In “Armageddon”, Ben Affleck plays a driller tasked with going into space to pulverize an asteroid after express training from NASA. A concept quite surprising and improbable according to the actor, who annoyed Michael Bay by expressing his doubts about the credibility of the film.
After a sports trip through New York in A Day in Hell, a journey through time to avoid a pandemic in The Army of the 12 Apes and the eradication of evil in 2263 in The Fifth Element, Bruce Willis is tasked with another perilous mission in 1998. In Armageddon, the star must effectively prevent the extinction of humanity by facing an asteroid which is heading straight for Earth.
His character Harry Stamper aims to drill a hole in the heart of the planet exterminator and deposit a nuclear charge that will cause it to deviate from its course. Stamper accepts space travel, but on one condition: that he can take his men. In order to be up-to-date, they will receive express training from NASA.
With this third feature film, which follows Bad Boys and Rock, Michael Bay goes even further in the sequences of mass destruction. Evidenced by the impressive opening, where a meteor shower descends on New York. While he’s the right man for the job to solve the problem, Bruce Willis is still well surrounded in Armageddon. Liv Tyler, Billy Bob Thornton, Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, William Fichtner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Owen Wilson, Keith David and Peter Stormare complete the cast of the project.
The film also propels Ben Affleck to the forefront. Aware of the exuberance and improbability of Michael Bay’s cinema, the Oscar-winning Will Hunting screenwriter had his heart set on the feature soon after its release.
In 1999, publisher The Criterion Collection released a double Armageddon DVD containing numerous extras, including the Director’s Cut version. Bonus features also include a memorable audio commentary by Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, which they record separately. Thanks to this nugget, viewers learn more about the filmmaker’s working method and the perilous filming of certain sequences, including the one where oil spurts out and fails to explode the Stamper platform.
The director also reveals some of his obsessions with the project, starting with the teeth of Ben Affleck. Disturbed, the filmmaker insists with Jerry Bruckheimer during the production that he pays the modest sum of 20 000 dollars to redo the teeth of the actor, which does not suit him.
Like Michael Bay, Ben Affleck is not stingy when it comes to the audio commentary. He’s openly mocking the film, marveling at details like the totally unnecessary but costly presence of a helicopter on a plane, for example.
He also evokes aspects of the script that piss him off. The actor wonders if a ranking of the best drillers in the world is rigorously established when he sees Harry Stamper being touted as the best in his field, obviously working with the best. The actor then declares:
I asked Michael why it was easier to train oil drillers to be astronauts than to train astronauts to be oil drillers and he told me to shut it down. The conversation was over. (Imitating Michael Bay 🙂 ‘Well, shut up, okay? You know, there is a real plan. ‘ I was like, ‘You mean it’s a real plan at NASA to train oil drillers?’, And he said, ‘Shut up!’
Ben Affleck is not the only member of the cast to be ironic about Armageddon, without denying the pleasure of working with Michael Bay, whom he finds on Pearl Harbor. Steve Buscemi and Billy Bob Thornton, for their part, humorously admit making the feature film for the money, both being used to independent productions at the time.
During the first group reading of the script, the two actors go so far as to wonder what they are doing there. Interviewed on Couch Surfing, the interpreter of Dan Truman, director of flight operations at NASA, recalls:
I’m sitting next to guys I know. There was Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson, Will Patton and all these guys. And I’ll never forget… (Laughs) Buscemi, who’s hilarious, looks around, I’m next to him and he’s like, ‘Hey buddy, what are we doing here?’ And I said, ‘Yeah I know, what the hell are we doing here?’
In 2016, Jérôme Salle took us with Lambert Wilson and Pierre Niney to the seabed for “The Odyssey”, a biographical film on Commander Cousteau. To ensure the role of the famous oceanographic explorer, Lambert Wilson had to submit to a draconian regime, while keeping strength for the diving scenes.
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