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MASTERS OF DISASTER – METEOR (1979)

Masters of Disaster returns and this time Jonathon Dabell turns his attention to Meteor (1979) starring Sean Connery, Natalie Wood and Henry Fonda.

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The meteor hurtles towards planet Earth, in Meteor (1979).

There must have been something in the water in 1979! I noticed this recently when looking up some of the films that major movie stars made in that year. It seems remarkable how many actors were busy wasting their talents on duds in that particular annus horriblis. Michael Caine and Telly Savalas in Beyond the Poseidon Adventure; Roger Moore and Telly again in Escape to Athena; Mia Farrow and Jason Robards in Hurricane; Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed in A Touch of the Sun; Donald Sutherland and Vanessa Redgrave in Bear Island; James Mason and Anthony Quinn in The Passage; Robert Shaw and Lee Marvin in Avalanche Express; and Richard Harris and Richard Roundtree in A Game For Vultures. Even certain directors seemed to be affected by the curse of 1979 – Steven Spielberg, for instance, made his only fully-fledged turkey in the shape of 1941. There were numerous fine films made that year too, don’t get me wrong… it just seems a strange coincidence how much rubbish was being released, and how many many dependable actors were left red-faced in such films.

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The president of America (Henry Fonda) ponders the deadly threat posed by the approaching space rock, in Meteor (1979).

The reason I mention all this is that in 1979 Sean Connery also hit a career low-point with the desperately dull all-star disaster opus Meteor. Similarly wasted in this astronomical dud are Natalie Wood, Henry Fonda, Karl Malden, Brian Keith and Trevor Howard. It’s from a director capable of better too – Ronald Neame was a seasoned old pro, with scores of credits to his name, including one of the greatest disaster films of them all, The Poseidon Adventure.
The plot itself is serviceable enough. Indeed, Meteor can validly claim to beat Deep Impact and Armageddon by a good two decades as the first film about an ominous space rock on collision course with Earth.

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Sean Connery and Karl Malden discuss the imminent destruction of the world, In Meteor (1979).

Unfortunately, despite having a fundamentally exciting plot, the film goes nowhere and does nothing with it.
It is revealed that a huge meteor is on collision course with earth, a rock so big that, unless it is diverted or destroyed, its impact could cause another Ice Age. The American president (Henry Fonda) instructs professor Dr. Paul Bradley (Sean Connery) to figure out how to deflect or destroy the meteor. Bradley used to head a research programme whose job was to compile strategies for saving the planet from rogue asteroids and meteors. After arranging to have nuclear missile-loaded satellites placed in orbit around the Earth for use against such a threat, Bradley quit when he later discovered these satellites were being used instead for espionage purposes.

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Filthy and muddied, Karl Malden and Sean Connery are glad at least to be alive after a splinter of the meteor flattens New York.

Brought back for his expertise, Bradley is assured the missiles will be used for the threat at hand. Reluctantly he agrees to help, but he soon calculates that the American weapons alone will not halt the meteor. The Russians are brought in and informed of the potential destruction of the world as we know it and, in a race against time, the Americans try to persuade their Cold War adversaries to admit that they too have space-based nuclear missiles. Only a joint strike will have any chance of destroying the rogue meteor… and the clock is ticking!
There are numerous problems with Meteor. For one thing, the special effects are remarkably poor – the meteor never looks remotely convincing, and scenes of splinter chunks wiping out Hong Kong, Siberia, the Alps and New York are woefully inadequate. In fairness, the film fails on many other levels too. Few of the actors look enthusiastic about their roles – Connery does ‘angry’ and ‘sarcastic’ quite well, but shows little chemistry with leading lady Wood, while Fonda phones in his turn as the beleaguered president.

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Theatrical poster for Meteor (1979)

The script, by director Neame and Stanley Mann, is full of banal dialogue and plot contrivances and moves at a snail-like pace; it is further hindered by countless scenes where Russian dialogue is laboriously translated into English by on-screen interpreter Wood. Any potential excitement is continually undermined by these interminably talky scenes. The characterisation is so cliched that it makes you want to grind your teeth with despair. The very climax of the film – a fifteen minute sequence set in a New York command centre after a splinter of meteor has struck – is reasonably well done. But it’s a long wait for this half-decent sequence, and most viewers will have (understandably) given up the ghost long before.
Soon after this, the 70s craze for the disaster genre came to an end and wasn’t seen again until its CGI-enhanced re-emergence in the mid-90s. Watching a movie like Meteor helps you to understand immediately why the genre self-destructed. Not good; not good at all.
MoM Rating: 2.5/10

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