Medieval monks used to carry skulls around to remind them of death. Today we have disaster films to accomplish the same objective. Screenplay writers Michael Tolkin and Bruce Joel Rubin have given us a glimpse of a possible future when the earth is put in jeopardy by a gigantic comet. Scientists call it an "E.L.E." — an Extinction Level Event. This impending catastrophe gives the movie's lead characters a chance to practice kindness, courage, and compassion in some unique ways. That is what sets Deep Impact apart from other mindless disaster flicks.

We follow the fates of Leo (Elijah Wood), the 14-year-old boy who first photographs the comet; his girlfriend (Leelee Solieski); a newscaster (Tea Leoni); her divorced parents (Vanessa Redgrave and Maximilian Schell); a caring and devout President (Morgan Freeman); and a former astronaut (Robert Duvall). The latter is aboard the experimental spacecraft Messiah sent on a last chance mission to divert the comet from its collision course with earth. Director Mimi Leder orchestrates Deep Impact with technical finesse and a respect for its slow, unfolding storyline.