METEOR (1979) Blu-ray
Director: Ronald Neame
Kino Lorber

An epic disaster film which in essence turned into a major disaster for American International Pictures, the star-studded sci-fi action flick METEOR now arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Scientists discover that a five-mile long asteroid, after hitting a comet, is making a collision course towards the Earth, believing its arrival will mean total catastrophe. Smaller wayward fragments of the larger asteroid (named Orpheus) are already creating disaster in different parts of the planet. Retired five years from NASA, Dr. Paul Bradley (Sean Connery, OUTLAND) had previously designed an orbiting nuclear missile satellite named Hercules, with the intention of defending the Earth from such imposing meteors (though the U.S. has been using the satellite as protection against possible attack from Russia). Paul is reluctantly brought back to NASA for his knowledgeable services by his old pal Harry Sherwood (Karl Malden, THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS), and a control center is set up beneath Broadway in Lower Manhattan, occupied by top scientists and military men, as commanded by Major General Adlon (Martin Landau, WITHOUT WARNING). Since the Hercules satellite doesn’t have the missile power to destroy Orpheus, a plan is implemented to team up with Russia and their similar satellite (which is later named Peter the Great) in hopes that this combination of defense weapons will save the planet. A top Soviet Union scientist, Dr. Alexei Dubov (Brian Keith, REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE), is brought to the New York center along with his pretty translator Tatiana (Natalie Wood, WEST SIDE STORY), who Paul soon develops a crush on. With the smaller meteor fragments devastating different parts of the world, time is quickly running out to defeat the massive Orpheus and save all of mankind.

When Sam Arkoff and James Nicholson formed American International Pictures (AIP) in the mid 1950s, they were able to saturate the youth moviegoing market, and going forward, they always managed to to successfully coexist with the major studios without necessarily trying to imitate them. By the late 1970s, blockbusters like STAR WARS proved harder to compete with, and AIP’s solution, the big-budgeted, A-list filled METEOR failed miserably. METEOR not only tried to ride the coattails of other space adventure movies of the time (the same year, even James Bond went into orbit with MOONRAKER) but also the Hollywood disaster movies with their mandatory all-star casts (a genre which was on its way out and soon to be spoofed successfully in AIRPLANE). METEOR had financing from the Shaw Brothers (Run Run Shaw was a producer) as well as ace exploitation producer Sandy Howard (THE NEPTUNE FACTOR, THE DEVIL’S RAIN), and veteran British cinematographer-turned-director Ronald Neame was brought in to helm the film, likely because he had a huge success with THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE a few years earlier. But the film was ignored at the box office and largely panned by critics, and is considered a main cause of the downfall of AIP (the same year METEOR was released, Arkoff sold the company to Filmways, Inc. and in 1980 it was renamed Filmways Pictures, after which he left the company).

Known in circles not only as a box office turd but also as an all around “cheese fest”, how does METEOR hold up today? Well as a disaster/sci-fi epic go, it certainly has a decent premise (preceding ARMAGEDDON by decades) and it’s entertaining overall, so perhaps its initial failure had more to do with a film market glutted with (admittedly superior) blockbusters. Today, METEOR can best be looked upon as a nostalgic spectacle with sorted outer space special effects (some of which are truly poor in the wake of STAR WARS and its ilk), explosions (including the destruction of The World Trade Center, which is quite jarring to think of in fictional terms today), tidal waves, avalanches (with footage bought from Roger Corman’s recent production of AVALANCHE), underground mudslides (some great studio-shot messy chaos) and other rather lively natural disasters. On top of all this, is the very recognizable star-studded cast (better than average as far as disaster movies go), highlighted by several characters enjoying shouting matches with each other. Connery (still a viable name who would enjoy a soaring career resurgence in the late 1980s) is good as the no-nonsense hard-drinking hero who can who can separate the genuine people from the phonies, and he’s not opposed to calling a Russian-hating American general (Landau, who tries to out act everyone) an “asshole”. Wood, in one of her last movies, is the would-be romantic interest of Connery’s character (who is separated from his wife) but duty to their respective countries doesn’t allow that to flourish, except for their small talk in between disasters (the fact that the characters attempt to engage each other but nothing ever develops during the course of events, is a unique one, as to not go off into a gushy romance tangent). “Family Affair” star Keith (in a role originally intended for Donald Pleasence) subtly injects humor and humanity in his role, and it’s good to see, especially during this period, a Russian character who is not stereotypically cold-blooded or anti American (Keith, who was fluent in Russian, speaks his lines entirely in the language, and Wood, as the interpreter, also spoke the language). Malden (looking like he just walked off the set of “The Streets of San Francisco”) is as reliable as ever, and he and Connery work well off each other (as old colleagues and barstool drinking pals). Henry Fonda (who was on the set for a reported two days) plays the stressed-out president for marquee value or to remind you of his earlier portrayal as the commander-in-chief in Sidney Lumet’s FAIL-SAFE.

The supporting cast includes English acting great Trevor Howard (CRAZE) relegated to a control desk, Richard Dysart (THE THING) as the Secretary of Defense, Bibi Besch (THE BEAST WITHIN) as Connery’s estranged wife (seen for a few moments on the phone with him), Joseph Campanella (BEN) as a general, and Sybil Danning (BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS) as a gorgeous Swiss skier soon to encounter a tragic avalanche courtesy of stock footage from another movie. Composer Laurence Rosenthal tends to over score the film in a grandiose fashion that at times sounds like it’s aping John Williams’ SUPERMAN score, and believe it or not, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound.

MGM first released METEOR on DVD back in the format’s early days (2000) in a disappointing non-anamorphic transfer, so this Blu-ray upgrade (which is also available on standard DVD using the same transfer) is really welcomed. Using MGM’s HD master, Kino is presenting the film in 1080p and in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is an excellent representation of a bigger budgeted late 1970s AIP film with colors being nicely saturated and accurate looking, and the overall image being very stable in appearance. Detail is quite good, especially in close-ups, making it extremely easy to detect when inferior stock footage or optical effects are on display. Filmic grain is on display on occasion but looks organic and hence, good. The 2.0 DTS-HD MA English audio mix is balanced nicely for a very loud film, and sound effects have enough punch while the music score remains adequately boisterous. No subtitle options are included, but the original trailer is present (it does its best to hype the big name stars). (George R. Reis)