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After a collision with a comet, a nearly 8km wide piece of the asteroid "Orpheus" is heading toward Earth. If it hits, it will cause an incredible catastrophe which will probably extinguish mankind. To stop the meteor, NASA wants to use the illegal nuclear weapon satellite "Hercules," but soon discovers that it doesn't have enough firepower. Their only chance to save the world is to join forces with the USSR, which has also launched such an illegal satellite. But will both governments agree? Written by
Natalie Wood took the role, so that she could play a Russian for the first time, as she was first generation Russian. See more »
The splinter that hits New York City does not appear to be going very fast (no more than sixty miles an hour) when it hits; it glides lazily past the Statue of Liberty in one shot. An object traveling at that speed would do damage, but it wouldn't cause anywhere near the amount of devastation shown. See more »
Cold War-era superpowers join forces to blow stuff up!
When NASA realizes that a 5-mile wide chunk of asteroid loosed by a passing comet is on a collision course with the Earth, they send for a retired specialist to help them develop a strategy to avoid disaster. Unfortunately, it's the Cold War-era, and success will depend on cooperation with the Russians.
Meteor arrived at the tail end of the disaster film craze of the 1970s. It's certainly not as slick as some, and in historical perspective, the production values and atmosphere are no match for Star Wars (1977) or Alien (1979), despite both of those films having smaller budgets, but it is a competent sci-fi "thriller" that tends to surmount its limitations, at least if you stick it out past the slightly clunky beginning.
At first, it seems like the film might turn out to be a derivative cheese-fest. It has a documentary-styled opening with the tone of a 1960s science educational film. It has Star Wars-styled receding titles. It has text announcing settings in an overdone font like the poster art of the film. Some of the early spaceship shots are lit so that it's clear they were small models filmed in a studio. And a somewhat awkward expository flashback device is used.
But director Ronald Neame also shows signs of transcending his missteps early on. It surely helps that Sean Connery has the starring role, with Karl Malden in a prominent supporting role at the beginning of the film. The script is more humorous than we might expect, although the humor isn't unusual when delivered from Connery. "Why don't you stick a broom up my ass; I could sweep the carpet on my way out", is an early standout line, said by Connery when he's feeling pressure due to what's being asked of him.
The further we go into the film, the more suspenseful it becomes. The drama between NASA, the president and the Russians is beautifully written. The mini-disasters before the threatened big one are exciting and tragic. And the climax is simply fantastic--Neame builds an incredible amount of suspense with a simple countdown, then he follows it up with an equally intense scenario. All of this more gripping material is well acted and well directed, with a more epic scope than we might expect and relatively admirable special effects for the era.
Most interesting, watching Meteor at this point in time, are the countless cultural oddities we get from context. Like many films of the era, Cold War politics looms large. The hinge of the plot is reminiscent of Reagan's "Star Wars" program (maybe he got the idea from the film?--a frightening thought). There are a great many jokes about Russians--at one point, Russian higher-ups fret over whether the national budget can cover a long-distance telephone call. At another point, an American character ironically remarks, "Good news, the Russians are coming".
Even funnier are two oddities very relevant to our present culture. When news of the rogue asteroid is first announced on television, it's a brief update, then they're quickly back to a football game. There's no 24-hour coverage with trumped-up, dramatic graphics and music. And this is a scenario that actually warrants that treatment. The other instance is when American officials are excessively worried that revealing a particular bit of news might result in them being called "liars" and "warmongers". There was no G.W. Bush in the White House in this film.
But as fun as those cultural differences are to note, Meteor is primarily worth watching because of the performances and the fine way in which tension is built throughout its length. It is effective enough to have been influential. Most notably it has strong similarities to Armageddon (1999), which was obviously inspired by this film.
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