Updated: May 3
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
MSNBC producer/reporter Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni) holds onto her father Jason Lerner (Maximilian Schell) on the Atlantic shoreline as the Comet Wolf-Beiderman races toward the ocean’s waters.
(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)
“DEEP IMPACT: 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1998; PG-13 for some intense action and violence; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (iTunes) (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: The eight-minute “Preparing for the End” featurette
DURING THE summer of 1998 two huge comets raced toward Earth. Disney’s answer was Michael Bay’s doomsday thriller “Armageddon” starring Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Ben Affleck. It finished as the top blockbuster of the season.
Paramount’s mission to save us all was “Deep Impact” by director Mimi Leder, starring Robert Duvall (“Apocalypse Now”), Morgan Freeman (“The Shawshank Redemption”), Téa Leoni, and Elijah Wood (“The Lord of the Rings Trilogy”), as high school astronomer Leo Beiderman who discovers the heavenly body.
Surprisingly Paramount didn’t provide any new interviews for this 25th-anniversary edition. The 14-year-old Blu-ray houses all of the nearly two-decade-old bonus features including a commentary with Leder and Visual Effects Supervisor Scott Farrar, plus four featurettes.
The best of the bunch is “Preparing for the End” – where you’ll learn Steven Spielberg initiated the fundamental idea, calling screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin to consider adapting George Pal’s 1950s sci-fi thriller “When Worlds Collide.” “I remembered the movie vividly and actually loved it as a kid,” Rubin says. The storyline focused on two planets colliding, but Rubin wanted something different. He was drawn to the late 1970s discovery of the Chicxulub crater off the coast of Mexico, spanning 93 miles and 12 miles deep. Geologist Walter Alvarez and his father, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Luis Alvarez, believed a comet or asteroid struck the planet 66 million years ago. Its impact brought an abrupt end to the “Age of Dinosaurs,” killing three-quarters of plant and animal species on Earth.
(1&2) Lee High School Astronomy Club students right, Leo Beiderman (Elijah Wood) and Sarah Hotchner (Leelee Sobieski) with teacher Mike Perry (Mike O'Malley). Leo discovers a new heavenly body and they send a photograph to Dr. Marcus Wolf (Charles Martin Smith) to observe at the Adrian Peak in Tucson, Arizona. (3) The morning news meeting at the Washington D.C. MSNBC Bureau. (4) Jenny Lerner has lunch with her mother Robin Lerner (Vanessa Redgrave), who’s upset that Jenny’s father has remarried a woman only two years older than Jenny. (5&6) Lerner tries to interview former U.S. Secretary of Treasury Alan Rittenhouse (James Cromwell), who resigned because his wife is sick. But Lerner believes there’s something more, with a person named Ellie, and secret phone lines and whispered calls to the President.
Rubin first investigated the 1994 Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet that crashed into the planet Jupiter. He interviewed Dr. Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker and Dr. David Levy, the ones who discovered the comet, at the Mount Palomar astronomical research observatory in San Diego County, California. The four stayed up until 4 a.m. talking about the possibility of a comet hitting Earth, similar in size to the one that smashed into Jupiter. The impact would equal 100 million megatons of kinetic energy, causing mass extinctions of species on the planet.
He next questioned how we might stop a massive comet heading toward the planet and the folks at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif. didn’t have an answer – implying we didn’t have the technology. He and Spielberg first envisioned a three-hour epic, telling the story of the people on Earth, “Facing this calamity coming at them and to deal with the U.S. President and his reaction and news people covering the story and the drama of the whole planet.”
The first draft was massive, with detailed information and U.S. government protocols, but producer David Brown recruited screenwriter Michael Tolkin to reduce all the storylines and focus on a few characters – especially MSNBC producer/reporter Jenny Lerner played by Leoni. “Every storyline had to move through her and around her,” Tolkin says. She was a fresh face in Hollywood. Co-producer Richard D. Zanuck signed Morgan Freeman to play U.S. President Beck. “Who else on this planet could be our President that we so love and admire and trust?” director Mimi Leder challenges.
Leder was recruited by Spielberg during his first screening of the political thriller “The Peacemaker,” which she had just finished for DreamWorks. Her reaction was, “I don’t do sci-fi. And I don’t know anything about sci-fi.” Once onboard she didn’t watch any sci-fi films in preparation, except Stanley Kramer’s doomsday classic “On the Beach” (1959) starring Gregory Peck as Commander Dwight Lionel of the U.S. nuclear submarine U.S.S. Sawfish. “I loved that feeling of isolation and the world coming to an end,” she says.
“Deep Impact” includes an excellent supporting cast with Vanessa Redgrave, Maximilian Schell, James Cromwell, Blair Underwood, Jon Favreau, and Leelee Sobieski.
(1) Jenny meets with her father and his new wife Chloe (Rya Kihlstedt). (2-5) President Beck (Morgan Freeman) conducts a press conference to announce the course of the Wolf-Beiderman Comet (named after its discoverers Dr. Marcus Wolf and Leo Beiderman). The comet is 7 miles long and could possibly wipe out humanity. The United States and Russia have been secretly constructing a spacecraft, called the Messiah. A team of NASA astronauts hope to intercept the comet and use nuclear weapons to destroy it. (6&7) Leo Beiderman becomes an instant celebrity at his school and answers questions from fellow students. His girlfriend Sarah Hotchner is embarrassed by one of the questions.
“Making an Impact” – Highlights the production in Virginia, Washington D.C., New York City, and a huge Paramount soundstage for the comet sequence. Plus, an interview with ILM Visual Effects Supervisor Scott Farrar, who provided on-set input, and conceptual artwork for the comet, which Zanuck felt needed to look meaner while staying true to the science. If you look closely, they added a little face on the front of the comet. A 12-foot model was created for the “Messiah” spacecraft.
“Creating the Perfect Traffic Jam” – Underlines the mass exodus of thousands of cars and people on a Virginia highway filmed over two days without any digital effects except the comet overhead and the giant wave.
“Parting Thoughts” – Leder covers the three test screenings and the feedback they received to trim the relationship between the teenage lovers. She delivers the sad news, cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann developed leukemia during the production and didn’t complete the filming. He died soon afterward.
Mission to the Wolf-Beiderman Comet
(1) A 12-foot model was used as the Messiah spacecraft. (2&3) Right, Robert Duvall plays veteran astronaut Capt. Spurgeon Tanner, center, Ron Eldard as team leader Oren Monash and Russian actor Aleksandr Baluev as Russian astronaut Mikhail Tulchinsky, as they observe the Wolf-Beiderman Comet. (3-5) The smaller spacecraft lands on the comet’s surface as the crew plant nuclear bombs 300 feet beneath the surface to hopefully knock the comet off-course or destroy it.
Leder and Lohmann captured the drama on the Super 35 (common-top) format, using spherical lens (2.39:1 aspect ratio) producing a slightly larger film grain and lesser clarity than anamorphic lens films since a portion of the negative isn’t used.
Here’s the problem. Paramount has overmanaged the larger grain of “Deep Impact” – especially during Chapter 3 – to the point you must strain to see it in bright highlights where it should be self-evident. At the same time, during Chapters 11 and 21-25, the film grain is quite visible and natural. Still, it never matches the unaltered grain process from Sony, Criterion, Arrow, and the majority of the MGM/Kino Lorber releases on 4K.
Yes, it’s a major upgrade over the soft 2K mastered Blu-ray from 2009, but that’s a poor comparison. The grain should be more resolved with a defined structure from start to finish. Here’s its up and down, from over-processing the grain. On the plus side, the majority of the wide shots still have plenty of 4K resolution and clarity.
Just compare “Deep Impact” to Paramount’s own Super 35 remastering work on “Top Gun” which has excellent film grain and overall clarity. And against Sony’s 4K remastering work of Super 35 films with first-class film grain retention: “Air Force One,” “The Patriot,” “Black Hawk Down,” “The Remains of the Day,” “Spider-Man 2,” “Spider-Man 3,” “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angles & Demons.” Those 4K discs are superb.
But, the best Super 35 comparison to “Deep Impact” is Sony’s “Salt” (2010), which used newer versions of the same fine-grain Kodak 500T and 200T film stock and from start to finish the grain with “Salt” is more defined, structured, and evident. Sony is considered Hollywood’s best with 4K remastering. There are also the same top-notch Super 35 results with Universal’s “Apollo 13,” “Robin Hood” and “Gladiator,” which they handled for DreamWorks/Paramount.
Even so, Peter Jackson’s 4K remastering “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy,” also filmed on Super 35, results are similar to “Deep Impact” with over-managed film grain.
The HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading is quite good on “Deep Impact,” with its expansive contrast and color spectrum, and overall darker exposure compared to the old Blu-ray. Facial toning is natural and overall saturation is very good.
Another ding against “Deep Impact” is the overall low video bitrate, especially during non-action scenes in Chapter 3. The number ranges from 14 megabits per second to 30 Mbps. That’s what you would expect with a Blu-ray release. During the intense action scenes, the bitrate increases to an acceptable range of 50 to 60 Mbps, but for top-notch 4K encoding, those numbers need to be 70 to 100 Mbps.
For many, Paramount’s 4K remastering of “Deep Impact” will be considered excellent, but for folks with a critical eye and supersize theater screens – we expect better. Next time just follow Sony’s grain management playbook.
The six-channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack from the previous Blu-ray has been ported over. It has plenty of dynamic range with deep bass response during the high-impact scene on the comet and during the disaster’s tide wave. James Horner’s score has a number of high marks including the “The Wedding” theme.
“I wanted audiences to walk outside and look around and realize, one how lucky they are to be here, and two, how fragile our existence is and how blessed we are to have it.” — Bruce Joel Rubin, screenwriter
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer