What are the odds that I picked up two films that closely related in theme, but totally different in tone and style. The common theme is that earth is about to be destroyed with a direct hit from another planet, in Melancholia that is that planet, and in Impact it is the moon. In both cases, science cannot really explain why it happens. Scientists are at a lost, so in a facts-base universe, the only thing astrophysicists can do is to calculate risk with the best prediction models they have. Well, the first attempt in Impact is to nuke the moon off the projection path:it fails. The second attempt is how like many others, which is to land on moon, and plug the nuke into its core, and blow it up: Deep Impact (1998).
In Impact, Alex Kittner (David James Elliott) is a grieving husband and a ex-NASA scientist, and Dr. Maddie Rhodes (Natasha Henstridge) becomes the head of the project to help save earth. Of course, they knew each other! This 2-episode TV movie is quite predictable with a widowed father, two kids, Jake Kittner (Owen Best) and Sadie Kittner (Natasha Calis), a global crisis; hence, there is President Edward Taylor (Steven Culp), and all the usual White House lieutenants…Since it impacts earth, the G7 are also involved, namely Germany. Heading that team is a rather selfish Roland Emerson (Benjamin Sadler), who cares more about his accolades than his pregnant financé, Martina Altmann (Florentine Lahme). You bet, it is happy ending!
Melancholia, on the other hand, is a melodrama. Although when “the planet” approaches, most effects between the two films- tidal waves, hail storm, electrical surges,…- are similar, the focus here is only on one family, or more specifically the relationship between two sisters: Justine (Kirsten Dunst), and Claire(Charlotte Gainsbourg). On the surface, Claire seems to be collected and capable, but perhaps, they are both “unhappy”! Claire’s rich husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland) is an amateur scientist, who knows stars constellation, and owns a big mansion with 18-hole golf course, a stable and basically the whole-nine-yard of an estate! The wedding of Justine and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) takes place on this estate. Claire organises the wedding to make her sister happy, but we know something is not quite right under all the politeness at the dinner. The speeches are from her boss, Jake (Stellan Skarsgård), her father Dexter (John Hurt), her mom, Gaby(Charlotte Rampling), and her husband, Michael(Alexander Skarsgård), and Michael hits the right note: he does not know what to say. As time goes, we know Justine is not well (that depends on your definition), and we will soon discover that she is under chronic depression. In other words, happiness is as elusive as good smelling oxygen. Therefore, in part I – Justine, we will see how the wedding dinner drags on and on, until everyone calls it a quit, literally! including Michael. There is only Claire who comes and consoles her sister, Justine.
In Part 2 – Claire, Jutine is now totally out of it and cannot cope with daily life. Claire takes her in. As the blue planet, Melancholia, approaches closer to earth, Justine’s mood ameliorates. She is not afraid of death! for her, earth is hell. For Claire, her life, her son, her husband, and the predictability of her life gives her happiness; therefore, this doomsday event scares her. John believes in science, he knows the “fly-by” will be just that and life goes on, and so he tells his wife before he commits suicide, because the sling-shot effect is going to prove him wrong.
The beginning of the film is like an overture of an opera (no ballets, but beautiful still-motions shots) with Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde-prelude plays in the background. This leitmotif will play throughout. If you are an opera fan, you need to watch this as if you are watching an opera, it is slow, visual, and musical.
So there you have it, two scientifically validated films previewing the doomsday of earth being destroyed, one with happy ending, the other not so; which one you pick for Dec 21, 2012?
WATCH Melancholia if you just let it takes you; WATCH Impact it you want to remain…predictable.