Schlock Value: Late 70s Disaster Films - Part Two
In this special weekend installment of Schlock Value, TFS's resident Schlockmeister General Dan Colón teams up with Managing Editor Matt Curione to cover the tail end of the 70s Disaster Film craze. Yesterday, Dan discussed the 1978 Rock Hudson starring film Avalanche! Today, Matt tackles 1979's Meteor, starring Sean Connery and Natalie Wood.
Ah yes, the 70s Disaster Film - genre that has been a favorite of mine since I was a young child watching The Poseidon Adventure with my mother. Starting off with 1970’s Airport and continuing throughout the decade, these pictures were showcases for diverse ensemble casts and the latest in Hollywood special effects wizardry. From the Holy Trinity of The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, and Earthquake that was discussed on Hey Whatcha Watchin?, these films are always good for their memorable characters and entertaining scenes of helpless people being maimed in various fashions. Like an average pop album, the 70s were front-loaded with terrific disaster films but by the end of the decade both quality and substance began to wain.
Which brings us to 1979’s Meteor, an enjoyable but overall lackluster entry in the genre from Poseidon Adventure director Ronald Neame. Think Michael Bay’s Armageddon minus the deep seas miners and add in a dash of classic Sean Connery sexism and you’ve got Meteor. A modest success at the box office while being savaged by critics, this Sean Connery/Natalie Wood vehicle tells the story of Cold War cooperation between the United States and the USSR in the face of global annihilation. An asteroid named Orpheus is barreling towards earth and it’s up to the two superpowers to put their differences aside and team up to destroy the threat.
How to destroy such a terrible threat? Why with space-based ICBMs of course! Both nations have secretly been building and maintaining orbital nuclear battlestations capable of launching missiles on their respective enemies. When the crisis reaches a head, it's up to NASA staffer Harry Sherwood played by Karl Malden to get Sean Connery's Dr. Paul Bradley back into the fold in order to figure out a way to stop the massive asteroid. Bradley had previously designed Hercules, the US orbital battlestation so clearly he's the most qualified man for the job. Unfortunately there's bad blood between Bradley and Major General Adlon (Martin Landau). Adlon despises Bradley and resents that he's been put in charge. Well, too bad for him because Bradley is going to save the planet at any cost, even if it ruffles a few feathers.
Those feathers come in the form of Tatiana Donskaya played by Natalie Wood in one of her final roles. Wood truly is charming here as the Russian translator for the designer of Hercules' Soviet counterpart Peter the Great. Once she arrives we get numerous scenes of her turning down Connery's advances and trying not to giggle at his wig. Yes, the wig. Fashioned to look like a late 70s Disco Dad, this is just another in a long line of Connery wigs that may fit the character, but certainly do not fit the man.
I joke about Connery being a lecherous man here but that's pretty much what you get when it comes to the man. Either you're on board or you're not. As for myself, having grown up with his screen persona with the James Bond films and having a soft spot for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (more on that in a future Schlock Value), I went along for the ride. This might not be one of Connery's better performances, but he's clearly having a good time collecting his paycheck this time around.
All the while, The President of the United States, played wonderfully by Henry Fonda, in an extended cameo, is trying to keep the world calm. Appearing in meetings and on television, Fonda has a great tone and presence, it's really a shame that he doesn't get more screen time. The same could be said for Landau who plays super angry military man quite well, a side of the actor I wasn't sure existed. I know him more from his roles in Crimes & Misdemeanors, The X-Files and Ed Wood, so to see him play more of a villain was a nice change of pace.
Fans of Bay's Armageddon will know that just launching nukes at an oncoming asteroid would be a useless endeavor, but this was the 1970s! Technology and science were different beasts back then so for the purposes of the movie, it's easy to go along with it. Meteor might not be the smartest film about an impending apocalypse, but in the end, it's a lot of fun. Outside of of a now haunting image of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center being devastated by a meteor as well as some unnerving Connery advances, it's a decent way to end a decade that birthed the Disaster Film as we know it.
Much like 1978's Avalanche that was covered by our Schlockmeister General yesterday, Meteor has also been released on Blu-ray via Kino Lorber, loaded with interviews. If you're a fan of the genre and some good old-fashioned destruction, you could do a lot worse than Meteor - with a passable screenplay, character actors who give it their all, and some low-grade cheesy effects, Meteor is an earth-shattering blast and half.