Bad Geology Movies: Armageddon, 1998



Bruce Willis, Ben Afflek, Liv Tyler

Premise: What if a Texas-sized asteroid were careening toward Earth and we only had 18 days to stop it?

The idea is an interesting one. We know that there was an asteroid impact on Earth at the same time the dinosaurs went extinct and there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the impact itself was a huge factor causing the extinction. So, what if it were about to happen again, only now we were able to detect the oncoming asteroid and could (potentially) do something about it?

In the opening sequence, the narrator describes the dinosaur-killing asteroid as six-miles wide. That may be right. It seems reasonable, anyway. The narrator goes on to describe a global dust cloud which lasted for 1000 years, through which the sun could not penetrate. For the sake of the movie, that’s as good as anything. But do be aware that there are plenty of competing hypotheses about what happened after the impact. Some involve incinerating the Earth, not coving it with dust. Or triggering volcanoes. Or all of the above. But, that there was an impact is no longer debated.

Since this is about bad geology movies, I won’t go into the details of problems with the rest of the movie aside from the geology. The movie was fairly fun… until they were on the asteroid. Then I started having problems.

1) Our characters miss their landing site by 26 miles. They wind up in a region of “compressed iron ferrite.” They also describe it as a compressed iron plate. Iron ferrite is not any mineral or rock that I’ve heard of. “Ferrite” as a word on its own, is another word that means ‘iron.’ So iron ferrite is an iron-bearing iron rock (or mineral, they never clarify). So it’s redundant. You see the phrase “Iron Ferrite” on google, but I suspect people put the two together because most folks don’t realize that the ‘ferrite’ part already says ‘iron.’

2) All over the place (on the asteroid) are huge crystals jutting all around. It’s reminiscent of Superman’s home planet of Krypton, or perhaps his Fortress of Solitude up in the Arctic. Such crystals aren’t going to form in the vacuum of space, especially not in an area composed entirely of iron ferrite. They looked like gypsum crystals, which wouldn’t make much sense on an asteroid.

3) The topography of the asteroid was bizarre. One would expect craters, with steep slopes and whatnot, but not a “Grand Canyon.” A canyon like that is an erosional feature, that you wouldn’t expect on an asteroid. But maybe it was a great big crack in the asteroid. Why then did they not drill there, where the rock was already fractured and weak?

4) One more thing bothered me, but maybe it’s not so bad. This asteroid seemed to have an atmosphere. There were the random fireballs which made no sense to me. And then the wind blew, slightly, at the end when Bruce Willis’ character picks up some of the dust and let it fall from his hand.

There was just a lot wrong with the asteroid, which spoiled the movie for me, mostly. The movie was enjoyable otherwise, with some fun and charming characters.

2 thoughts on “Bad Geology Movies: Armageddon, 1998

  1. I loved the movie. Is one of my favourites. So what it wasn’t Geologically correct.

    Rob. Bsc. Hons. MSc DIC FGS (fellow of Geological Society of London)

  2. I totally agree with you Penny – as an engineering geophysicist, I had the same opinion of the movie. The reason for my late reply to your post is that I just watched a program on the developments at Area 51 in Nevada, and the evolution of the Stealth aircraft. The very authoritative-sounding narrator surmised that the top-secret radar-absorbent material (RAM) that coats the aircraft contains tiny pellets of iron ferrite!

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