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Film / Meteor

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Meteor is a 1979 impact event film directed by Ronald Neame, one of the last attempts to maintain that decade's Disaster Movie genre (although given the basic premise of two of the blockbusters of more modern times, maybe it was prophetic).

An All-Star Cast — including Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden, Brian Keith, Martin Landau, Trevor Howard, Richard Dysart, and Henry Fonda — work to stop a five-mile wide meteor (yes, a five-mile wide space rock is called a meteor, not an asteroid) from hitting the Earth in six days after it's detected within the asteroid belt.

And, somewhere... an astronomer is crying.

Meteor provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Manned flights to Mars and orbital missile platforms are the norm, something that couldn't be said for the late '70s.
  • Apathetic Citizens: When the BBC breaks the news about the meteor, someone in the bar says to change the channel to a game.
  • Artistic License – History: When discussing Hercules, Dr. Dubov says that it took three years for the Germans to destroy Stalingrad. The Battle of Stalingrad lasted for five months. The Siege of Leningrad lasted three years.
  • Artistic License – Space: In spite of having not one, but two scientific advisors:
    • A five-mile wide chunk of rock is called a meteor, instead of an asteroid. Meteors are technically the visible path of a meteoroid that has entered the Earth's atmosphere.
    • Within two days, Challenger 2 is able to divert from its approach to Mars towards the asteroid belt, which would take several weeks if not months.
    • The asteroid belt is not an Asteroid Thicket. The asteroids are actually spread out; you could fly a ship through the asteroid belt and barely come within sight of any. This is why probes are able to fly to the outer planets without a problem.note 
    • The poster says that Orpheus is approaching at 30,000 mph and will hit in six days. In six days, it would have travelled over four million miles, nowhere near the distance from the asteroid belt. For reference, Mars is some eighty million miles from Earth, and the innermost main belt asteroids are over a hundred million miles from Earth.
    • When Orpheus passes by, it eclipses the sun.
    • Some of the missiles launched seem to run out of fuel and fall... in space. Rockets are supposed to run out of fuel and glide to their destination.
  • By "No", I Mean "Yes": While the Russians are still not willing to admit to their satellite weapon, they do agree to discuss the theoretical application of a theoretical weapons platform.
  • Captain Obvious: "It's coming apart in a million pieces!"
  • Chummy Commies: Typical of a film made during the 1970s détente period, it features Soviet-American cooperation against an external threat. And while the Soviets do engage in some Cold War shenanigans, they're portrayed as no worse than their American counterparts in that regard.
  • Commander Contrarian: We got ourselves a full-bird example in General Adlon, who keeps decrying all of the doom-saying as excessive deep into the film. The scene in which he provides the hammy speech that is referenced below in Department of Redundancy Department has him gleefully thinking that because a barrage of smaller asteroids that were preceding the main one burnt up in the atmosphere harmlessly and only caused a scary light show, that this will happen with the big one ("big" as in the size of a mountain).
  • Could Say It, But...: In their initial meeting, Bradley tries to get Dubov to discuss the technical details of "Peter the Great", including its payload and radio frequency, so as to coordinate with "Hercules". Dubov plays dumb initially, but after being told plainly neither satellite can push back Orpheus alone, he tells Bradley that there is no way he could have worked on such an illegal weapon. However, if Bradley would like to discuss how Dubov would design a "theoretical" weapons satellite, with "theoretical" data... Bradley grabs a pen and paper.
  • Cutting the Knot: Neither the United States or the Soviet Union are willing to admit they have a satellite with nuclear weapons pointed at the other country. So the President goes on television saying that both countries have a satellite put up to avert an incoming meteor and saying he'll be asking the Soviets for help. This way everyone can get on with coordinating their efforts instead of wasting time in diplomatic denials.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "When common sense is restored, and the President... has returned the control of this center to ME... I SHALL RETURN! TO THIS CENTER!"
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The President of the United States (played by Henry Fonda) is billed only as "The President".
  • Finger Wag: While playing a game of chess, Dr. Dubov does this to discourage his opponent from moving his queen.
  • Head-in-the-Sand Management: One of the obstacles to dealing with the meteor is people on both Russia and America putting secrecy of their orbital missile silos (and the assumption the meteor is no big deal) over the safety of the world. Thankfully, the President of the United States is not one of them.
    Harry Sherwood: Why don't you xerox 100 copies of that report [risk analysis of revealing "Hercules"], pass them out among 100 guys in Washington and then organize 100 meetings to discuss it, and by that time the meteor will have hit and we won't have any more problems!

    Russian Minister: [after the President announces to the world the existence of both missile satellites] The President is an alchemist. He has just turned hypocrisy into opportunity.
  • Kill Sat: Both "Hercules" and its Soviet counterpart "Peter the Great" are orbital nuclear missile silos that are aiming straight down onto both Russia and the United States. The drama of most of the film comes both from Dr. Paul Bradley (the man who designed "Hercules") being pissed at the fact that his baby was repurposed as a weapon of mass destruction when it was originally made for the exact thing it's being needed for now, and the fact that both governments (with General Adlon being the most belligerent voice on the American side) would rather let the damn asteroid kill everybody before letting any kind of potential secrets (up to and including the fact that the platforms exist) be known.
  • Large Ham: Dear God, Martin Landau tears the scenery apart as General Adlon with the zeal of a rabid dog and comes back for seconds.
  • Licensed Pinball Table: Yes, really.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: The way Orpheus is destroyed.
  • Made of Explodium: When a fragment of the meteor reaches New York City, the first thing it hits is the South Tower of the original World Trade Center. Instead of merely punching straight through it, the meteor causes all of 110 floors of the entire skyscraper to violently explode like the whole building was packed with dynamite.
  • Monumental Damage: The last chunk of Orpheus heads for New York, and manages to hit the AT&T building, as if the asteroid knew where the launch was being ordered from.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Dr. Bradley is apparently supposed to be an American, but of course, Sean Connery talks in his Scottish accent like always.
  • Novelization: By Franklin Coen and the film's co-writer Edmund H. North.
  • Redemption Equals Death: General Adlon apologizes for being an ass, and dies minutes later.
  • Scientist vs. Soldier: The main conflict between Dr. Paul Bradley (and his friend Harry) and General Adlon is that the Bradley created the "Hercules" satellite (an orbital nuclear missile silo) in order to protect Earth from possible asteroid strikes (like the one that is coming towards Earth), while the general was one of the men who advocated putting it on Earth's orbit... only pointing down towards the Soviet Union instead. After Dr. Bradley and Harry figure out that there is not enough firepower on "Hercules" alone to prevent the asteroid from destroying Earth, they enlist (with the help of the President) the assistance of Dr. Dubov, the scientist who helped develop "Peter the Great" (the Soviet counterpart to "Hercules", which is also in orbit and pointing down towards the U.S.). None of the scientists have a problem helping each other, but the military men on both sides are absolutely raging about it, quipping about the necessity to keep their existence and specific details secret (and Adlon is the most belligerent of them all). At one point a barrage of smaller rocks that are preceding the main asteroid burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere and Adlon takes it as perfect proof that the big asteroid (you know, the one the size of Manhattan Island) is going to be harmless and everybody else is just being alarmist.
  • Sequel Hook: Tatiana and Dubov briefly discuss the possibility of returning to America someday in the movie's ending scene.
  • Smart People Play Chess: While passing the time to Sunday, Dr. Dubov plays a game with one of the American scientists.
  • Tactful Translation: After General Adlon goes on an angry rant which includes the Department of Redundancy Department quip above (he is pissed at being pretty much booted out of the "Hercules" command center because he's not being useful), Dr. Dubov goes on an angry rant of his own in Russian and goes to one of the center's offices. His translator then claims that Dubov said he needs to use the phone to contact Moscow.
  • Too Dumb to Live: This can be pointed to many of the citizens in Hong Kong, including a man we see along with his wife, who also have a child and dog. This is when they somehow go the wrong way when evading the tsunami, as they go towards the tsunami which gets them killed.
  • Translation with an Agenda: General Adlon brings along an extra translator to make sure the Russians won't be able to do this. Dr. Bradley sends the extra translator away, being Genre Savvy enough to know that this is the kind of movie in which the Russians can be trusted.