley leads his co-workers to safety through a flooding subway.

The special effects are pretty much like you'd expect them to be in a late 1970's movie. Star Wars or 2001: A Space Odyssey this was not. It is as dated as you can imagine, but then again, there's always a certain amount of charm in the effect work such as this. And I do like the design of Hercules the little we end up seeing it on the screen. But most of the special effects scenes are badly visibly dated, so liking them is a bit of an acquired taste.

While there are interesting themes and ideas in Meteor, its biggest failures are in the direction and editing. It never really manages to build up tension and the feeling of dread a situation like would inevitably cause. We do see some of it, but it doesn't manage to get over the goal line, leaving many of its ideas as half-finished underexplored thoughts. It is a movie, that had the potential to be a classic, but now, the way it is, it only manages to be a half-forgotten, a tad boring curiosity. If Sean Connery wouldn't be the star of it, I doubt anyone would remember it.