Dr Paul Bradley (Sean Connery) is an ex-NASA consultant participating in a yacht race when a military vessel draws up along side and its crew demand that he accompany them. Extremely reluctantly, Paul complies and soon finds himself back at NASA, complete with a case of his own clothes that his estranged wife has packed for him. He wants to know what this is all about, and the man to tell him is his old colleague Harry Sherwood (Karl Malden), who sits him down at a table with a couple of military men. It seems that last week the manned spaceship sent to investigate Mars was given a new mission to observe a comet headed for the asteroid belt, and that comet hit the biggest asteroid there, sending fragments in all directions and destroying the spaceship. Now there's a huge fragment headed for planet Earth - how can it be stopped?
They're meaty alright! Erm... they're meteorites! And they're on a collision course with us! What to do? This film came at the last gasp of the disaster movie cycle of the nineteen-seventies, when the ideas had run dry and the soap operatics were decidedly stale. Written by Stanley Mann and Edmund H. North from North's story, it's a science fiction take on the genre, with space rockets and special effects which are adequate without being stunning, and an end of the world message that unsubtly compares the way the Cold War is developing to the imminent destruction of all mankind. For you see, East and West must put aside their differences if the catastrophe is to be avoided, and the man to bring them together is the world's most famous Scotsman.
The reason Paul has been brought in is that he designed a system that would avert disaster if there just happened to be a miles-wide chunk of rock hurtling in this direction. And the reason he left NASA is that the system he devised has been put in orbit over the Soviet Union, its meteor mangling missiles pointed behind the Iron Curtain, so instead of saving lives it now threatens to take them, all in the name of politics. However, it doesn't take long for Paul to be persuaded to rejoin his ex-colleagues, even if the military are suspicious of his motives: obviously if the United States admits that it has a superweapon pointed at its enemies then they have a lot of explaining to do. Luckily for diplomacy (in a funny kind of way), the Soviets have one too, pointed straight at North America.
The cast is largely made up of the type of ageing or faded stars you'll have become accustomed to if you've seen enough of these things. Notable among them is Henry Fonda as the President, an ashen-faced voice of reason before the military. And the military is represented by a very loud Martin Landau as the stupid General, who refuses to believe the danger is as great as Paul says it is mainly because he doesn't want to do business with the Reds. The Soviets fly in Professor Dubov (Brian Keith speaking entirely in Russian) as their contribution, a jovial soul who reluctantly admits that they have nuclear warheads in space. Lastly, there's Tatiana (Natalie Wood), Dubov's interpreter and provider of coy love interest for Paul, although not too strongly as he's still a married man, after all. Trevor Howard only gets to show up on a television screen, incidentally.
But what you want to see is destruction on a massive scale, which is what happens when the splinters begin hitting Earth and causing mayhem. It starts with a meteor hitting the Arctic and killing no one, and then nothing more than a light show over Italy as the fragments burn up in the atmosphere. Don't worry if you're feeling bloodthirsty, because shortly after a bit smashes into the Swiss Alps triggering a massive avalanche which buries Sybil Danning. The next two devastations are now more historically interesting: a tidal wave which drowns Hong Kong, and a meteor smashing into New York (where the American base is - what a great idea building it there was) which has a lovingly created shot of the World Trade Center being smashed. All the while we're treated to contrived relationship dramas which conspicuously fail to tug on the heartstrings, and endless shots of missiles flying towards their target. You wouldn't have thought something so spectacular could be so banal, but Meteor manages to be just that. Music by Laurence Rosenthal.