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How 'Armageddon' anticipated the BP crisis

Stephen King on Bruce Willis, the only man who can stop the oil spill

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We’ll get to the entertainment portion of our program shortly, but first the news. A floating drilling rig operated by British Petroleum exploded in the Gulf of Mexico not long ago. Now endless gallons of loose oil are killing fish in the water, wildlife on shore, and playing hell with the ecosystem. Once it gets into the waters known as the Loop Current, the oil might go…well, almost anywhere.

I read a blog post about this situation where the writer called BP ”half-assed.” That’s simply not true. BP has a whole ass; it’s just that one cheek is smart and the other one is stupid. The smart cheek knew how to drill nearly a mile deep to get the oil, but the dumb cheek can’t seem to fix what went wrong. Jekyll-and-Hyde buttocks, if you see what I mean.

All of this depresses the hell out of your Uncle Stevie, who just happens to live on the Florida side of the Gulf for five months of the year. And since what I do when I’m depressed is escape into make-believe, I asked myself who could fix this in a book, movie, or TV show. My first idea was Jack Bauer, but Jack is now officially off the grid (not to mention canceled), and he doesn’t have the particular skills needed to plug up an underwater gusher anyway.

Then I thought, Bruce Willis. They’ve got to send in Bruce. I scrounged through my old DVDs, found Armageddon, and watched it again. Excellent call. Bruce’s character, Harry Stamper, definitely has the necessary skills. When we meet him, he’s standing on the deck of an oil rig exactly like BP’s Deepwater Horizon, driving golf balls — to a ZZ Top tune on the soundtrack — at a Greenpeace boat full of annoying hippies.

”What do you think they’re so mad about?” an honestly puzzled Harry asks one of his pals.

”Well, I think they feel that drilling for oil is an evil thing,” the pal replies.

Stupid reality-ignoring hippies!

Before you can say there will be blood, a globe-killing asteroid is flying straight at the earth. The government scientists come up with a bunch of ridiculous ideas for stopping it — Mylar sails on the asteroid that will waft it away on the solar winds, 150 nuclear warheads to break it into little pieces, something called (I swear this is true) a spread-focus laser generator. Silly scientists! Everyone knows that if you have a potential catastrophe in the offing, you call in an oil company. They’re professionals, after all.

The head of NASA (played by Billy Bob Thornton in a leg brace) yells: ”Come on, guys! We gotta come up with something realistic here!” And before you can say drill, baby, drill, Harry’s crew (Will Patton, Ben Affleck, Steve Buscemi, and some other guys) are on their way into space. Their mission: to split the asteroid into two halves (both of which will miss the earth) using a nuke planted in an 800-foot shaft.

Armageddon is full of resonant lines, if you’ve been following the Gulf oil-spill story. Bruce Willis asks Billy Bob, ”You gotta have some kind of backup plan, right?” To which the redoubtable Mr. Thornton replies, ”No, we don’t have a backup plan.” That qualifies him for the BP board of directors, in my opinion, but the movie’s most apropos line belongs to Keith David, who plays General Kimsey (more famous for writing the Kimsey Report): ”The fate of the planet is in the hands of a bunch of retards I wouldn’t trust with a potato gun.”

Amen to that, bro.

In the end Bruce Willis gets blown to heroic radioactive smithereens, Ben Affleck gets the girl, and Earth is saved…with a few casualties (this amusing movie’s only genuinely chilling moment is an SFX shot showing the World Trade Center on fire). I turned off my TV feeling like I’d just swilled down nine pounds of processed cheese. Probably the film’s best line has nothing to do with the current crisis, but it’s too good not to quote: ”All right, General, I’ll go with you on one condition — we have to take my daughter along.”

Tonight I think I’ll get a reality check watching Fantasia. In that one, Mickey Mouse foolishly decides that putting on a sorcerer’s robe makes him an actual sorcerer. He gets all these brooms hauling water, but when he tries to stop them, he can’t. It takes a real sorcerer to do that.

Man, if only we had one.

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