the plot of meteor (1979) reminds me of a tabloid headline i saw as a kid

(cw: implied emotional abuse, nazis, racism)

when i was very young, i saw a tabloid in the checkout line at a grocery store with the rather alarming headline “doomsday comet speeds towards earth!” and a subheadline of “us and ussr cooperate to avoid impact.” i don’t remember a lot of things from when i was that young. the fact that i still remember the exact headline (and can more or less picture what that cover page looked like) is largely indicative of the fact that i freaked out and thought we were all going to die.

i was with my father at the time and of course he didn’t bother even trying to explain what the fuck a tabloid was even though i was an alarmingly bright child and almost certainly would have understood if he had expended the slightest amount of effort. instead, he just acted exasperated and mad and belittling like he always did.

anyway, that tabloid story is basically the plot of this movie.

the tabloid remained at the checkout counter unread, so i don’t know if it made the same large-scale mistake that this movie makes about cold war politics. (it was an american tabloid towards the end of the cold war, though, so of fucking course it probably did.) but i cannot move on until i talk about that very big detail this movie predictably got wrong. i’m sorry. but the americans initiated overtures of cooperation???

before i even get into anything else we need to zoom out and talk about how fucking ridiculous this is. the entire cold war was dominated by aggression from america and its imperialist allies. before wwii, the soviet union begged england and france to abandon their policy of appeasement and go to war with nazi germany. england and france’s cowardice ultimately left the ussr with no choice but to sign a non-aggression pact that they were vilified for.

when the nazis inevitably broke their word, they sent 80 percent of their forces after the soviets. think about that. everything else happening in the war was basically irrelevant. one need only look at the fact that 27 million soviets died in the war, against 419,000 americans & 450,000 british. it was only when it became clear the red army was going to liberate the whole of europe on their own that the u.s. and u.k. launched their own invasion. similarly, it was the fact that the ussr was going to enter the war with japan that compelled america to commit the unspeakable war crime of dropping two atomic bombs to secure japan’s surrender for themselves.

after the war, the soviet union’s policy was based entirely on the pursuit of peace while the imperialist united states’ and its allies’ policy was based entirely on aggressively pursuing their “interests.” the soviets made concession after concession in the pursuit of peace, while the u.s. desperately threw their weight around to violently suppress communist and other uprisings throughout the world. the soviets did not have a first-strike policy. the u.s. did.

whenever anyone wants to point to anything that makes the western imperialists “the good guys” in the cold war, they usually point to the fact that the ussr installed socialist governments in the countries of eastern europe, which largely failed because those countries had not had authentic socialist revolutions of their own. in fact, the ussr only did this because the u.s. and u.k. rejected their overtures to establish “neutral” governments in occupied europe.

all of this is to say, if it were up to the united states to initiate diplomatic overtures to the soviets, the world would fucking burn.

there is a character in this–a general–whose attitude towards cooperation with the soviets largely mirrors that of the american ruling class as a whole. the thing is, by marginalizing this position to this clearly obnoxious character, it really distorts what american policy in the cold war was. again, none of this is surprising, but it’s still worth calling out. like, i could see some people seeing this movie as “controversially” “pro-ussr,” but in reality it is the same pro-u.s. distorted narrative you always get in these things.

like, it doesn’t vilify the soviet characters at all. fine. but it’s coming from this extremely liberal “why can’t we all get along” sort of place. (sup, rocky iv?) i was briefly struck with admiration when connery’s character told one of the soviets “you’d like it here, you know. we’ve got everything. power cuts, strikes, unemployment, race riots, and a terrific crime rate.” but like, as amazing as that was in the moment to hear an american character criticizing america in front of a soviet character, it’s just so superficial and toothless. and even examining some of the individual complaints makes their pro-ruling class perspective (“strikes,” not exploitation of workers? “race riots,” not white supremacy? “crime rate,” not overpolicing/mass incarceration?) rather deflatingly obvious.

nor is this the only large-scale problem with the movie. this movie has two black characters in subordinate roles (a valet of some sort with no lines, and a military officer with like two superficial lines of exposition) and i think one asian character who’s there briefly to give us a p.o.v. character for the destruction of hong kong. (considering this was a u.s./hong kong co-production, you woulda thought they coulda squeezed in an actual asian character somewhere???) meteor also marginalizes its female characters to the degree you would expect from this time period. they at least get to be actual characters, but are subordinate to male characters both in terms of their narrative function and who they are/what they do within the logic of the movie. there’s this completely nondescript couple that exists just to be a nondescript couple (we see them talk to each other a bunch of times to establish that they’re a couple but they’re also just kinda… there) and of course the woman of the couple gets killed by falling rocks at the film’s climax so we can sympathize with the random guy we know nothing about. this shit is just weird.

also, the last act of the movie just really drags in general. leaving aside its distorted politics, all of the buildup is fantastic in terms of narrative engagement/etc, and the little mini-disasters you get are wildly entertaining in spite of any limitations on the special effects/etc. (yes, even the one that’s largely just blatantly reused footage of avalanche.) honestly, this kind of silly disaster movie is totally my jam, so in spite of my glaring at its politics throughout, i enjoyed the hell out of it until it started dragging towards the end.



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