On a Monday, ex-NASA scientist "Dr. Paul Bradley" is in the middle of captaining a boat in a race when a US Coast Guard cutter comes up along side. Somebody on the Coast Guard boat informs him that they have orders to find him, and they will block their path if he does not comply. He is then whisked away to Washington, DC.
When he arrives to where he is wanted, he is not happy. However, he quickly learns that a manned space probe was destroyed by a large asteroid fragment after the larger one from which it came was struck by a recently discovered comet. Those he meet with inform him that they need him to come up with a way in using "Goliath," a Top Secret nuclear missile platform "Dr. Bradley" created for just such an emergency, but was turned into a defensive weapon now in orbit over Russia, to destroy a five mile wide asteroid fragment now hurling toward Earth at 35,000 MPH (which, in reality, is too slow for it to move toward Earth in a week). Eventually, he figures out that "Goliath" does not have the fire power to destroy the enormous fragment, which is being lead by smaller fragments that also place our planet in danger.
Then, during a meeting with the US "President" (Henry Fonda), he learns that the US is aware of a Soviet version of his creation, which is called "Peter the Great." It is then requested that the "President" contacts the Soviet government to try to get them join forces. However, a military official (Martin Landau) is very vocal about being against the plan since he does not trust the Soviets.
Eventually, the Soviets agree to send Russian scientist "Dr. Alexi Dubov" (Brian Keith) upon "Dr. Bradley's" request to Washington. He is accompanied by his lovely translator, "Tatiana Nikolaevna Donskaya" (Natalie Wood), who learned English at a young age.
Now, the Cold War enemies must come together, put aside their differences, and figure out a way to save mankind, and the planet from a devistating threat from outer space.
There are many problems with this movie. First, there are a lot of scientific mistakes. For example, the meteor (actually an asteroid due to its size) is moving at 35,000 MPH. In reality, at that speed, the rock would not reach Earth for about six months. Another mistake is that Mission Control talk with the crew of the space probe (actually a model of Skylab) in real time. In reality, there would be a big lag in time for both sides to receive the other's transmission due to the probe being millions of miles from Earth. Also, the tale of the comet is seen behind the comet. In reality, this can't happen because the tail is always away from the sun. Therefore, the tail should be to the comet's left (away from the sun), not behind it.
There are some good performances in this movie. I personally liked the friction between "Dr. Bradley" and NASA official "Harry Sherwood" (Karl Malden). One performance that stands out, but he's really not in the movie enough, is Landau as the anti-Soviet US military officer who is totally against the partnership -- especially when, in his eyes, the danger was not as bad as it was being reported to him. You really think that he was thinking about either walking out of the room when he learned of the plan to talk with the Soviets, or jump over the table and strangle those suggesting the partnership. I also enjoyed Keith, who was used to sometimes lighten up the mood with some humorous moments -- one of which is where he speaks a three-word sentence in English (the rest of the time, he is speaking Russian).
One big problem is character development. Some major players are not on screen enough to developed, while some of the on-screen relationships are barely expanded. In the movie, it is noticeable that "Dr. Bradley," who is separated from his wife (Bibi Besch, in a cameo), is attracted to "Donskaya." However, they only get one scene together where they get to know each other. The rest of the time, she is either translating for "Dr. Dubov" or tanslating for the Americans.
Now, remember, this movie was made and released in 1979. There is no CGI in this movie. Therefore, we are stuck with models against a green screen. In a few scenes, it is pretty obvious that there is a green screen. In fact, I remember seeing one of the asteroid fragments with an odd green outline. In this particular scene, the film itself seemed to have been a bit grainy. It is also pretty obvious that the ships and asteroid fragments are models.
As the asteroid fragments start to enter Earth's gravitational pull, the action really begins. However, there really is no wow factor, and the resulting affects are pretty predictable. You also get more big-scale models and some green screen effects for these scenes.
One of these scenes in particular is something I feel I need to mention, especially if you were seriously affected by the events of September 11. One particularly large fragment strikes pre-9/11 New York City. In many skyline scenes is, obviously, the World Trade Center Twin Towers (in one skyline scene, it seemed that the towers were larger than they should have been for some reason). The first thing this particular fragment strikes is the Twin Towers, and they show a close-up of them collapsing upon impact. I would suggest you skip over this particular, though brief scene if you still have a problem remembering the attacks on the buildings.
There are many times in this movie which seem to drag. Some of these scenes are immediately following the affects of the asteroid fragments striking the planet. These, however, are pretty brief.
I read online that John Williams was originally signed on to produce the soundtrack of the movie, but pulled out and was replaced. Though pretty good, the music is a few notches below what Williams could have done for this movie. None of the instrumentals are all that memorable if you ask me.
Despite the flaws, this one could be a good one to check out when you come across it on HBO or on your cable service's On Demand feature (Comcast had it in their On Demand Free Movies section when I saw it and wrote this review). I would not change your schedule around so you can see it though.