Only the milk is bad

By Corky Thatcher

Harry Stamper and A.J. Frost are my heroes, ’cause boy do Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck make these Armageddon characters likeable. Stamper and Frost are cool because they overcome the odds and successfully fly into space to divert that big-ass doomsday asteroid and save the planet. The story is a great example of the human spirit at its best, when in times of trouble we separate our differences and unite against a common threat. Before the credits roll, we share a good feeling when the heroes look around and realize, I’m okay, you’re okay. Everybody’s all right, and this world of ours is actually a pretty good place.

I wish it were otherwise, but I just didn’t eat up this cheery message from one of Hollywood’s biggest summer blockbusters. It’s not just because most of the characters were way too good-looking (exception: Steve Buscemi). It’s not just because the film re-milked the American rah-rah patriotism and arrogance that wafted through 1996’s Independence Day. It’s not even because I somehow got a piece of some ankle-biter’s Happy Meal toy in my official Armageddon McFlurry at McDonalds. I just don’t think this kind of feel-good flick speaks to me or people who think like I do.

Background: Just before the end of the Cold War, action/suspense films frequently designated Russians as our (Our? Read: American, and by association, Western world citizens) unscrupulous and formidable nemeses. Whatever vaguely defined characteristics were attributed to us, the implicit message was that our way of doing things was the superior and more righteous way. Victory was a validation of Western values, whatever they might actually be. Check out films like The Abyss, Red Dawn (hoo, did this film not age well), Rocky 4, and A View To A Kill (just about any Bond flick will be remedial here) if you need a reminder.

Now that in real life the Russian baddies have been reduced to fighting themselves (cracking empty vodka bottles over each others’ heads at bank queues-no, I don’t actually think this is funny.

Hollywood needs a new foe. I guess somebody thought it was a cool idea to have this abstract, de-personalized asteroid hurtling through outer space as the plot device to elicit our noble characteristics of courage, integrity, dedication, perseverance (yada, yada), and I concede this is an improvement on continually designating hackneyed communist antagonists. It’s still lame though. The real enemy is in us.

Perhaps they should make an Armageddon 2, where all the male characters can’t stop cheating on their wives; this compulsion threatening to tear apart the families they thought so fondly of while 200,000 miles from Earth. And maybe while this is going on, the new youth of America are becoming addicted to a particularly potent new strain of crack cocaine. For an exciting plot twist, the good guys suddenly find out that the real enemy is a coalition of multinational corporations conspiring to focus our buying, eating and entertainment habits toward an even more narrow-minded cultural fodder than we currently enjoy. The end of the film would be when some bright spark discovers that everybody has been acting funny and feeling like crap because of all those potent hormone injections pumped into dairy cows to boost milk production, which get passed on into our delicious, innocuous milk. A real story with believable enemies that threaten our human spirit and enjoyment of life. Right?

OK, maybe real life doesn’t always make for good cinema (and how would you market that one, anyway?). All the same, it’s consistently disappointing that there aren’t more million-dollar-budget movies out there about people who recognize our common imperfections (greed, anger, ignorance, cruelty, etc.) and overcome these, doing something significant with their lives and feeling happy as a result. Some of us would appreciate this more than a shopworn story about the good guys fighting a space rock.


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