Category Archives: Disaster Films

Twister-1996

Twister-1996

Director-Jan de Bont

Starring-Bill Pullman, Helen Hunt

Scott’s Review #763

Reviewed May 25, 2018

Grade: B+

Twister (1996) is a film that contains amazing and groundbreaking special effects- that blew people away (pun intended!) when released to the masses over twenty years ago. Moviegoers flocked to theaters everywhere to partake in the escapist summer feel good hit starring popular movie stars of the time. The film spawned amusement park rides and lots of other fun things during its run.

The visuals are what truly are to be enjoyed here and not the generic, tried and true subplots of romance, childhood trauma, and corporate greed that are mixed in. The film does not hold up well in present times as the dazzling effects now look rather dated when lined up again modern blockbusters. This results in Twister being reduced to “one of those 1990’s films”.

Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt star as American storm chasers, Bill and Jo, obsessed with their craft of tracking tornadoes throughout the United States mid-western region. Adding drama to the plot is that Bill and Jo are an estranged married couple in the midst of a divorce. Bill brings his new fiancee Melissa (Jami Gertz) along as numerous meteorologists converge to track storms using newly invented devices. Predictably, a series of vicious storms commence while Bill, Jo, and Melissa play out a love triangle.

Twister gets off to a fantastic start as a wicked storm kills then five year old Jo’s father, prompting her to pursue her career of choice. Jo has never gotten over her father’s death becoming fascinated by deadly storms. The effects of this initial storm are very well done as Jo’s father’s death scene is riveting- the poor man being sucked into the deadly cyclone is memorable. Regardless, this scene sets the tone for the ample effects to follow- most notably the terrifying sound of the swirling storm as farm tools and animals fly around onscreen.

After the initial introduction the rest of the film is mainly of the group driving around and encountering storms, with Bill and Jo taking center stage. As a child having spent many summers in the mid-west, sans tornadoes thankfully, I felt a sense of nostalgia watching the film.  Assumptions being made that Twister was indeed filmed on location (with studio help), the authenticity is apparent. From the vastness of the plains to the dusty roads, cornfields, and small town U.S.A. I enjoyed the down home, slice of life feel.

The action and effects are lightning quick and quite realistic. As mentioned the sound effects are as strong as the visual effects and I never doubted for a second that the twisters had a realism to them. This successfully merges into the summer blockbuster that Twister’s producers undoubtedly were going for. Making a ton of money, the end result was clearly successful and inspired by Hollywood.

Despite the superlative special effects, though, this is really the only reason to watch Twister and seeing the film once is enough excitement. The writers (Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin) attempt to incorporate a romance into the story and this does nobody any good. This negative aspect is even more apparent since the chemistry between Paxton and Hunt is non-existent and Gertz’s Melissa is clearly meant to be the odd woman out all along.

A large amount of suspension of disbelief is necessary to “buy” various scenes. Ludicrous are countless scenes where characters either outrun the monstrous twisters or somehow the storms encircle them, but miraculously never touch them. When Jo, Bill, and Melissa’s truck is captured inside the funnel cloud the vehicle and its passengers somehow remain unharmed.  And tornadoes do not simply come out of nowhere to attack without any indication on radar. But alas this is a disaster film and liberties must be taken.

The famous “cow scene”, notoriously used twice in the film seemed groundbreaking and cutting edge in 1996, but in 2018 now seems hokey and unnecessary. Times sure do change in cinema especially with technical effects and CGI growing each year.

Admittedly, the film does contain a good, all-american rockin’ summer tune by Van Halen named “Humans Being”, which always makes me think of summertime when I hear it. In fact the entire Twister soundtrack was an enormous success with radio airplay given and led to further successes for the film.

Perhaps now watched as a blast from the past or a revisit to some sort of nostalgic time for folks, Twister (1996) is a great example of a once popular popcorn movie falling into semi-obscurity. Given another twenty years the film will undoubtedly fall all the way. A nice film for the time it was, but little more years later.

Earthquake-1974

Earthquake-1974

Director-Mark Robson

Starring-Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner

Scott’s Review #407

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Reviewed June 2, 2016

Grade: B+

One of the several disaster films to populate film screens in the early to mid 1970’s, Earthquake is one of the “main four” blockbusters (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and Airport being the others), that still resonate with viewers in modern times and are nostalgic to watch. In fact, one might argue that the aforementioned few largely influenced Earthquake since it was the last of the group to be filmed. Certainly, the influence is apparent.

Earthquake is a classic, traditional, disaster film containing many stock characters (or types) and is clearly an ensemble piece- as disaster films always are- frequently containing stars of yesteryear attempting exposure in the modern cinema.  The gender roles in Earthquake are quite mainstream for the day as the females are all clearly  “damsels in distress” types and the men portrayed as the heroes.

The action begins as we witness a Los Angeles based middle-aged couple (the central couple if you will) engaging in a dispute. Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner play Stewart and Remy Graff, an affluent couple, he a former football star, she a boozy socialite. Her father is the wealthy Sam Royce, played by Lorne Greene. Stewart is carrying on an affair with young actress, Denise Marshall, creating a soap-opera style romantic triangle, adding drama to the film. We meet other characters who round out the character’s stories- LAPD Sgt. Slade (George Kennedy) shares a flirtation with Rosa (Victoria Principal), while drunkard Walter Matthau and evil kineval character Richard Roundtree provide comic relief. These stories are merely filler until the inevitable earthquake arrives.

The earthquake is really the main character in the film just like the tidal wave, the fire, and the airline peril is in the other same genre films. The characters trivial relationships soon take a back seat to the action as the earthquake shatters the city in subsequent onsets and aftershocks, destroying buildings and resulting in many deaths. The very lengthy main earthquake sequence is second to none and hovers around the twenty minute mark. We see many characters in peril. The scene goes on and on, but is hardly redundant. The scene is masterful and well done. The effects, cinematography, and visuals alone hold up well today and must have been breathtaking circa 1974.

In one particularly thrilling scene, a group of office workers on the thirtieth floor of a skyscraper desperately try to scramble to the elevator as the building shakes and shimmies. One businessman shoves a secretary out of the way and selfishly immerses himself in the crowded elevator as others desperately pound on the elevator door to escape. Things do not end well for the folks on the elevator as bolts loosen and the car crashes to the ground. An animated blood splat fills the screen in a lighthearted, comical way. The film wisely does not take itself too seriously.

As fantastic as the destruction sequence is, Earthquake is not a film without a few flaws, mostly from a character standpoint. Unbelievable is Heston playing Greene’s son in law and Gardner being assumed to be young enough to be his daughter- they appear to be around the same age. A strange character, Jody, a store clerk, suddenly dresses as a soldier, wearing a wig, following the destruction and, assumed to be gay by thugs, is teased, which prompts him to shoot them with a machine gun. He subsequently becomes obsessed with and nearly rapes Rosa. The sub-plot seems uneven and very unnecessary.

With spectacular special effects, Earthquake is a must see disaster film with a slightly downcast, hopeless tone. It does its job well- it entertains, thrills, and features an all star cast of former Hollywood elite and a few rising stars. A fun time will be had.

Titanic-1997

Titanic-1997

Director-James Cameron

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Top 100 Films-#49

Scott’s Review #327

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Reviewed January 6, 2016

Grade: A

1997’s Titanic is a sweeping, gorgeous epic, directed by James Cameron, that is perfection at every level. This film has it all: romance, disaster, gorgeous art direction, and flawless attention to detail. The film will make you laugh, cry, and fall in love with the characters, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. The film is based on the real-life sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 after the ship tragically collided with an iceberg. I have witnessed this film be derided for being a “chick flick” or too “sappy”, but I vehemently disagree, and feel it is a classic for the ages. Titanic successfully re-invented the Hollywood epic.

Jack Dawkins (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a penniless artist who meets high class socialite Rose DeWitt (Kate Winslet) aboard the luxurious Titanic, headed from the coast of England to the United States in its maiden voyage. Rose is engaged to cagey Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). Depressed, Rose contemplates diving overboard to her death, but Jack saves her and convinces her otherwise. They spend time together and he draws her portrait. As their romance blossoms, Cal catches on and plots revenge. In the mix are Rose’s snobbish mother, Ruth, played by Frances Fisher. A main theme of the film is social class and the difference that separate the haves from the have nots.

James Cameron desired perfection from this film and he sure got what he wanted. Every detail of Titanic is flawless and historically accurate, from the dining room silverware to the costumes to the set pieces barely visible in the background. Cameron even had a replica of the original Titanic built for filming purposes- certainly with limitations, but what a vast undertaking this must have been. That, along with the smoldering romance between Jack and Rose, are what makes Titanic one of my favorite films.

Two fantastic scenes are when Jack is taken under the wing of Molly Brown, played by Kathy Bates. Molly is not the snob that many of the other upper class is, and lends Jack a tuxedo so that he will look dapper for Rose. She also tenderly teaches him the appropriate way to use silverware. Tragically, the other scene is more melancholy- a gorgeous classical piece plays in the background as the vast ship is engulfed in water and slowly sinks, causing many deaths.

At well over three hours in length, the conclusion of the film is quite sprawling- and one has the feeling of being aboard the ship. By this time I was invested in the characters, both lead and supporting and the tragedy that ensues is both a marvel and heart-wrenching. Titanic is a film that simply must be viewed on the big screen for full effect, and is a timeless masterpiece that has aged perfectly.

The Poseidon Adventure-1972

The Poseidon Adventure-1972

Director-Ronald Neame

Starring-Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters

Top 100 Films-#12

Scott’s Review #214

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Reviewed January 17, 2015

Grade: A

The disaster genre, mainly encompassing the 1970’s in film, include some of my personal favorite films of all time and The Poseidon Adventure is easily at the top of the pile. Set on a lavish ocean liner, the SS Poseidon, on New Year’s Eve, the doomed ship falls victim to a powerful tsunami while sailing from New York to Athens on its final voyage, causing it to topple over and leaving a handful of survivors to meander through the bowels of the ship in an attempt to find a way out and be rescued. They are led by a stubborn preacher, played by Gene Hackman.

The appeal of The Poseidon Adventure is, of course, watching the cast of characters in peril and guessing which ones will meet their fates and how- think a slasher film without the horror component. Featuring an ensemble cast of Hollywood celebs of the day, the characters are introduced to the audience before the tidal wave erupts, so therefore we care for them immensely. There is the former hooker with the heart of gold married to a gruff cop (Stella Stevens and Ernest Borgnine as Mike and Linda Rogo). Then there is the sweet natured older couple on the cruise to see their grandchild (Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson as Manny and Belle Rosen). Pamela Sue Martin plays the teen girl, Susan, who falls madly in love with the preacher- Reverend Scott. Along with her younger brother, Robin, they are traveling to see their parents, who await their arrival. Roddy McDowall plays a waiter named Acres. Lastly, Red Buttons plays James Martin, a health conscious bachelor and Carol Lynley plays shy singer Nonnie. Reverend Scott is the moral focal point of the film and questions god several times throughout.

The sets are extraordinary- the colorful Christmas tree in the grand dining room is fantastic. In fact, the entire New Year’s Eve party scene is my favorite- it is festive, extravagant, and mixed in with a scene where the ominous tsunami is rapidly approaching. The festive celebration quickly turns into confusion as the sirens begin to sound, and finally to panic as furniture begins to fly. Visually this scene is the most intricate- the ship turns upside down after the crash, thus giving the illusion that the bottom of the ship is the top. Tricky. From this point on all of the sets to follow are actually intended to be upside down- a crafty and effective style, but none more than the dining room scene. A victim toppling and crashing into a giant clock is a memorable scene.

As the group of survivors haggardly make their way throughout the ship they encounter underwater explosions, dead bodies, rushing water, and disputes, mainly between Reverend Scott and Rogo, as to how to proceed to safety. One by one a handful of the group meets their fates in gruesome fashion- falling into a fire, a heart attack, and falling to one’s death.

Shelley Winters is the comic relief of the film with her humorous quips about her weight, and her death scene brings me to tears each time I experience it. A heavyset older woman who at one time was a dynamite high school swimmer, she attempts to help the group by holding her breath and swimming underneath the engine room, which is blocked- she does inevitably save the Reverend Scott’s life, but succumbs to a heart attack shortly thereafter. It is a powerful, heartbreaking scene.

The film is a great adventure. What makes The Poseidon Adventure so timeless and continue to bring so much pleasure? Certainly not high-brow nor high art, but it does not need to be. It is simply meant to be enjoyed for what it is- a thrilling, fun, entertainment ride.

The Towering Inferno-1974

The Towering Inferno-1974

Director-John Guillermin

Starring-Paul Newman, Steve McQueen

Top 100 Films-#43

Scott’s Review #194

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Reviewed November 15, 2014

Grade: A

The Towering Inferno epitomizes the disaster film craze heaped on audiences throughout the 1970’s (Airport, Airport ‘75 and ‘77, The Poseidon Adventure, and Earthquake to name a few). I am (guilt-free) a huge fan of this 1970’s movie genre, though some certainly look down on it, I am not one of them, and feel The Towering Inferno is one of the greats. The film is enormous and has such a sense of adventure and danger.

The grand film tells of the trials and tribulations of an enormous cast of characters trapped inside an inferno flamed skyscraper – led by Paul Newman and Steve McQueen (fun fact- the two actors reportedly despised each other). An incredible skyscraper is erected in San Francisco, at 138 floors it is professed to be the tallest building in the world and incredibly state of the art. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, an elaborate party is held atop the building overlooking the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. Due to faulty electrical wiring, the building catches fire and the cast of characters face one challenge after another to escape the grips of death. The stellar cast features stars like William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Robert Wagner, Jennifer Jones, O.J. Simpson in addition to Newman and McQueen.

The film is quite soap opera style- numerous characters are introduced, many having affairs with each other or suffering some sort of conflict with each other- Wagner having a torrid office romance with his secretary played by then up and coming star Susan Flannery is deliciously sexy. Holden’s son-in-law is responsible for the faulty electrical system yet blames his father-in-law for cutting budgets. Another subplot involves Astaire’s character attempting to swindle Jones’s character, but then falling in love with her. The plots are so melodramatic that, given the time period of the film, it has a definite primetime television soap opera style to it- think Dallas or Dynasty in a state of peril.

I enjoyed the enormous cast and trying to guess who will be killed off next and in what elaborate way the film will create to burn them to death is a joy to watch- several victims fall or jump to their deaths, which eerily (and sadly) bring back morbid images of jumpers from the World Trade towers on 9/11. The beginning of the film shows a dedication to firemen everywhere and the film has a definite moral and hero quality to the firemen sent to rescue the people in the building. They are portrayed as heroes and intended not to be forgotten in the midst of all the drama encompassing the story. This is admirable.

The special effects are elaborate and quite impressive- the glass elevator rescue scene is amazing! The beautiful set designs are a treat to watch as each lobby, apartment, or lounge in the skyscraper is exquisitely designed in the height of 1970’s style. Every sofa or carpet featured is plush, colorful, and sophisticated. The skyscraper, made of glass, is an amazing element of the film and the aerial views of the building, especially while ablaze are impressive to say the least- remember- 1974 was long before CGI. I am assuming small replicas of the building were used, but what an achievement from a visual perspective. The effects certainly champion the syrupy story elements.

My only small gripe with The Towering Inferno is, assumed to be 138 stories high, the action taking place at the top of the tower- the rooftop as well as the party scenes on the top floor- do not feel that high- The scenic outlook overlooking the water and some land feel about 25 stories high not 138. Some find The Towering Inferno to be nothing more than schmaltzy drama- I say schmaltz was never done better. Enjoy this feast of a big film.