NASA will test DART, its defense system against space threats 1:06
There's a giant rock above us.
This is not a movie, much less a drill.
But do not worry.
Apparently, we can handle this.
Or at least NASA does.
This Monday, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft is scheduled to collide with Dimorphos, a small "moon" orbiting the near-Earth asteroid Didymos.
NASA's big idea is to see if using such unmanned equipment to ward off incoming space debris will protect Earth in the future.
This we can expect from NASA's DART mission that will collide with an asteroid this Monday
It's admirable, but it somehow feels a bit underwhelming after decades of what I call "Chicken Little" movies, where humanity is threatened from above by cosmic disorder that can't be reasoned out except through drastic means. .
Bruce Willis (center) leads an oil rig crew, including Ben Affleck (second from right), to blow up an asteroid before it collides with Earth in the 1998 disaster movie " Armageddon."
You already know the routine.
Someone finds unequivocal evidence of a) an asteroid, b) a meteorite, c) a comet, d) a rogue moon, or e) an entire planet approaching us.
Who believes these warnings?
Exactly no one, until the skies are littered with debris that slides at high speed and shoots out of the approaching object.
So we either a) panic, b) submit, or c) blow some of our own humans up there to save us all.
Let's take the most recent example of this subgenre, "Don't Look Up".
Released in theaters and on Netflix last year, writer-director Adam McKay's rebellious political satire stars two Michigan State University astronomers (Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio) who discover a comet that appears to have sprung from the nothing and that in six months it will collide with our planet with enough force to extinguish all life.
The satire "Don't Look Up" features Jennifer Lawrence (2nd from left) and Leonardo DiCaprio (far right in rear) as astronomers trying to warn authorities about a comet on a collision course with Earth.
His conclusions initially provoke disbelief and even ridicule from the government and the media.
But once the inevitability hits, the world in general and the United States in particular engage in the crisis the same way they seem to engage in everything else in the 21st century: narcissism, denial, and blaming all the wrong people. .
It's enough to make you think that the world as we know it is over before it does.
The looming apocalypse has always been a viable metaphor for our seemingly inescapable madness.
(Eg "Dr. Strangelove"?) But we haven't always been so cynical about dealing with natural catastrophes from space.
At the beginning of this century, we were so solemn and proud of our ability to face the dangers of space that it was sometimes ridiculous.
In 1998, theaters had not one, but two big "Chicken Little"-type blockbusters: Michael Bay's "Armageddon" and Mimi Leder's "Deep Impact."
The first, threatened by an asteroid the size of Texas, was a packed and bombastic action
, brimming with humor and even larger scenes with barely enough time for the audience to catch their breath.
The second film, whose threat was, as in the case of "Don't Look Up", a comet, was a more serious, self-consciously assembled and much less frantic variation on this theme.
Both films did well at the box office, though Bay's epic brought in about $554 million, while Leder's more thoughtful film grossed about $350 million, according to the Box Office Mojo website.
"Armageddon" meets danger by creating a pair of space shuttles (remember them?) manned by top oil drilling crews, the most prominent of which is Bruce Willis, neck-deep in John Wayne mode, in the role of Harry Stamper.
He is supported by, among others, Billy Bob Thornton (coolest in the room as a NASA executive), Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, Michael Clarke Duncan, William Fichtner, Peter Stormare (hilarious as the only man left on the space station Russian), Ben Affleck (who dates Willis's daughter much to her father's annoyance) and Liv Tyler (the daughter).
"Don't Look Up" has an editing error and a Tik Tok user revealed what it is
Robert Duvall, right, with Ron Eldard, commands a spacecraft attempting to plant nuclear weapons on a comet in "Deep Impact" (1998),
So what version of impending extinction can we get on with our lives?
That would spoil things for those who haven't seen either movie.
All we can reveal is that the science in "Deep Impact" is much more reliable than in "Armageddon."
Or, for that matter, on "Don't Look Up."
Draw your own conclusions.
By the way, I bet you're wondering if there was ever a "Chicken Little" movie made.
Yes, there was, a digitally animated film released in 2005 by Disney (without Pixar).
This version begins with the title character getting hit in the head by what he thinks is a piece of heaven.
After a panic, the "piece of sky" is identified as an acorn, making Chicken Little a laughing stock for months, until he finds unexpected redemption when another, more sinister piece of spaceship falls. alien.
All I'll say here is that it sounds much more interesting than the movie turned out to be.
The main character of the 2005 animated film "Chicken Little" faces ridicule after warning that the sky is falling.
If the real-life DART is successful in its mission, perhaps we can be more reassured when asteroids get too close.
But that doesn't necessarily mean the movies abandon "Chicken Little" themes entirely.
After all, the reason the original phrase "The sky is falling!"
passed down from generation to generation is that at some point the story revolves around whether we earthlings believe or, worse yet, care that disaster is imminent.
Gene Seymour is a critic who has written about music, film, and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly, and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @GeneSeymour.
Gene Seymour is a critic who has written about music, film, and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly, and The Washington Post.
Follow him on Twitter @GeneSeymour.