On this week’s show, Fernando talks about earthquake readiness in Tokyo, James reviews Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in San Andreas, before we get into a wide-ranging discussion about the disaster movie genre itself, & the cause of its enduring popularity…
00:00 – Theme Music
00:46 – Introduction
01:25 – Discussing last weekend’s tremblor in Japan & living with earthquakes
15:29 – Review Of San Andreas
30:52 – The State and hiistory of Disaster Films
58:09 – End Notes and Outro Music
After a highly successful run, as a producer of hit TV Science Fiction shows like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, Irwin Allen returned to the big screen in 1972, producing The Poseidon Adventure, a star-studded, technically innovative, action-disaster film. He followed this up two years later with The Towering Inferno (directed with John Guillermin), another star-filled disaster film which garnered eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and won for Cinematography, Film Editing and Best Original Song.
Paul Newman plays Doug Roberts, an architect commissioned by James Duncan (William Holden), to build a new, towering skyscraper in San Francisco. Duncan has planned a lavish opening ceremony for the tower, although problems soon surface, caused by cheap, faulty wiring, with Duncan’s venal son-in-law, Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) having cut corners during the building to save the project some money (and line his own pockets).
The opening act introduces us to the building and the main characters who will be trapped there. Faye Dunaway is Robert’s fiancé Susan Franklin, whose party dress has to be one of the best gowns ever worn by a Hollywood leading lady. Fred Astaire, plays a struggling con-man, Harlee Claiborne with Jennifer Jones as his mark, Lisolette Mueller. There are also notable minor roles for Robert Vaughn as Senator Gary Parker, Robert Wagner is Duncan’s head of PR, Dan Bigelow and O.J. Simpson as the head of security, Harry Jernigan.
But, it’s only when Steve McQueen appears, as the dour and indomitable fire chief Michael O’Hallorhan, that the tension and drama really starts to take off. McQueen is extraordinary in this role, creating a template for the “man of few words” action hero we so often see in contemporary films. From this point on there really isn’t a lot of story. The characters are forced to react to an escalating series of threats and challenges, as the tension steadily builds, leading to an epic and memorable conclusion.
Adapted from two novels (The Tower and The Glass Inferno), with two directors (Guillermin directed most of the this film with Irwin Allen directing the action sequences) and produced by a collaboration of two studios (20th Century Fox and Warner Bros), The Towering Inferno is famous for the way it credited its two lead actors. Both Newman and McQueen wanted top billing. A compromise was reached where both received the same pay and number of lines and while McQueen’s name appeared first in the credits and poster, Newman’s name appeared higher so, depending on how the diagonal billing was read, one or another actor appeared to have the top spot.
I managed to catch The Towering Inferno on the big screen and there is no question, when seen this way, the film stands up well. Both The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno changed the face of action-disaster films. The Towering Inferno uses, in a quite wonderful fashion, many of the tropes and devices common in this genre. And, for its time, the film has a surprising sense of action, pace and peril (helped by one of John William’s best scores). A contemporary viewer cannot help but see the way this film has informed and influenced countless action films that followed. And, in McQueen and Newman’s performances, we have two contrasting and excellent styles of action film heroes.
Chilean filmmaker Nicolas Lopez teams up with actor-writer-producer Eli Roth for a horror-disaster movie hybrid that sees a dispirate group of tourists and revellers battle to survive after a massive earthquake hits Chile. Roth has explored similar territory before with his Hostel films, in which he introduces audiences to a bunch of loathsome Westerners whom the audience grows to despise, before then starting to brutalise and murder them in increasingly horrific ways. This time out Roth himself plays one of the “heroes”, credited only as Gringo, who is partying at a nightclub with his friends Ariel Levy and Nicolas Martinez, and meet a trio of girls – in the shapely forms of Andrea Osvart, Lorenza Izzo and Natasha Yarovenko. After the quake hits they must band together, overcome aftershocks, fires, looters and escaped convicts if they are to survive the night. Needless to say, not all of them do.
Now, I have no problem with horror films that go all out to shock their audience, or even ones that revel in the fates of their characters, but Aftershock makes no attempt to paint its characters as anything other than despicable, and goes to great lengths to ensure as much harm comes to them as possible. Lopez doesn’t seem to want us to be frightened or horrified by what we see on screen, but rather to be amused and tickled as characters are killed, mutilated and, most distressingly, sexually abused. Yes, this is schlocky fun for the late night gorehounds, but the casual, mean-spirited sadism of the film fell completely flat with me. Long before the end of the film, its ridiculous plot twists were even starting to get predictable, so even the absurdity of the unfolding drama failed to entertain.
While Aftershock is what we have come to expect from Roth, director Lopez appears to have made his name in Chile through comedies about high school geeks, superhero fantasies and lads struggling with their relationships. While I mentioned that much of the comedy in Aftershock failed to hit its mark for me, tonally it was similar to Eli Roth’s style of humour, which only makes me more curious to see how Lopez fares on his own, away from such a domineering influence. While Aftershock has certainly brought Lopez to the attention to a much larger, English-speaking audience (which includes me), it will be interesting to see where he goes from here. With a third installment of his Que Pena tu… series already out and a sequel to his debut feature Promedio Rojo on the way, he seems keen to stick with comedy. The director’s second English language film may prove a better indicator of his future career aspirations.