Space Cowboys (2000)
When Worlds Collide
Aging 1960s astronauts are recalled to go up and take care of an aging weapon platform similar to the one in “Meteor” containing several ICBMs before it comes crashing down to Earth. Forget about the plot and just enjoy the cast: Clint Eastwood (the hypersonic pilot in Firefox), Tommy Lee Jones (Men In Black), Donald Sutherland (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Backdraft), James Garner (Fire In The Sky), James Cromwell (Star Trek First Contact), and William Devane; also directed by Clint Eastwood. No relation to the 1990 drive-in classic Spaced Invaders, or Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks (1996).
First in the modern space-disaster movie genre was “Meteor” (1979), which was also last of the great disaster movies of the 1970s. A comet collides with a five-mile wide asteroid, killing the three astronauts on Challenger 2, on its way to Mars. The giant rock is now headed for Earth but fortunately Sean Connery invented Hercules for just such a situation five years ago, a space platform in orbit with nuclear ICBMs on board. A wild-eyed general (Martin Landau) turned it around and aimed it at Russia or China, but the President (Henry Fonda) orders it turned back outward and announces to the world that the Russians have one and will do the same with theirs. Brien Keith plays Connery’s counterpart from Russia, and Natalie Wood (Brainstorm) is in it. A big chunk wipes out New York, covering Connery and the rest of the cast with sewer water while they’re trying to escape in a subway.
Not a bad movie, but by 1979 people were tired of disaster movies. American International, known for low-budget drive-in movies, spent $20,000,000 plus another six mil for promotion, but it wasn’t as profitable as their “Viking Women & the Sea Serpent” or The Thing With 2 Heads. It was co-produced by Warner Brothers Europe and Hong Kong’s Sir Run Run Shaw, better known for making countless kung-fu movies. Promos said it was suggested by an Isaac Asimov magazine article, in which he said a meteor could hit Earth, but Asimov had nothing to do with this story. Special effects by Glen Robinson, who had previously destroyed Los Angeles in Earthquake, and directed by Ronald Neame of 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure. Earlier such movies were The Comet (1910), La Fin Du Monde (1931) and When Worlds Collide (1951). That last one was a hit for scifi/fantasy producer George Pal after Cecil B. deMille turned it down in the 1930s.
“When Worlds Collide” is the one where dying star Bellus (glowing orange) is headed toward Earth so scientists build a giant space ark before giant tidal waves destroy New York. A bit talky for the first hour but the remaining half-hour won Gordon Jennings a special effects Oscar. By the way, “The Meteor” was an early title for It Came From Outer Space. There was a semi-sequel to “The Comet” in 1916, “The Comet’s Comeback” based on H.G. Wells’ “In The Days Of The Comet,” in which Earth passes through the tail of a comet and it slows down Earth’s rotation.