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Entry updated 20 June 2022. Tagged: Film.

Film (1979). American International Pictures, Meteor Joint Venture, Palladium Productions. Produced by Arnold H Orgolini, Theodore R Parvin (credited as Theodore Parvin), and Run Run Shaw. Directed by Ronald Neame. Written by Edmund H North and Stanley Mann from a story by North. (Partial cast) Cast includes Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Brian Keith, Martin Landeau, Karl Malden and Natalie Wood. 108 minutes. Colour.

A large Comet is passing dangerously close to the (fictitious) giant Asteroid Orpheus; a manned US flight to Mars is diverted to observe events. The comet strikes Orpheus, flinging out a five-mile-wide chunk that destroys the observing spaceship and is on collision course with Earth. Dr Paul Bradley (Connery) is brought against his will to Washington, District of Columbia and informed of the approaching Disaster by his friend Harry Sherwood (Malden). The two had worked together on an orbiting nuclear weapons platform called Hercules, meant as a defence against potential asteroid impacts. Against Bradley's wishes, though, the Hercules missiles were directed towards the Soviet Union, causing him to leave government employment. It develops that Hercules alone cannot stop the asteroid; but the Soviets have a similar orbital platform designed by Dr Alexei Dubov (Keith) and aimed at the USA. The US President (Fonda) goes on national television to announce the asteroid threat and give the Soviets a chance to admit to their own platform, both weapons systems being in violation of international treaties.

Dubov and his translator Tatiana Danskaya (Wood) agree to come to the US to meet Bradley and the Hercules control team, though Cold War political wrangling still prevents any official admission of the Soviet missile platform's existence. In the Hercules control centre, located Underground beneath New York, discussions of how to "hypothetically" divert such an asteroid begin. But smaller meteor fragments from Orpheus begin to strike Earth ahead of the main body. One impact causes a huge deadly avalanche in the Swiss Alps; another, a massive tsunami that destroys Hong Kong. The Soviets finally admit the existence of their platform, Peter the Great, and agree to use its missiles against the asteroid. As the first of these are launched, a large asteroid fragment strikes New York, devastating most of the City and destroying the Hercules command centre. Several team members, are killed, including General Aldon (Landeau), who had initially opposed working with the Soviets. Survivors flee through the New York subway system; this becomes flooded when the East River breaks through the walls, drowning some; the majority reach safety at a subway station.

As the titular meteor closes rapidly on Earth, missiles from the two platforms attack it in three waves, though a few go off target. The first two waves damage the asteroid to some degree; the third apparently obliterates it, and the threat is declared over. Dr Dubov and Tatiana depart, with seemingly good prospects for improved US/USSR relations.

Meteor was a colossal box-office failure. It reportedly cost $16 million to produce, three million from American International Pictures itself – a huge budget for feature films at that time. Its failure is considered a major reason for AIP's bankruptcy the following year. Most of the budget apparently went to pay the all-star cast and for location filming; the expected special effects are remarkably poor. Missiles and Spaceships are obvious models; meteor impacts simply appear to be bright lights striking the Earth. The film acknowledges that the idea came from Project Icarus, the 1967 MIT study which considered using nuclear missiles to deflect the actual asteroid 1566 Icarus had this become a collision threat (its actual closest approach to Earth was some four million miles). Though preceded by the made-for-television A Fire in the Sky (1978), Meteor was the first feature film to deal with a comet/asteroid strike on Earth; this was to become a popular Cinema and Television theme in the 1990s. The novelization is Meteor (1979) by Edmund H North and Franklin Coen. [GSt]


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