A Teen Genius and amateur astronomer who discovers what turns out to be a previously unknown comet. He strongly values his girlfriend.
An Intrepid Reporter for MSNBC who thinks she's found a scandal when she asks a just-resigned cabinet member about "Ellie." Due to a misunderstanding, she believes "Ellie" is his mistress; the White House believes she's uncovered the truth and treats her accordingly, chasing her down with the FBI. She has an irascible father from whom she is estranged and a virtuous single mom as a boss, whose insistence on giving her lame stories is why she's so ambitious.
The president (played by Morgan Freeman), who announces some months late that an ELE—an Extinction Level Event—threatens the earth. But he has several plans involving a large underground bunker and a special shuttle.
The crew of the special shuttle sent to save the world from disaster; the younger members of which are a little grumpy about having an old-timer along.
Although the film's premise is similar to that of the more famous Armageddon (released the same year), the two movies are only superficially similar otherwise. Deep Impact is a drama movie first and foremost, and unlike the action-packed Armageddon, focuses mostly on depicting the effects of the meteor's impending arrival.
The throngs (far too many to simply be facing death with dignity) in New York City still calmly going about their business downtown even though the President has warned that the Eastern seaboard (including New York City) is about to be destroyed by a tidal wave.
Even before that, there seems to be massive public indifference to the comet's existence for over half a year, all the way up until the Messiah fails in its initial mission. At the press conference where the story is broken to the world, there is a brief agitated murmur when the President makes his announcement...and then everyone either calms down or (in the case of the news media) scrambles to find out anything they can about comets or natural disasters in order to make for must-see TV news coverage. Immediately after this sequence, there are some inappropriately lighthearted scenes, first of Leo Biederman receiving honors from his school for discovering the comet and being told that he is now going to lose his virginity, then of the younger astronauts chatting at a backyard barbecue and then in a country-and-western-themed bar, bragging and putting down Spurgeon Tanner.
Apocalypse How: If the comet hit full, it would have caused the end of global human civilization. It does cause a massive localized disruption of the US eastern seaboard.
The Ark: It's not mobile, but the underground bunker is specifically called "the Ark" by one of its security staff, and cages of wild animals are seen being brought inside to preserve them.
Bittersweet Ending: The larger chunk of asteroid misses the Earth, thus sparing humanity, but the smaller chunk hits and causes massive damage and many deaths.
Cool Starship: The Messiah and its Orion Drive. In the movie, it's supposed to be the most ambitious spacecraft ever developed by man.
Demoted to Extra: Dougray Scott appears intermittently throughout the start and middle of the film. At the climax, while drawing straws for the last seat on a helicopter, there are hints that he and Tea Leoni's character are in some sort of relationship, though their main interactions must have been lost to editing.
Andrea, as they fly up to the comet. "Look at them [the rocks barely missing the spacecraft], they're the size of houses.", yeah, and you sound really concerned. Justified because astronauts/cosmonauts/space-o-nauts are specifically trained to remain calm and in control despite all manner of disaster blowing up around them. Anyone remember the frantic panic in the famous quote "Houston, we have a problem"?
Téa Leoni's performance in this film just screams this. She does okay as the Smug SnakeIntrepid Reporter looking for a political scandal. It's when the end of the world is confirmed and she has to show she has hidden depths, that her acting takes a turn for the worse.
Emergency Presidential Address: The President makes the announcement about Wolf–Biederman, and then makes another announcement that the Messiah has failed, and that disaster is coming — and if anyone has any way at all to get out of the path of destruction they better get going.
The families that knew they couldn't outrun the wave and chose to send their last moments in meaningful, loving embrace rather than futile panic.
Failed a Spot Check: When the tsunami hits Manhattan, we see a man in a park reading a newspaper who doesn't notice the massive wave destroying the city until it swamps him. Doubly hilarious because everyone knew the asteroid was supposed to hit on that day, so even assuming someone did print a newspaper that morning, there would be nothing else worth reporting. Since he looks over 70 and wouldn't be eligible for the Ark as a result, it could be another instance of Face Death with Dignity.
Free-Range Children: As Sarah's father is chaining up his motorcycle and putting bars on the window of his house because society is breaking down as the comet approaches, his daughter is away from home, by herself. True, she's an older teen - but it certainly provides some dissonance as to what her father really cares about.
Fulton Street Folly: Justified, in that the tidal wave naturally takes out the part of Manhattan Island that faces the bay.
Government Conspiracy: Played more realistically than most, they can only keep it secret for about a year. But still, constructing an Elaborate Underground Base requiring thousands of people and a new spacecraft? Surely someone would have blabbed sooner.
Idiot Ball: The astronomer in the beginning panicking about his discovery. He knew the world had well over a year until impact, yet still drove recklessly despite how precious his cargo of information was. Not to mention he didn't try to phone anyone about it until he was driving, rather than calling from the observatory.
Impeded Messenger: Astronomer Marcus Wolf (Smith), who realizes that the object is a comet on a collision course with Earth, tries to get the information out, but dies in a car accident before he can alert the world.
Indy Ploy: The Intrepid Reporter thinks she's investigating a sex scandal involving a woman called Ellie...until the moment the President of the United States enters the room and demands "What do you know about E.L.E?" She has to bluff out a response on the spot.
Infant Immortality: Averted, as we clearly see children among the masses of people trying in vain to escape the torrent of water that destroys the East Coast. Also subverted as Leo and Sarah manage to haul the latter's infant brother to higher ground where it's safe.
In Space Everyone Can See Your Face: Averted. As the astronauts worked on the dark side of the comet their face shields were open, only closing them as the Sun approached the horizon. This scene also realistically portrays the effects of failing to use face shields when one astronaut fails to close their shield in time. The exposure of only a few seconds results in immediate permanent blindness and severe sunburn.
It Has Been an Honor: The astronauts Andy and Fisher, the former being the aged mission commander and the latter one of his subordinates, tell each other that "it's been an honour" just before they detonate the nukes on their ship to blow up the meteor from within.
Lottery Of Doom: Inverted—there is a lottery for the limited space in the underground bunker.
The hill Leo proposes to Sarah on is rather obviously in Southern California.
No Antagonist: There is practically no villainous behavior on anyone's part, and of course we can't hate the comet for doing what Nature intended for it. Secretary Rittenhouse and Jenny's stepmother seem to be Designated Villains at the beginning; the stepmom is Put on a Bus and never heard from again, and Rittenhouse is quickly revealed to have resigned as quietly as possible for pragmatic reasons (he doesn't believe the Messiah project will work and wants to prepare for impact with his family).
No Endor Holocaust: The movie generally plays its physics straight, with three notable exceptions that stop it from being a cold Kill 'em All exercise:
The smaller comet (Biederman) would have instantly blinded if not crushed to a pulp everyone looking at it on its descent.
There is no apparent impact winter from Biederman, which it alone is easily energetic enough to create.
The big one: Destroying an object the size Wolf on the edge of the atmosphere would accomplish nothing. All of that energy is still going directly into Earth, except distributed across the entire facing side of the atmosphere rather than punching through into the ground. At a bare minimum, the atmospheric heating from that much material would burned North America (Biederman hits near the Atlantic Seaboard and Wolf is slated to strike Western Canada) to a crisp.
Not So Stoic: President Beck's first news conference is routine, with only a brief pause as he contemplates what Messiah failure would mean. He progressively loses composure over the following months as he has to inform the nation of worsening developments.
One Dialogue, Two Conversations: This occurs early in the film when Jenny is asking Allen Rittenhause about "Ellie" in connection with his resigning as U.S. Treasury Secretary. She assumes the name is a woman he was having an affair and he assumes that she knows that "Ellie" is really "ELE" (Extinction Level Event)—information on the upcoming comet impact. He thinks she is asking him about his discussions with the President about the comet and she thinks he is just talking about an extramarital affair.
Jenny:[to herself after finishing the interview]: "Biggest story in history"? What an ego!
Orion Drive: The Messiah, the spaceship sent to nuke the meteor, has an Orion Pulse Drive.
The Peter Principle: Jenny Lerner wasn't exactly a great reporter in the first place but got very lucky - and ended up being a stiff, nervous anchor (though, in her defense, under the circumstances, anyone would have been nervous).
Product Placement: For MSNBC. Leoni's character was originally supposed to work for CNN, but they rejected the offer, saying it would be "inappropriate." MSNBC jumped at the opportunity, since their network had only just been founded and wanted to get exposure.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Once the existence of the comet is revealed to the world, President Beck is quite open and honest with the public about what's going to happen, and while he remains hopeful, he doesn't mince words when it's clear that things are not going well.
Rousing Speech: President Beck is quite good at giving these, though most of them are bittersweet, in that they're meant to help people prepare themselves for the end. His final speech is a straight example, though.
Rule of Drama: Used very conspicuously in the shuttle storyline. The mission to blow up the comet is entrusted to an aging veteran who hasn't been in space in years and a bunch of unqualified technicians who have never been in space at all nor ever manned a spacecraft outside of simulations.
Soft Water: A wave that tall would have scoured the entire East Coast to the bedrock.
Someone Has to Die: The crew of the spaceship Messiah sacrifice themselves so that everyone on Earth can survive.note This could be mildly facetious...millions died anyway due to the one fragment that did hit.
Suicide Mission: The crew of the spaceship Messiah assign themselves one last mission, well aware of the fact that when the remaining nuclear bombs are detonated inside the larger comet fragment they will be killed as well.
Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer compresses the whole movie into 3 1/2 minutes without anything important cut out.
We All Live in America: Justified...sort of. The comet splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean - specifically, in Cape Hatteras, which is just off North Carolina. North America, South America, western Europe and western Africa all get swamped by the massive tsunami; Asia and Australia are apparently completely spared. In any case, with a few exceptions, the entire film takes place either around New York or "in the soft limestone hills of Missouri."
What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out if Jenny's young stepmother survived the tidal wave caused by the comet impact. The subplot about the resigning U.S. Treasury Secretary wanting to spend time with his daughter and sick wife is also dropped without resolution early on.
Arguable, really. After the conversation Jenny had in the rain with her father, her stepmother is out of the picture, showing us all that her marriage with Jenny's father was hollow and pointless, after all, and putting a fine point on just how much of a waste his hurtful treatment of his family really was. The Treasury Secretary plotline was only there to introduce Jenny's plot, so he served his purpose with that one scene.
Your Days Are Numbered: As soon as the Wolf–Biederman comet is revealed to the public, the world is told the projected timeline for the impact. First, the countdown to the Messiah mission begins, then to the actual catastrophe.