A year ago, a budding astronomer and schoolboy named Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood) spotted something anomalous in the night sky, and was moved to contact a professional (Charles Martin Smith) about it. He was interested in what appeared to be a new star, but after taking a closer look at the data he surmised there was something very dangerous about what turned out to be a comet millions of miles away, so he rushed out of the observatory and into his jeep, then zoomed along a mountain road at insane speeds while on his phone, which caused him to crash into a truck heading in the opposite direction, leaving his vehicle flying through a barrier whereupon it exploded and tumbled down a mountain. For this reason, his findings were not acted on straight away...
If that opening five minutes did not alert you that we were in for a ridiculous movie, then the next hour and fifty-five would do the trick, as it fashioned a fatal trip for its astronomer character who would still be alive if he had simply gone to bed and slept on the information, then driven down to relay it at a sensible pace. Yet it did highlight the strong aspect of anti-science to Deep Impact, or at least the powerlessness of science in the face of religion: God created man, but He also created ‘splosions, and the bigger they were the better His muscle-flexing was so that we would not forget who was in charge. This was definitely the more pious of the two battling killer asteroid movies of 1998, the other being Michael Bay's Armageddon.
That they were both hits was testament to the public's captivation with the notion that the end of the second millennium was basically heralding an apocalypse, and even if you did not believe that literally, the very concept was an attractive one in entertainment. This has never really gone away, if anything it moved from religion to entertainment and straight into politics and nobody batted an eyelid, which makes Deep Impact and its fellow extinction level event movies less quaint and more tapping into one of the less salubrious zeitgeists of the twenty-first century. Armageddon was more interested in the action side of the possibilities, while its rival was keener to craft a science fiction weepie where we could have a really good cry about the end of the human race.
Only that would likely not be your reaction without you being happy to buy into a bunch of teeth-squeakingly saccharine plotlines where cardboard, single issue characters would interact in soap opera fashion, all glossed up with the biggest budget Dreamworks could afford. None of this was particularly palatable unless you had an unironic appreciation of the depths emotional manipulation could sink to in Hollywood movies, though the unconvinced could settle for some unintentional laughs and an Olympic Games of eye-rolling - though actually, there was little international about this at all, the end of the world was actually the end of the United Goddamn States of America, and everywhere else on the globe was purely superfluous, a couple of token non-American characters aside, and they were expendable too.
Robert Duvall led the astronauts attempting to blow up the comet in a redesigned Space Shuttle by drilling bombs into its surface, which was exactly how they planned to neutralise the threat in the Bay movie, and there was an act of self-sacrifice in that one too to hopefully prompt you to tears, though Duvall was unseemly in his enthusiasm to leave boffin Jon Favreau to die in space, another example of the anti-science agenda where we were left in the hands of the Almighty as to whether we survived or not. And as God equals detonations, we were served up big ones, one manmade though blessed with operating for His works. Meanwhile Téa Leoni struggled to have more than one expression on her face (she settled for "pained" early on and didn't waver from that) as a TV reporter who becomes the voice of the deity - well, the voice of The President anyway, who was played by Morgan Freeman, a popular actor for godlike roles. As typical with a blockbuster of this era, the ensemble cast was rather odd, with Vanessa Redgrave and Maximilian Schell as Téa's parents, for instance, though even they were more palatable than the syrupy dilemma of Wood and his "wife" Leelee Sobieski. Interesting because it was of its time but also wouldn't look out of place in the movie schedules for decades to come. Music by James Horner.