There was a wonderful time in the late 90s when disaster movies were as ubiquitous as stars in the sky, and that’s usually where the disaster was coming from! Writers scrambled to capitalize on Y2K angst, bringing us movies like Volcano, Dante’s Peak, Twister, Armageddon, Independence Day, and my personal favorite of the bunch, Deep Impact. Shedding the Aerosmith soundtrack, the spinning cows, and aliens, Deep Impact goes the more serious route, delivering an old fashioned existential terror movie about an extinction level event that threatens all of mankind. Now, 25 years later, we’ve got a 4K remaster of the film. Settle in, it’s the end of the world!
Deep Impact opens with Jenny Lerner, a low level reporter for MSNBC, working on a gossip story she’s heard from a White House source. Believing it to be a secret affair for a high-ranking staffer, she starts digging only to find out that the supposed mistress Ellie is actually E.L.E. – an Extinction Level Event. A massive asteroid is hurtling towards the Earth, and despite our best efforts, there’s little we can do to stop it.
To say that this movie has an all-star cast is the understatement of the century. Morgan Freeman, Téa Leoni, Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, James Cromwell, Jon Favreau, Laura Innes, Mary McCormack, Richard Schiff, Leelee Sobieski, Blair Underwood, Dougray Scott — as impressive as the list is, it’s just the start! 25 years later you’d figure this movie would age rapidly, but somehow it’s every bit as good as it was when I first saw it. Frankly, there isn’t a bad performance in the bunch. While the movie can be a little overlong, and there are some doldrums of cliché or saccharin sappiness, it’s still a great film that holds up today. The bombastic and ridiculous are discarded in favor of a more scientific realism that I appreciate. While audiences and critics alike gave it a middling score (mid 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, but using their aggregate system that makes things look worse than they are), space and science junkies like myself loved it.
The meat of the story isn’t really the E.L.E., but humanity’s reaction to it. The team responsible for planting nuclear devices on the comet to break up the surface face adversity beyond anything they’ve ever known. The people of Earth come face to face with their own mortality, alongside the futility that there’s nothing they can do but hope and wait. The story of Deep Impact is about how each of us deal with that mortality, and what happens when everything goes wrong.
One of the things that stood out to me immediately was the incredible clarity the Paramount team has managed to pull out of the archives for this one. I don’t know what access they had to the masters, but the results are astounding. The special effects could have looked absolutely terrible brought up to 4K, but instead most of them look like they could have been done yesterday. There are only a handful of bluescreen shots that look out of place, but these are few and far between.
The movie comes in a black plastic case carrying the movie in Blu-Ray format, as well as a second disk for 4K Ultra HD. Inside is a card to check out the movie digitally via Vudu, if that’s your jam. The 4K (2160p) film is presented in Anamorphic Cinemascope 2:35:1 aspect ratio, giving it a widescreen look with minimal bars at the top and bottom. The film was originally shown in 2:39:1, better known as Panavision or just Cinemascope.
The Dolby Vision and HDR10 color grading really shines here, deepening the inky blackness of space while providing some excellent contrast for everything else. Even in shots that have a sharp black and white contrast, the white comes across without any blooming effect or distortion. It’s as clean a transfer as you’ll see in a movie made in the last few years, even though it’s a 25 year old source.
The excellent upgrade work continues in the audio department. The movie was remastered in 2009 for Blu-Ray, so the heavy lifting on the audio side was done then. As such we have the movie in Spanish, French, and English, with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 at 48 kHz, 24-bit. This is matched by the subtitles which are also in Spanish, French, and English, with a Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing option added to the roster to round it out. It’s a good balance, even if the bass won’t throw you back in your seat. The swelling soundtrack from the late/great James Horner fills the room with a clean and rich sound. As this is more of a personal drama than an explosion-filled disaster film, the emphasis is on the human interactions, so the sound balance is pushed center. It’s crisp, clear, and easy to understand, even during some of the louder scenes. If you were hoping for a push to Dolby Atmos, sorry – that’s sadly not happening, but what’s here is already pretty great.
If you own the 2009 remaster on Blu-Ray, then you’ve already got the special features that you’ll find on that disc – you won’t find any on the 4K one. Thankfully what’s there is a solid entry for fans, with a full audio commentary with director Mimi Leder and visual effects lead Scott Farrar. Unlike a lot of audio commentaries, these two only chime in when there’s something important to add, letting the film breathe.
Beyond the audio commentary, there are seven special items. The first is called Preparing for the End (8 minutes, 53 seconds) which talks about how Deep Impact has its roots in the 1950s movie Two Worlds Collide. Next is Making an Impact (12 minutes, 8 seconds) serves as the behind the scenes for the film, showcasing some of the special effects, as well as some of the bigger tentpole scenes. Creating the Perfect Traffic Jam (6 minutes, 14 seconds) has some of the same shots, including the last few scenes of the movie where everyone is racing to escape. Parting Thoughts, as you might suspect, is part of a sequence where the Director and effects team offer their thoughts on the impact of the film, as well as some of the folks they lost along the way. (4 minutes, 50 seconds). Also included is a brief teaser trailer, the theatrical trailer, and a photo gallery including some great candid shots from behind the scenes. While we don’t have any new items to watch, what’s here is a great behind the scenes for the film.
While movies like Armageddon may have taken the box office by storm, for my money Deep Impact is a better film. It eschews the heavy-handed comedy and bombastic soundtrack and scenes for a more personal story, and as a result, the movie, and subsequently this masterful 4K re-release, holds up better for it.
- Gorgeous picture in Anamorphic Cinemascope
- Movie holds up spectacularly
- Very clean center channel to push dialogue forward
- Dolby Vision and HDR10 presentation delivers beautiful color treatment
- No new BTS or special features
- Audio is from 2009 remaster