Meteor (1979)

Remember the late-’90s resurgence of that quintessentially ’70s genre known as the disaster film? Although short-lived, audience enthusiasm for it was so strong that in the summer of 1998, two space-rock epics — Deep Impact and Armageddon — competed for cash and both became major hits. But in 1979, Meteor had the space-rock scenario all to itself, yet flopped massively. Not only did its failure signal the death knell of the disaster craze, but also of indie distributor AIP, in way over its otherwise budget-mindful head by deviating from the low-risk/high-rewards model it had perfected for decades. It’s not like AIP hadn’t promoted it; for months, you’d couldn’t glimpse the back cover of a Marvel comic book without being exposed to an ad.

Helmed by The Poseidon Adventure’s Ronald Neame, Meteor opens with a look at Orpheus, an asteroid some 20 miles in diameter. But that’s not the object that gets scientists in a collective tizzy. Now, when a passing comet smashes Orpheus into several pieces, sending a 5-mile chunk hurtling toward Earth, that they worry about — and not without merit, because its touchdown would trigger another ice age. With only a six-day head start on its ETA, what’s a National Aeronautics and Space Administration to do?

They call in Paul Bradley (Sean Connery, Never Say Never Again), engineer of the U.S. Hercules missile defense system floating in space. Because each of its nuclear rockets packs a one-megaton punch, NASA enlists Paul’s help in realigning Herc to point toward rocks, not Russia. NASA needs Russia to do the same with their missiles, so those Commies come onsite, too — well, two of them: Dr. Dubov (Brian Keith, Death Before Dishonor) and his interpreter, Tatania (Natalie Wood, The Great Race), the latter pulling double duty as Paul’s instant romantic interest. In the face of global cataclysm, America’s real enemy is one of our own: a disbelieving Air Force general (Martin Landau, Ed Wood) who functions as a monkey wrench to the multinational plans; he is to this movie what real-life Sen. Jim Inhofe is to climate change: a buffoon.

Some 40 minutes in, penetration occurs! Not of Tatania by Paul, but our planet’s atmosphere by Orpheus fragments. Disregarding the aged effects, these sequences mark Meteor’s high points, and Neame ensures they avoid repetition by having them play out differently from one another. It’s as if he helmed several types of destructo-flicks within one end-all-be-all package. For example:
• Europe gets an avalanche, complete with sexy skier Sybil Danning (The Concorde … Airport ’79) and footage recycled from the previous year’s Avalanche;
• Asia takes a tidal wave;
• and America has to settle for an earthquake (and the takedown of the World Trade Center, but let’s not go there), leading to a set piece inside a flooding subway car.

Connery is so surly throughout, it’s difficult to know for certain where his performance begins and ends. Did he bark lines “Why don’t ya stick a broom up my ass?” with gusto because the script called for it or because he was disinterested in masking his contempt for the material? At least he exudes more passion than the oddly wooden Wood, who is miscast as a Russian despite being born from Russian parents! While Meteor is not the outright bore its reputation suggests, it’s also not the spectacle we’d expect. Let’s just say Irwin Allen could have Irwin Allen’d the shit out of this material, and call it a draw. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.


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