Meteor (1979)

PG | 107 mins | Science fiction | 19 October 1979

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HISTORY

The film concludes with the onscreen statement: “In 1968, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a plan was designed to deal with the possibility of a giant meteor on a collision course with earth. This plan is named: “Project Icarus.”
       End credits include the following acknowledgements: “Special thanks to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and M.I.T. Press; the California Institute of Technology; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Griffith Park Observatory; Polaris Observatory Association; the U.S. Coast Guard; Controlled Demolition, Inc.; and Weddle Brothers Co., Inc. for their cooperation and assistance.”
       A four-part series of LAT feature articles, from 2 Jul to 5 Jul 1978, provided details about the film’s development, financing, casting, and production. A 17 Jul 1978 Box article called the front-page coverage “unprecedented” for a motion picture and noted that the articles were also intended to circulate overseas, in advance of foreign distribution.
       The 2 Jul 1978 and 3 Jul 1978 LAT articles explained that producer Theodore Parvin conceived the initial story in Jul 1975 from a Saturday Review magazine article by science writer Isaac Asimov, about the threat of meteorites destroying an entire city. After Parvin completed a twenty-page outline, he and producer Arnold Orgolini commissioned a series of sketches illustrating a meteor crash in New York City, then hired Edmund H. North to write the screenplay. North’s version of the story was further influenced by a 1968 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published report, known as “Project Icarus,” speculating on the use of nuclear rockets to deflect an asteroid collision with Earth. In the meantime, Orgolini launched a team led ... More Less

The film concludes with the onscreen statement: “In 1968, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a plan was designed to deal with the possibility of a giant meteor on a collision course with earth. This plan is named: “Project Icarus.”
       End credits include the following acknowledgements: “Special thanks to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and M.I.T. Press; the California Institute of Technology; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Griffith Park Observatory; Polaris Observatory Association; the U.S. Coast Guard; Controlled Demolition, Inc.; and Weddle Brothers Co., Inc. for their cooperation and assistance.”
       A four-part series of LAT feature articles, from 2 Jul to 5 Jul 1978, provided details about the film’s development, financing, casting, and production. A 17 Jul 1978 Box article called the front-page coverage “unprecedented” for a motion picture and noted that the articles were also intended to circulate overseas, in advance of foreign distribution.
       The 2 Jul 1978 and 3 Jul 1978 LAT articles explained that producer Theodore Parvin conceived the initial story in Jul 1975 from a Saturday Review magazine article by science writer Isaac Asimov, about the threat of meteorites destroying an entire city. After Parvin completed a twenty-page outline, he and producer Arnold Orgolini commissioned a series of sketches illustrating a meteor crash in New York City, then hired Edmund H. North to write the screenplay. North’s version of the story was further influenced by a 1968 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published report, known as “Project Icarus,” speculating on the use of nuclear rockets to deflect an asteroid collision with Earth. In the meantime, Orgolini launched a team led by executive producer Gabriel Katzka to sell the concept at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival market. By the time North delivered the screenplay, Parvin and Arnold had commitments of $6 million from distributors. The primary investors consisted of producer Sir Run Run Shaw, a dominant player in the Asian market; Warner Bros, Inc.; Japan’s Nippon Herald Films; and American International Pictures (AIP), who acquired domestic distribution rights for $2.7 million.
       Director Ronald Neame, selected for his experience helming another disaster picture, The Poseidon Adventure (1972, see entry), disliked North’s screenplay. Writer Steven Bach, whose contribution is uncredited onscreen, was enlisted to restructure the story. However, Neame and actor Sean Connery were dissatisfied with the Bach draft, which led the director to collaborate with writer Stanley Mann and rework the script “from scratch.” For this version, Neame and Mann introduced a female lead character, “Tatiana Donskaya,” solving the need for a romantic sub-plot. As reported in a 20 Jul 1978 DV article, screenplay credit became a contentious issue between Neame and the Writers Guild of America West, who ruled that North should be credited for story and Mann and North as co-screenwriters. Neame protested by releasing a trade advertisement, stating that the Meteor script “‘was written entirely by Stanley Mann and myself and bears little resemblance to that written by Mr. North.’”
       The LAT articles, dated 4 Jul 1978 and 5 Jul 1978, noted that Natalie Wood was the first choice to play Tatiana. As the daughter of Russian immigrants, the actress was sufficiently fluent, but she also worked with Russian language advisor George Rubinstein to polish her command of the technical jargon and develop a Leningrad accent. Several actors were considered for Soviet scientist “Dr. Dubov,” including Alec Guinness, Yul Brynner, Rod Steiger, Maximilian Schell, Peter Ustinov, Eli Wallach, Telly Savalas, Theodore Bikel, Richard Burton, and Orson Welles. Donald Pleasence eventually signed for the part, but withdrew just after shooting began due to a scheduling conflict with his work on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978, see entry). Actor Brian Keith, originally cast as “General Adlon,” switched roles and replaced Pleasence at the last minute. Natalie Wood wrote in a 22 Oct 1979 HR editorial that Keith did a remarkable job of learning “his Russian lines phonetically in ten days.” With a few days notice, actor Martin Landau stepped into the role of “General Adlon.”
       Principal photography began 31 Oct 1977, as stated in the 5 Jul 1978 LAT article. According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the majority of filming took place at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios in Culver City, CA. Principal sets included the subway station and tunnel, which was modeled on the Fulton Street station in New York City; the Hercules command center, based on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Luna Receiving Lab in Houston, TX; and the United Nations Security Council assembly room. After completion of soundstage work, the production shot on location at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.; St. Moritz, Switzerland, for the ski resort backdrop and avalanche sequence; and Hong Kong, China, to capture the crowd rushing from the tidal wave.
       As outlined in the 5 Jul 1978 LAT article, the subway mud sequence proved to be the most difficult and expensive to shoot. Filming took place over eight days at a cost of $1.5 million. On Stage 30 at M-G-M, the filmmakers modified the swimming tank used for Esther Williams's aquamusicals to spew a million pounds of the mud-like substance, bentonite. A 19 Dec 1977 DV article described the scenery as “the second largest set constructed in Hollywood in recent times, ranking just behind the wall built for King Kong (1976, see entry).”
       A 2 Dec 1977 DV item reported that prop maker Guy MacLaury was injured in a fall on Stage 30, and construction foreman Bill Trobaugh estimated MacLaury’s recovery time to be six months. The names of MacLaury and Trobaugh are not credited onscreen. A 31 Oct 1977 HR brief announced that composer John Williams would write an orchestral suite, but Williams’ contribution to the film could not be verified.
       The 3 Jul 1978 LAT article stated that principal photography was completed 27 Jan 1978.
       The release, originally scheduled for 15 Jun 1979, was postponed until 19 Oct 1979 due to special effects reshoots, as reported in DV articles from 20 Oct 1978 and 14 Feb 1979. An additional $1.25 million was required from the film’s financial investors. According to interviews in the Dec 1979 issue of Starlog magazine, the special effects department was replaced more than once. Frank Van der Veer was originally hired for photographic effects, but “virtually all of his work was discarded” after a year into production. His contribution remains uncredited. A visual effects crew, led by William Cruse and Margot Anderson, was hired for reshoots, but they were eventually dismissed. Gene Warren, founder of Excelsior Animated Motion Pictures, and Rob Blalack were recruited two months before the Oct 1979 release date. One of Warren’s technicians, Paul Kassler, explained in a Mar 1980 Starlog article that their effects team repurposed footage from Avalanche (1978, see entry) to depict the meteor hitting a ski slope. The names of Blalack, Warren, and Kassler do not appear onscreen. A 13 Apr 1978 HR article disclosed the name of another uncredited effects artist, George Mather, who was dismissed in Oct 1977 after ten weeks of work. Mather filed a $100,000 lawsuit against the filmmakers for “breach of oral contract.”
       During a mid-Oct 1979 media event and preview screening at the Meteor Crater outside Flagstaff, AZ, American International Pictures (AIP) president Samuel Z. Arkoff indicated, in a 15 Oct 1979 DV article, that Meteor was the most difficult picture in the company’s history. Final production costs were cited as $20 million, while other publications, such as the 16 Oct 1979 LAT, mentioned the figure as $17 million. In addition, Arkoff noted that AIP planned to spend $6 million on marketing, the company’s largest promotional budget to date, according to a 2 Aug 1978 HR article. Production notes mentioned that set construction was approximately $5 million while post-production effects amounted to $3 million. The 14 Feb 1979 DV article speculated that the picture’s cost overrun could explain the merger talks between AIP and Filmways, Inc.
       According to a 5 Dec 1979 Var chart of the “50 Top-Grossing Films for the week ending 28 Nov 1979,” the film’s cumulative domestic gross, after six weeks in theaters, was just over $2.4 million. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
17 Jul 1978.
---
Daily Variety
2 Dec 1977.
---
Daily Variety
19 Dec 1977
p. 32.
Daily Variety
20 Jul 1978
p. 6.
Daily Variety
20 Oct 1978.
---
Daily Variety
14 Feb 1979
p. 1, 8.
Daily Variety
15 Oct 1979
p. 3, 11.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Oct 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Apr 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Aug 1978
p. 1, 25.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Oct 1979
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 1979.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Jul 1978
Section A, p. 1, 25-28.
Los Angeles Times
3 Jul 1978
Section B, p. 1, 18, 22-25.
Los Angeles Times
4 Jul 1978
Section A, p. 1, 3, 11-14.
Los Angeles Times
5 Jul 1978
Section B, p. 1, 3, 25-26, 28.
Los Angeles Times
16 Oct 1979
Section B, 22.
Los Angeles Times
19 Oct 1979
p. 22.
New York Times
19 Oct 1979
p. 6.
Starlog
Dec 1979
p. 18, 20-21, 50.
Starlog
Mar 1980
p. 34, 36, 62.
Variety
17 Oct 1979
p. 10.
Variety
5 Dec 1979
p. 11.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Co-starring:
Communications center technicians:
[And]
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Samuel Z. Arkoff Presents
A Sandy Howard/Gabriel Katzka Sir Run Run Shaw Presentation
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
Prod mgr, Hong Kong
Prod mgr, Europe
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
Key grip
Still photog
Negative processed by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Addl film ed
Assoc film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Const coord
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Const foreman
Prop maker
COSTUMES
Cost des
Costumer
Costumer
Costumer
Costumer
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd boom op
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Visual unit cam op
VISUAL EFFECTS
Visual eff
Visual eff supv
Visual eff ed
Spec eff supv
Spec eff supv
Electronic eff
Visual unit cam op
Visual unit cam op
Visual unit physicist
Visual eff unit
Visual eff unit
Visual eff unit
Visual eff unit
Visual eff unit
Visual eff unit
Visual eff unit
Visual eff unit
Visual eff unit
Visual eff unit
Visual eff unit
Vocal eff adv
Projected video eff by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Exec in charge of prod
Prod supv
Post prod exec
Asst to the prods
Scr supv
Prod accountant
Post-prod accountant
Loc mgr
Prod coord
Craft service
Transportation coord
Transportation coord
Unit pub
Dir's asst
Res asst
Accountant's asst
Accountant's asst
Cost coord
Cost coord
Russian language adv
Tech adv, JPL
Tech adv, NASA
Prod liaison
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
DETAILS
Release Date:
19 October 1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 19 October 1979
Production Date:
31 October 1977--27 January 1978
Copyright Claimant:
Meteor Joint Venture
Copyright Date:
25 October 1979
Copyright Number:
PA50447
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Filmed in Panavision®/Prints by Movielab
Duration(in mins):
107
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In outer space, a newly discovered comet smashes into a crowded field of orbiting rocky bodies, known as the asteroid belt. Chief of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Harry Sherwood, urgently summons esteemed space scientist Dr. Paul Bradley to the NASA center in Houston, Texas. During the briefing, Harry explains that a giant asteroid chunk, as well as other fragments, were knocked out of orbit by the comet and are now on a collision course with Earth. Before Paul left NASA five years ago, he developed Hercules, a secret orbiting satellite composed of fourteen nuclear rockets designed to deflect such a meteor threat. Paul agrees to advise top government and military officials in Washington, D.C., but reminds Harry that he walked away from NASA when the military decided to aim Hercules toward the Soviet Union, instead of toward outer space. He is still angry that his invention to safeguard Earth was transformed into warfare strategy. Confirming that the meteor is five-miles wide and is due to hit Earth in six days, Harry agrees that they must convince officials to realign the rockets immediately. However, during the Washington meeting, General Adlon, who now oversees Hercules, argues that America’s reputation will be compromised by admitting to illegal nuclear weapons orbiting Earth. Harry insists that activating Hercules is the only solution, while Paul warns ... +


In outer space, a newly discovered comet smashes into a crowded field of orbiting rocky bodies, known as the asteroid belt. Chief of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Harry Sherwood, urgently summons esteemed space scientist Dr. Paul Bradley to the NASA center in Houston, Texas. During the briefing, Harry explains that a giant asteroid chunk, as well as other fragments, were knocked out of orbit by the comet and are now on a collision course with Earth. Before Paul left NASA five years ago, he developed Hercules, a secret orbiting satellite composed of fourteen nuclear rockets designed to deflect such a meteor threat. Paul agrees to advise top government and military officials in Washington, D.C., but reminds Harry that he walked away from NASA when the military decided to aim Hercules toward the Soviet Union, instead of toward outer space. He is still angry that his invention to safeguard Earth was transformed into warfare strategy. Confirming that the meteor is five-miles wide and is due to hit Earth in six days, Harry agrees that they must convince officials to realign the rockets immediately. However, during the Washington meeting, General Adlon, who now oversees Hercules, argues that America’s reputation will be compromised by admitting to illegal nuclear weapons orbiting Earth. Harry insists that activating Hercules is the only solution, while Paul warns that the impact from a five-mile wide meteor could produce another ice age on Earth. Later that day, Paul calculates that fourteen nuclear rockets will not be enough firepower to destroy the meteor. In a meeting with the U.S. President, Paul and Harry propose a collaboration with the Russians, who secretly have their own equivalent of Hercules in orbit. After the President appoints Paul to take over the operation from Adlon, he addresses the nation on television and reveals the existence of Hercules, assuring the public that the satellite was designed to defend the Earth’s surface. He also appeals to the Russians, declaring that the nuclear power of the two countries must be combined to avert the crisis. Meanwhile, Paul and Harry travel to the secret Hercules underground command center in New York City, adjacent to a former subway station. Upon arrival, Paul learns from Sir Michael Hughes at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in England that fragments preceding the meteor will be entering the Earth’s atmosphere within twenty-four hours. That evening, Russian astrophysicist, Dr. Dubov, accompanied by his interpreter and fellow scientist, Tatiana Donskaya, lands in the U.S. and is taken directly to the command center. Displaying trust, Paul welcomes his Russian counterpart and is immediately enchanted by the beautiful Tatiana. However, Adlon is less receptive and informs Harry that the U.S. Secretary of Defense refuses to re-position Hercules until the Russian government officially admits they possess their own version. Meanwhile, a meteor fragment hits Siberia, setting off a massive earthquake in the region. Realizing the urgency, Dubov persuades Russian leaders to publicly acknowledge their space satellite, known as Peter the Great, which holds sixteen nuclear warheads. Watching on the computer monitors, Dubov and Paul smile as their two systems are realigned and aimed toward outer space. Elsewhere, a Swiss Alpine village, crowded with skiers, is destroyed when another meteor splinter enters the atmosphere and unleashes an avalanche. Then, a tidal wave crashes into Hong Kong after a fragment lands in the Pacific Ocean. On the sixth day of the crisis, the Russian and American rockets are scheduled to launch at intervals and to explode two hours later within range of the meteor target. At the command center, Adlon apologizes to Dubov and Paul for underestimating the situation and their leadership. Then, Paul receives an alarming message from the Jodrell Bank that a fourth splinter will collide any minute with the northeastern coast of the U.S. After Paul, Dubov and the technicians monitor the successful launch of rockets from Peter the Great and Hercules, the command center is shaken by a meteor splinter hitting New York City. The facility partially collapses and several personnel are fatally crushed under falling debris, including Adlon. Paul and Harry guide the survivors toward an exit route that leads into a subway tunnel. As the group follows the tracks, muddy water from the Hudson River begins to flood the tunnel. Harry is almost engulfed by the surge until Paul saves him. The two men safely ascend into a subway station, along with Dubov and Tatiana, and wait for a rescue team to arrive. Meanwhile, the NASA center in Houston reports that two rockets from Peter the Great have malfunctioned as well as one from Hercules, but there is still just enough firepower to destroy the target. In three waves of explosions, the combined nuclear power is able to disintegrate the giant meteor. Inside the station, Paul and the others listen to the good news on a portable radio. Later, as Dubov and Tatiana board their flight back to Russia, they are honored at the airport with rousing cheers. For a parting gift, Paul gives Dubov a baseball bat from the Los Angeles, CA, Dodgers. After Paul kisses Tatiana goodbye, Dubov predicts that she will return to the U.S. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.