The Lost Rival to Deep Impact and Armageddon

The summer of 1998 nearly had a third comet hitting the Earth movie - one that involved James Cameron...

Deep Impact

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Readers of a certain vintage may well recall the spectacular showdown of summer 1998. In the one corner, there was Mimi Leder’s thoughtful, more character-driven comet hurtling to Earth movie, Deep Impact. In the other, Michael Bay’s less thoughtful, less character-driven comet hurtling to Earth movie, Armageddon. Both snagged decent reviews. Both snagged good box office. As the turn of the century approached, cinema audiences were clearly in the mood to watch the world being torn apart by seemingly unstoppable forces from outer space.

What’s perhaps less known though than one of the highest profile blockbuster battles of the 1990s is that originally, there was a third film in the mix. In the much the same way that originally, three Robin Hood movies were due to ride into Sherwood Forest in the summer 1991 only for one to be crowded out of the running, so we never got to see a third comet flick, Bright Angel Falling.

As it turned out, this one was in development for a good numbers of years beforehand. And it was a project initiated by James Cameron.

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Cameron originally penned a treatment for the film, and then involved director Peter Hyams. The pair of them worked that treatment into a screenplay, and the script at one point leaked online The plan was for Hyams to direct, with Cameron’s docket at the time concerned with True Lies and Titanic. That said, as I understand it, even had his schedule been freer, Cameron was happy to be writer on this one.

And the film did gain some initial legs. The project was set up at 20th Century Fox, where Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment had a development deal. Gale Anne Hurd was set to produce. A finished screenplay was written.

The ingredients to Bright Angel Falling are not too far from what you might expect. There’s a divorced astronaut called Will Seacord as the lead, and he has a 15-year old daughter who’s rebelling. I like to think that Geostorm tipped its hat to that setup. Seacord, then, finds himself withdrawn from NASA’s lead flight crew, and he has to consider another career, and come to terms with being a bad parent.

Separately, a young astronomer spots something in the sky. She identifies it as a comet, and the realization hits that Earth is in bigrouble. The President is told, and it becomes clear that we’re looking at an extinction level event, with three months before Earth is wiped out.

How can it be averted? In the case of Bright Angel Falling, an old student thesis paper is discovered, that has an idea to play two bombs on said comet. Those bombs will then alter the trajectory of it, it’ll miss Earth, we’ll all survive.

Where Bright Angel Falling takes a slightly different turn, though, is that a crew is put together to go and save us all, when they are attacked in a religiously-motivated attack. If only there was a recently stood down NASA pilot who could step in, go through a bit of training, and save the day? He needs to get a move  on, though, as parts of the comet have started to hit Earth already.

Once he’s on the comet, things naturally don’t quite go to plan, and someone needs to make the ultimate sacrifice. Er, Seacord then shuts his fellow crew member into the escape shuttle, so that he can manually detonate the bombs and save the world.

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Copies of the screenplay have long since vanished online, and thus I’m indebted to ScriptShadow for the breakdown of the project. You can read its analysis here

I can’t help but concur with its argument that large elements of the story coincidentally appeared in the two comet pictures that we did see. And that given Cameron’s story was doing the rounds a good half decade before, there’s a good pub conversation that could be had – without lawyers listening, of course – as to just how coincidental that overlap was. Interestingly, features that cropped up in both Deep Impact and Armageddon are evident in the script that Cameron and Hyams put together.

The reason Bright Angel Falling ultimately didn’t happen is a fairly obvious one. When word of Cameron and Hyam’s project came to light, it seemed to spur the competition. As such, DreamWorks was pouring money and resources into Deep Impact (director Mimi Leder quickly jumped from hers and DreamWorks’ debut feature, The Peacemaker), and Disney was spending even more on Armageddon.

A development war broke out, and Fox’s film was going to be third out of the gate. That proved fatal. Third in a race that Hollywood wasn’t sure could sustain two films was always going to be the death knell to the project, and Bright Angel Falling duly became added to the list of Hollywood’s unproduced blockbusters, its name destined to only be mentioned by loveable, cuddly websites…