Deep Impact was originally a project to have been directed by Steven Spielberg. However, after Armageddon was announced, Spielberg backed out and turned the project over to Mimi Leder, a director who had previously premiered on his tv series ER (19942009) and made one film, the unexceptional The Peacemaker (1997). The script, which was originally started out intended as a remake of When Worlds Collide (1951) by producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck and had been announced by them as long ago as 1978, comes from Bruce Joel Rubin, who made two afterlife fantasies Ghost (1990) and Jacobs Ladder (1990), which both inserted some challengingly new ideas into traditional takes on afterlife themes, and Michael Tolkin, who also wrote an intriguing afterlife drama The Rapture (1991) as well as the great The Player (1992).
Deep Impact starts out giving some hope that it may reverse the meteor-movie trend. The opening promisingly seems intended as a sly dig at the media obsession with Presidential scandal at the time the film came out (even though Deep Impact was well into production before Monica Lewinsky was propelled into a household name) with junior tv reporter Tea Leone thinking she has uncovered a juicy piece of White House scandal-mongering but instead realizing that she has accidentally uncovered plans to try and avert the disaster. This segues into a, if not scientifically believable, at least an exciting sequence involving a manned attempt to land on the comet. The climax of the film also has some fine mass disaster effects sequences.
Unfortunately bookended in between them, Deep Impact falls completely apart. The film wants to tell a poignant story about various characters as they meet the impending holocaust but the different dramas it raises young Elijah Woods decision to abandon his place in the survival shelter and go back for his girlfriend; Tea Leones reconciliation with her estranged father after the suicide of her mother; ageing shuttle pilot Robert Duvall coming to regard wounded commander Ron Eldard as the son he never had have a melodramatic insipidity that is infuriating. Despite Deep Impacts two-hour length, the film only ever skates across the surface of these melodramas one would have expected Elijah Woods journey back to his girlfriend to have been one fraught with dramatic perils, for example, but all that one sees is him setting out and then just arriving back home. You get the feeling that you have wandered into a disaster movie that has been made by people who have watched too many Academy Award movies a disaster movie filled with niceness and nobility and where no untoward sentiment ever encroaches. The film almost becomes absurd in its saccharine treatment looting and increased social disorder is mentioned as one of the effects of the impending holocaust but all that one ever sees of any of this is a big traffic jam on the highway; Vanessa Redgrave commits suicide but the film seems to almost deliberately avoid any mention of the actual words, it all takes place off-screen and is only ever alluded to. After the maddening banality of Deep Impact, all that Armageddon needed to do to become the better of 1998s two asteroid movies was simply to turn up. [Famous last words!!!].
(I dont know if it is just my perverted mind or what, but for some reason whenever I heard the title of the film it kept making me think more of a 1970s porn film than a mega-budget disaster spectacle. You know: She couldnt find sexual satisfaction until she met Joe and discovered fourteen inches ... of Deep Impact.)
Mimi Leder only went onto make one other film with the banal Pay It Forward (2000) and has since returned to directing television. Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin has also written genre scripts such as Brainstorm (1983), Deadly Friend (1986), Ghost (1990), Jacobs Ladder (1990), Stuart Little 2 (2002), The Last Mimzy (2007) and The Time Travelers Wife (2009).
(No. 5 on the SF, Horror & Fantasy Box-Office Top 10 of 1998 list).