As far as I know, Year of the Comet completes the Louis Jordan as a mad scientist in search of eternal youth (continuing from his two Swamp Thing movies). There’s something so perfect about Jordan pursuing eternal youth, it’s not even questioned. William Goldman uses the device to complicate things in Year of the Comet, sort of to get the ball rolling.
Goldman’s plot for Comet is real simple–run the two protagonists, Penelope Ann Miller and Tim Daly, through Scotland and then France (in the most scenic locations), give them complications and let them be charming together. Daly shows off his mischievous charm here (big shock Comet went as unappreciated as the next time he showed it off–on the great show “Eyes”) and Miller does her charismatic leading comedic actress thing here and both work great. Yates really knows how to direct Miller here too, for great effect, and it doesn’t hurt Goldman’s screenplay seems catered to her.
Most of the scenes not concerned with being scenic (Scotland looks fantastic) have a lot of witty banter going and Goldman writes fine banter for charismatic leads. He gives Jordan’s character some fantastic lines too and Jordan, more than usual, really works together with Miller. They only have a couple scenes together, maybe three, but all of them are memorable.
The film runs less than ninety minutes–IMDb trivia suggests something happened between the start of principal photography and post–but Yates wisely casts very distinctive actors for smaller roles. In the biggest, Ian Richardson as Miller’s father, Shane Rimmer (in three scenes) as Daly’s friend and Art Malik as a suave bad guy (Malik’s the wine to Daly’s Budweiser). Malik’s only got three scenes, but his first one–with a great monologue for Miller–is fantastic. Yates knows how to make the comedy play here. So much so, it’s a surprise how well he turns around and does the other stuff.
There are a lot of distinct sequences in the film, but I’m only going to mention a couple. First is a fight on Loch Ness, totally fogged over, between Daly and Miller on one boat and scary-looking Nick Brimble on another. Yates mixes comedy, action and suspense–lots of suspense–and it’s a fantastic scene. (The film’s got excellent sound design). Oddly, that boat sequence is the one I want to see OAR the most (Comet is only available in pan and scan, the UK DVD apparently from the 1992 VHS master), just because Yates implies having such fantastic composition for it.
The second scene is the helicopter chase. It shouldn’t work, a helicopter chase through Scotland, but it really does. Yates has the right timing, Goldman’s script sets it up and closes it, and the music (by Hummie Mann) is perfect.
Year of the Comet is a lean–could have been longer in the beginning, I’m not sure with what, but with more–comedy throwback. I just wish someone would put it out uncropped.
Directed by Peter Yates; written by William Goldman; director of photography, Roger Pratt; edited by Ray Lovejoy; music by Hummie Mann; production designer, Anthony Pratt; produced by Yates and Nigel Wooll; released by Columbia Pictures.
Starring Penelope Ann Miller (Margaret Harwood), Tim Daly (Oliver Plexico), Louis Jourdan (Philippe), Art Malik (Nico), Ian Richardson (Sir Mason Harwood), Ian McNeice (Ian), Tim Bentinck (Richard Harwood), Nick Brimble (Jamie) and Shane Rimmer (T.T. Kelleher).