Release Date(s)1998 (May 2, 2023)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks/Manhattan Project/Zanuck-Brown (Paramount Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C
While observing the stars with his high school astronomy club one evening, Leo Beiderman (Elijah Wood, The Lord of the Rings) spots an unknown object with his telescope. His teacher sends the photo to a local astronomer, Dr. Marcus Wolf, who quickly identifies it as a rogue comet on a collision course with Earth, but is then killed in a car crash while racing to alert the world. One year later, MSNBC journalist Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni, Bad Boys) is investigating the resignation of the US Secretary of the Treasury over what she believes is an affair involving a woman named Ellie. But when she’s apprehended by FBI agents and taken to speak to the President of the United States (Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption), the truth is revealed: “Ellie” is actually ‘ELE’ and it stands for Extinction-Level Event. The world soon learns that Comet Wolf-Beiderman is on its way, and that the US and Russia have built a joint spacecraft called Messiah to intercept the object and destroy it with nuclear weapons. Leading the mission is veteran astronaut Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall, Open Range), the last man to walk on the Moon, and he’s joined by a young crew of the best and brightest. So as the mission gets underway, and the world grapples with its fate, young Leo must cope with his newfound fame and the uncertain future of his family and friends.
Deep Impact was director Mimi Leder’s second feature film, a follow-up to her terrific actioner The Peacemaker released the year before. But while it was quickly overshadowed by Michael Bay’s Armageddon, which hit theaters two months later and fared better at the box office, Deep Impact is in many ways a better film dramatically, not to mention far more scientifically accurate. The project originally began as an idea executive producer Stephen Spielberg had for remaking George Pal and Rudolph Maté’s When Worlds Collide (1951). But while researching the idea, screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin soon fixated on the then-recent impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter, and how a similar calamity might be avoided on Earth. Co-screenwriter Michael Tolkin then took Rubin’s massive first draft and worked to boil it down and give it greater focus. The resulting film is thus more personal and moving than the blustery Armageddon, which emphasizes glossy rollercoaster action and muscular patriotism instead.
Leder’s film features a terrific cast of actors both young and experienced, as well as veterans of film and television. In addition to Duvall, Freeman, Leoni, and Wood, the ensemble includes Vanessa Redgrave (Julia), Maximilian Schell (The Black Hole), James Cromwell (L.A. Confidential), Jon Favreau (The Mandalorian), Leelee Sobieski (Joan of Arc), Blair Underwood (L.A. Law), Dougray Scott (Ever After), Kurtwood Smith (That 70s Show), Denise Crosby (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Charles Martin Smith (Never Cry Wolf), Bruce Weitz (Hill Street Blues), Richard Schiff (The West Wing), Mary McCormack (Private Parts), and Tucker Smallwood (Space: Above and Beyond). While James Horner’s score for Deep Impact is never ranked among his best—nor would it likely appear in a list of his top twenty—it’s surprising affecting And the combination of Leder’s direction and Dietrich Lohmann’s cinematography is both effective and workmanlike, if somewhat unflashy. Sadly, Lohmann, an accomplished German DP who had previously worked with Leder on The Peacemaker, died of leukemia prior to this film’s release.
Deep Impact was shot on 35 mm photochemical film in 4-perf Super 35 (common top) format using Arriflex 535B cameras with Zeiss Super Speed and Angenieux HR spherical lenses. Beaumont VistaVision cameras with Leica lenses were also employed by ILM for model shots, and CG effects were rendered at roughly 2K resolution and film-out scanned to internegative stock. The film was then finished in a traditional analog process with framing at 2.39:1 for theatrical exhibition. For its release on Ultra HD, the original camera negative and internegative was scanned in 4K and graded for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are available options on the disc). The resulting image is impressive, and somewhat surprisingly so. While a few shots and there are optically soft looking, as are the optically-printed titles and transitions, there’s a pleasing increase in overall resolution and fine detail here that’s a definite step above the previous Blu-ray. Facial features and costume textiles benefit in particular, especially in daylight and brighter settings. Organic grain is just visible, but it’s very light. That’s not a result of digital noise reduction though—Lohmann was careful to select fast film stocks (specifically Kodak Vision 500T 5279 and Eastman EXR 200T 5287) to achieve a grainless look. Shadows are deep, but a little lacking in detail, while highlights have a naturally-bold appearance. Colors are accurate, notably more nuanced and vibrant looking than ever before. But here’s the thing—this film’s cinematography has never been particularly stylish or striking. Instead, Lohmann preferred to maximize natural lighting, with a muted, uncomposed production design, and that characteristic is well captured in this image. (The same is true for his work on The Peacemaker, which is available in Digital 4K but sadly not yet 4K disc.) What’s more, while the Messiah spacecraft looks fantastic, the digital comet and Earth background plates are obviously of lower resolution. The bottom line is that as good as this 4K image looks technically, it’s still not likely to really wow many Ultra HD enthusiasts.
Paramount’s 4K release includes its primary English audio in lossless 5.1 Dolby TrueHD format—the same mix that was found on the previous Blu-ray edition. And that’s perfectly fine, as the mix was quite good when it was new back in 2009 and it remains so now. The soundstage is big and wide up front, with light to strong use of the surrounds for environmental sound effects, light panning, and score. Dynamic range is excellent, with firm and muscular bass, though it should be noted that the film only occasionally really flexes those muscles sonically. The Messiah’s descent and landing onto the comet is certainly an audio highlight, as are the comet’s eventual impact and the disaster sequences that follow. Horner’s score is presented in high fidelity, while the film’s dialogue remains clear and clean at all times. This is just one of those great, early aughts sound mixes that Paramount was famous for at the dawn of the Blu-ray format. Additional audio tracks are available in German, Spanish, French, and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital, as are optional subtitles in English, English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, German, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, and Japanese.
There are no special features on the 4K disc itself, however the package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray, the exact same disc released in 2009. That adds the following extras:
- Audio Commentary by Mimi Leder and Scott Farrar
- Preparing for the End (SD – 8:53)
- Making an Impact (SD – 12:08)
- Creating the Perfect Traffic Jam (SD – 6:14)
- Parting Thoughts (SD – 4:50)
- Photo Gallery (SD – 60 images)
- Teaser Trailer (HD – 2:06)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 3:42)
All of this material was created for the film’s 2004 Special Collector’s Edition DVD release (the original 1998 DVD included only the trailers in SD). The commentary is somewhat subdued, offering details on the origins and development of the project, scenes that were deleted, what it was like to work with the various actors, how the weightless effect was achieved, etc. Farrar (the film’s VFX supervisor) doesn’t weigh in nearly often enough on the effects work, but it’s still a worthwhile listen. The featurettes are essentially early EPK-style glimpses behind-the-scenes—the kind of thing that longtime disc fans will have seen a million times. The trailers at least were upgraded to full HD for the Blu-ray. No new extras are included, but you do get a Digital Copy code on a paper insert which—depressingly—only works with Vudu. (WTF, Paramount?)
While there’s certainly a very limited sub genre of films involving large space objects wreaking havoc on the Earth (or at least threatening to do so), Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact has long been one of its better examples. Of course, Armageddon also deserves a release on 4K Ultra HD, but that’s up to Disney, which means don’t hold you breath. (You’d be well advised however to consider picking up the German 4K UHD of Ric Roman Waugh’s Greenland, which we’ve reviewed here at The Bits.) In the meantime, if you have a fondness for this film, Paramount’s new 4K release delivers it in best-ever quality, making it well worth a look.
- Bill Hunt