Sunday, March 30, 2014

My Favorite Films: Disaster Films

In honor of the latest LA earthquake and that Noah thing (cause... effect... cause), let’s talk about disaster films. Here are my favorites:

1. Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1961): This is one of those films I can watch over and over and over. When the Van Allen belt, which surrounds the Earth, catches on fire, the planet starts to bake. The experimental submarine Seaview must launch a missile to detach the Van Allen belt from the Earth, but it seems that everyone wants to stop them. Staring Walter Pidgeon, Barbara Eden and Kane from Buck Rogers, this is a fun film.

2. The Last Voyage (1960): This is probably the best shipwreck movie ever. Staring George Sanders and Robert Stack, this is the story of the SS Claridon, which begins to sink when one of her boilers explodes. Awesome effects (because they really sank the ship) and solid drama combine to blow the doors off Titanic.

3. Airport (1970): I know they claim they used Zero Hour, but this film IS the serious version of Airplane and it’s a really good film too. Basically, anything that can go wrong will go wrong on this snowy night at the Airport Burt Lancaster operates... with help from an all-star cast.

4. The Crazies (2010): A remake of a George Romero film, this one stars Timothy Olyphant as a local sheriff who finds his whole town going crazy because a military plane crashed while carrying some bad stuff.

5. The Poseidon Adventure (1972): What a cool idea! A rogue wave knocks a cruise ship completely upside-down. Now the survivors must race to the bottom of the ship, which is now the top, to survive.

6. The Core (2003): Imagine if you will, that Stanley Tucci stopped the Earth’s magnetic core from spinning and now Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, and Bruce Greenwood need to save us by setting off nuclear bombs. It’s an entertaining if entirely stupid film.

7. Knowing (2009): This film scores on two points in a big way. First, the way Nicholas Cage discovers what is going on is very smart, especially for a modern film. Secondly, the effects in the minor catastrophes throughout are impressive.

8. Outbreak (1995): I hate the “evil military” aspect of this film, but the virus stuff is top notch as Dustin Hoffman roams far and wide to try to stop a killer virus on the loose in the US of A.

And if you want a refresher of others you’ve seen and long since forgotten, here’s a pretty decent list: LINK.

Thoughts?

62 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

well, I'll admit that disaster films, as a genre, is not filled with masterpieces, but that is not the question. Some of my favorites include:
"A Night to Remember" and "Titanic" - see comments from my review.
"Towering Inferno" I had just started working for INA and was learning about state of the art life safety technology in high rise buildings. ..... plus, O.J.
"Airport" Alex Haley, large in scope
"Airplane" - I speak jive
Devil @ 4 O'Clock - First review I ever did for Commentarama. Hadn't heard of it until I ate breakfast in a building in Lahaina where several scenes were filmed.
Dante's Peak - I don't know, I just liked it. Londa Hamilton, maybe?
"Black Sunday" Thomas Harris, Robert Shaw. Kind of a Disaster movie ... in a way

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, True. This is not the genre that's going to populate the Top 100 films of all time. But it does have its charm! :D

Good call on Black Sunday! I like that one a lot.

Kit said...

Jed, A Night to Remember was amazing.

I read The Last Voyage was based very loosely on the sinking of the Andrea Doria.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, It is. It has lot of the feel of that event. You should check it out at some point. Until the very end, the effects are really fantastic.

tryanmax said...

No kidding, as soon as I saw today's title, I thought, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

AndrewPrice said...

I haven't seen that, but I know two little girls who insist that I must.

tryanmax said...

OK, I will admit to cribbing off of the provided link, but as soon as I saw The Birds I was like, "Hell yeah!"

AndrewPrice said...

I didn't crib off the list. I love these kinds of films. I actually even love a lot of the made for Sci-Fi films.

The Birds is a great movie.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

1. Clark Gable, Jeannette McDonald, and Spencer Tracy in "San Francisco" the 1906 earthquake is the centerpiece of the movie. Very well done -- especially for the time.

2. The Rains Came (Myrna Loy and Tyrone Power). Loy plays an adventurous Englishwoman in colonial India. It gets lost in the Hall of Fame year of 1939, but it's a good movie and the centerpiece is a monsoon that breaches a dam and floods the town causing death destruction and disease. Again... very well done -- especially for the time.

3. Twister. As a West Texas boy I have an affinity for Twister... not a great movie in the pantheon... but enjoyable and tornadoes are scary.

4. Unstoppable -- the runaway train movie with Denzel and Chris Pine was very well done.

5. Apollo 13




Backthrow said...

Great choice of The Last Voyage, especially! All that, plus the late, great Woody Strode in a heroic role!

My own list:

The Last Days of Pompeii (1935, from the makers of the original King Kong)
San Francisco (1936)
The Hurricane (1937)
Invasion U.S.A. (1952)
When Worlds Collide
War of the Worlds (1953)
The Naked Jungle (1954, Heston vs. army ants)
Gojira/Godzilla
The High and the Mighty
A Night to Remember
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (really goofy, but fun, with a great cast)
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1962)
Panic in Year Zero!
The Birds
Day of the Triffids (1963)
Crack in the World (1965, similar plot to The Core)
No Blade of Grass (1970, early environmentalist claptrap, but I still like it, regardless, probably since the eco message is really just window dressing)
The Poseidon Adventure
The Last Days of Planet Earth (1974, gonzo, craptastic disaster flick from Toho studios, that manages to cram in almost every disaster imaginable, and then makes up new ones, like having it suddenly rain deadly leeches)
Phase IV
The Savage Bees (1976, the best killer bee movie, made-for-TV)
Black Sunday (1977)
Kingdom of the Spiders
Airplane!
Runaway Train
Miracle Mile
Titanic
28 Days Later

I remember liking both The Devil at 4 O'Clock and Krakatoa, East of Java on TV when I was a kid, but neither held up very well when I saw them again, later... though it's been many years since I last saw them. Most of the modern disaster flicks, like Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Core, Dante's Peak, Volcano, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, etc, never grabbed me, even with the (mostly) better effects work. Except for Twister, which made me laugh.

I haven't seen the linked movie list yet, but I'll take a look after I post this.

Backthrow said...

Looking over some of the titles, it struck me that, while anti-communist films, primarily from the 1950s (plus occasional later films, like Milius' Red Dawn), are often/always referred to in critics' and film geek circles as 'red scare' films... the similarly overblown and paranoid ecological/environmentalist-themed doomsday flicks are never referred to as 'green scare' films, even though that's just what they are.

Backthrow said...

Amazingly, no one has yet mentioned, either here or on the linked disaster film list, the most epic disaster film of them all.

Dwizzum said...

Ah yes, Phase IV. That brings back memories. This film had a profound effect on my life. This was the first film a remember as a kid where the scientists and/or humanity were the bad guys. Even today I determine if a film is "Pro-ant" or not because of this. (Avatar, I am looking in your direction)

Outlaw13 said...

"The Andromeda Strain" is a disaster movie of sorts...I'm talking about the one made in the 60's not the awful remake.

ScottDS said...

Well, I might as well do those disaster movie reviews I promised Andrew a year ago. Here we go… :-)

Airport - I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. It’s also one of the last “old Hollywood” films before the 70s stuff kicked in. You had Alfred Newman doing the music, Edith Head doing the costumes, etc. I did, however, want to KILL that stowaway Mrs. Quonsett!

Airport 1975 - When people think of these movies, THIS is the one that they probably have in mind: Charlton Heston doing what he does best, Karen Black as the stewardess who has to land the plane, the singing nun, etc. It’s all so very cheesy but enjoyable, too.

Airport ’77 - This one might have the best cast of all: Jack Lemmon, Joseph Cotten (!), Olivia de Haviland (!!), Christopher Lee, Darren McGavin, Jimmy Stewart (!!!), etc. The movie is ridiculous but I can’t say I hate it.

The Concorde: Airport ‘79 - I laughed out loud when I read that this movie has a scene where George Kennedy (finally promoted to captain!) fires a flare out the cockpit window. And how did we get from Jimmy Stewart to Charo?

ScottDS said...

I tend to put The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure together. Both are classics of the genre with great production values, effects, etc. They aren’t movies I would ever own but if they’re on TV, I’ll leave them on.

I couldn’t get past the first 20 minutes of the Poseidon remake. Not unlike 2012, this movie seemed to take sadistic glee in killing off people. I could’ve lived without the brief sequence where everyone in a room is electrocuted.

Ugh!!

And speaking of Wolfgang Peterson, Andrew, it’s funny you mention Outbreak. Originally, Ridley Scott was going to direct an adaptation of Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone with Jodie Foster and Robert Redford, but the Outbreak people beat him to it. Personally, I think this movie is cheesy as hell. And even my liberal friends think Donald Sutherland takes the “evil general” thing waaaay over the top.

ScottDS said...

Nice to see Black Sunday mentioned. I'm a big fan and I tried getting a friend to sit down and watch it but I might've been too pushy since he now refuses to watch it out of spite!

I used to LOVE Twister... I even owned the widescreen VHS tape. But I've seen bits and pieces of it in the years since and... wow. How did I ever take this seriously?! ;-)

tryanmax said...

I was too tired to think beyond first impressions last night. Most of the good ones have been named. As a Nebraskan, I also have a soft spot for Twister. And as a child of the 80s/teen of the 90s, I have a soft spot for Armageddon. Do the Final Destination films count as disaster films? They all open with wildly imaginative and gruesome disasters.

tryanmax said...

Backthrow, no one will ever call them "green scare" films b/c they'll just keep changing the climate crisis theory to perpetuate it. Environmentalism has been a component of every post-industrial leftist movement so far. They'll wave off errors of our time as contemporary understanding, "wrong, but essentially right."

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, I like Twister a lot. And I probably should have included Apollo13 on the list. Good calls!

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, Woody Strode is excellent. He's always impressed me.

Good point about Green-Scare films. We should adopt that name for these enviro-porn movies like The Day After Tomorrow.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, Of sorts indeed. It's basically a virus disaster movie and I love that film. Should have added that to the list too! (And yeah, not the crappy remake.)

AndrewPrice said...

Dwizzum, I hate to admit it, but I've never seen Phase IV! It sounds like I'm missing something worthwhile! I'll have to look into that one.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Airport was in a class by itself. This was a real movie with a big named cast. The rest were more schlocky with has-been casting. I do enjoy the one with the plane underwater though. The Heston one I don't enjoy as much, but who am I kidding... I enjoy them all. :D

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It's because it's cheesy as hell and that Sutherland is so far over the top that I can enjoy this film. Being so cheesy makes it easy not to take anything the film says seriously. And in that regard, I enjoy all the stupidity within the film.

I also lost interest in Poseidon about half an hour in. It was just a pointless, dull, sadistic film. It totally missed the point of the original. The point of these films is to see the people survive, not see them die.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Twister isn't a serious movie to me. It's just sci-fi schlock and it's good schlock to boot. Of course, I also enjoyed Atomic Twister and Ice Twister. Didn't care for Sharknado though.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, A lot of people count the Final Destination films. To me, they're in a slightly different category. Ditto on things like Soylent Green.

Isn't Twister the state film of Nebraska? ;-P

I like the term "green scare," but I'm wondering we should save it for an alien invasion?

Floyd R. Turbo said...

A couple of disaster-related films...

Fearless (1993) with Jeff Bridges, Rosie Perez (I know, but she';s good here) and Isabella Rosellini about survivors of a plane crash... the recreation of the crash at the end is a tour de force -- this is my favorite Peter Weir film.

Alive is a combo disaster -- survival film -- the one in the Andes where the Uruguayan rugby team. The cannibalism plot point detracted (t least PR-wise) from an otherwise pretty good film.

Also -- Under Siege, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, and The Rock are all pretty. The Under Siege films were the high mark before Seagal's precipitous fall into douchebaggery, but they are very engaging films -- all three have the whacko general film trying to kill civilians and nuclear hostages, etc.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

"Pretty good" I meant up there

tryanmax said...

Andrew, it might have been before Alexander Payne's movie got made.

Tennessee Jed said...

I think that at the time of it' release, one of the reasons Twister scored so well was that in those days, modern digital CGI was not so common place. The whole point of Twister was the great effects. Generally, plots in disaster films are almost lame by design. The idea is to depict a monumental disaster. One of the reasons Black Sunday and Apollo were not initially considered by most is probably due to the fact of how the genre developed. Put a lot of people in the path of a natural disaster, see who lives or dies, who displays courage or who behaves badly, etc.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Very true. Twister was a CGI event film and people turned out in droves. I think it also had a good enough story to remain a popular film, though not near as popular as its event status might have led people to believe.

Good point about Black Sunday and Apollo 13. They don't feel like disaster films because they are plot/character-based films rather than being about things blowing up.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Alexander Payne? Yuck. I'm sorry.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, Fearless was good. I haven't seen Alive.

I see any Steven Seagal movie as a disaster. ;-P Seriously, I see why they would be considered disaster films, but I see them mainly as Steven Seagal movies.

John Jameson said...

The Birds is a wonderful movie, but I would scarcely call it a disaster movie; it is rather a horror movie and psychodrama, and a deeply metaphorical one too.

Let me suggest instead a more recent example which is not usually regarded as a disaster movie: Gravity. Wikipedia calls it "science fiction", a "thriller" and a "space drama", despite the contemporary technology, the realism, the absence of an antagonist or any substantial conflict.

Looking beyond the zero-G setting, however, it has all the tropes characteristic of disaster movies. The cause of the disaster is beyond the control of the protagonists, its primary role being to set events in motion. There then follows a rapid sequence of life-threatening situations which test the ingenuity and character of the protagonists. Impressive scenes of destruction surround the protagonists, who nevertheless escape at the last minute (although at least one dies along the way). And the trauma is accompanied by some sort of spiritual journey, in which the survivor(s) emerge(s) victorious but changed by the experience.

Rustbelt said...

Originally, I was going to list 'Transformers' (2007), "Super Mario Bros.,' 'Godzilla' (1998), and others...but then I realized these are movies ABOUT disasters. Not movies that actually ARE disasters. My misunderstanding. So...

I remember watching "Airplane!" on AMC a while back with the 'DVD on TV' extras on the bottom screen. The directors said their intention was to make the funny version of 'Zero Hour' only. (I think they even intended to set it in the 50's.) Because both are Paramount films, they used the same characters (both have a Ted Stryker/Striker) and dialogue (the "depends on finding on someone who didn't have fish for dinner" is verbatim in both). Interestingly, the directors seemed to indicate (at least then) that that they didn't care to reference "Airport" or "Airport 1975." They claimed that all modern settings and references were forced on them by studio chief Micheal Eisner- likely to sucker-punch rival studio, Universal. (Still, despite being ordered to use a Boeing 474, they kept the propeller sounds in there come hell or high water.)

I'm glad "Dante's Peak" was mentioned. It seems to have become a movie standard in high school science classes as the most accurate volcano movie ever. Well...except for lava oozing out of a Cascades volcano, but that's not important now. It was also nice to see characters with decent motivations and who weren't all jerks. I like it when even disaster films can buck character cliches every now and then. But the film's best performance goes to Mt. St. Helens as Dante's Peak. Still lookin' sinister after these years.

A note on 'Twister'... what a letdown. I know viewers say it's just a CGI extravaganza. But when you spend the money to hire Micheal freakin' Crichton to write the screenplay, there just HAD to be something better he could come up with than this. Good grief.

Rustbelt said...

Oh, and Andrew, a note on Sharknado...

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, I haven't seen them in a long time and wow do they look old!!

On Airplane, Scott and I talk about this all the time. I know that they claim they ONLY used Zero Hour, but I just don't believe it. There is too much in Airplane which is just too close to certain scenes in Airport for me not to believe that was a major part of their source material too.

So you don't think Volcano was more accurate? LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

John, The Birds is probably an apocalypse movie ultimately. Those seem to be lumped in with disaster films, but they are definitely a different flavor.

I haven't seen Gravity yet, though I intend to. You make a good point about the characters having some sort of spiritual journey, in which the survivors emerge changed by the experience. That seems to be the case in every disaster movie I can think of. I guess nothing can reconcile a divorcing couple better than being involved in a disaster film.

John Jameson said...

I happy to include apocalypse moves as disaster movies for pessimists (!), but I still don't find The Birds a particularly good fit, any more than Jurassic Park, say, is apocalyptic.

Beyond the horror, The Birds seems to me to have more in common with The Forbidden Planet, in which the monstrous behaviour is linked to the subconscious human psyche.

Kit said...

I also enjoyed Dante's Peak and Volcano. As silly as the latter was.

PikeBishop said...

I thought Twister was insanely overrated. The dialogue consisted of people yelling "Jesus Christ" in a high wind. The plot was predictable and the effects weren't even that good.

tryanmax said...

Whoa! Where's all this hate for Twister coming from? It's a cheesy disaster movie. I personally think the effects hold up.

As for Crichton, great novelist, my personal favorite, but screenwriting is a different craft and I find him maybe just above average.

Rustbelt said...

Andrew, I'll have to take a look at 'Zero Hour' one of these days to see how much the Z-A-Z team (Zucker, Andrews, and Zucker) used. My guess is that the storyline, most situations, and dialogue were lifted and modernized from Zero Hour, and then- possibly from Eisner's insistence, as ZAZ claims- gags based on scenes from 'Airport' and 'Airport '75' were added into the script. But like I said, I'll have to take a look.
Interestingly, both Zero Hour and Airport are based on novels by author Arthur Hailey. (He also wrote Zero Hour's screenplay.) So, that may be another reason the Airport gags blend in so seamlessly.

You know, I'd like to write a review comparing Dante's Peak and Volcano. Personally, I don't it's the science that sets these two apart. (Though, as mentioned, the former is the more accurate of the two.) Dante's Peak actually tries to create good characters, some even bucking the usual stereotypes. Volcano is an in-your-face "can't we all just along?" left-wing morality tale. Dante's Peak is also more adventurous. While Volcano has ridiculous scenes of trying to redirect lava, Dante's Peak actually explores the many demonic ways an explosive volcano can kill you, or at least lay waste to its surroundings in ways that would make Captain Planet cry.

Rustbelt said...

And yeah, the Rifftrax guys have certainly aged since their MST days. Then again, I've seen a lot of their stuff over the past few years, so I'm used to it. But if you want aging, check out this interview with Cinematic Titanic. Joel looks like he's turning into Captain Picard with Buddy Holly glasses!

BTW, since I noticed you listed 'The Core,' here's a pre-Easter Easter egg:
SciFi Guy's review of 'the Core!' Part 1 Part 2

ScottDS said...

Rustbelt -

Check this out.

Technically, Airplane! is a remake of Zero Hour!. They bought the rights to the film and a lot of the dialogue, some character names, and the food poisoning subplot came from that movie. I'm sure some gags came from the Airport films (most notably the singing nun) and they even tried to get George Kennedy but Universal didn't let that happen.

ScottDS said...

tryanmax -

I agree re: Crichton. His original movies (namely Looker and Runaway) are entertaining... but also quite silly and often ridiculous! His novels are, uh, a tad more intelligent. :-)

ScottDS said...

Dante's Peak is basically Jaws with a volcano whereas Volcano is The Fugitive with the Richard Kimble part played by a volcano. :-)

Actually, I always preferred Volcano to Dante's Peak for some reason. I haven't watched either film in years, but then I watched Everything Wrong with Volcano...

Oh. My. God.

I used to like this movie!

Dave Olson said...

I remember watching Airport and thinking that, other than one brief scene in the control tower and a few of the cars visible around the departure area, it could have been from 1960, not 1970. The hairstyles, clothes, dialogue, acting, and directing seem to be from another era. I also remember thinking what a jerk Dean Martin was during the landing, making the captain work the yoke and the throttles while just sitting there in the co-pilot seat looking concerned. And drunk. His character was an even bigger jerk in the source novel. I couldn't understand why the hot-to-trot stewardess would hook up with him.

Speaking of the novel, I laughed loudly and hysterically (in a library, not cool!) when reading it and stumbling onto this exchange, which didn't make it into THIS film:

Gwen: Oh really, Vernon? Why pretend? We both know perfectly well what it is you're talking about! You want me to have an abortion!

Vernon: It's really the only sensible thing to do. If it's done properly, therapeutically, there's no danger involved.

There was at least one other line from the novel that was lifted and placed, somewhat incongruously, into Airplane!, but I'm not going to spoil that one.

Rustbelt said...

Scott, OK. That's it. I'm convinced. It's definitive. 'Airplane!' is 'Zero Hour,' and not 'Airport.' Done. Finished. Decided. End of sentence. :)

Good video on 'Volcano.' Except I have to throw a flag on 'Volcano caused by Earthquake.' Earthquakes and volcanoes can sometimes be related, though not always. In fact, the famous eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 was actually caused by a completely unrelated earthquake that shook the already-brittle and highly pressurized mountain. The quake caused the biggest landslide in recorded history and, subsequently, released the pressure that caused the two- first horizontal, then vertical- eruptions on the mountain.
If Mr. Snarky's going to get snarky about scientific facts, he may want to read a science book first.

AndrewPrice said...

John, Apocalypse movies are disaster movies for pessimists.

That's actually a brilliant distinction. Nicely done!

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I'm not a big fan of volcano films. Somehow, the formulas don't attract me like the formulas for the others do.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, It sounds like anti-Nebraska bias! Actually, I have no idea. I thought it was an entertaining film with some good characters and pretty decent dialog for a disaster film.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, I've never seen Zero Hour.

If you'd like to compare Volcano and Dante's Peak, we'd be happy to publish it.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, Joel doesn't look that bad, though he's clearly put on weight. Frank looks a lot like he used it. Why the hell does he still have that hair???

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, That exchange, done over the PS system, kills me every time I hear it. It's absolutely hilarious.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, How does science explain the FACT that tossing a virgin into a volcano can stop the volcano? ;-P

Dave Olson said...

Because it is a FACT that volcanoes are caused by angry gods. Throwing in a virgin calms them down because everyone loves virgins. And you have to keep up a steady supply because eventually everyone gets tired of virgins. QED.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, The science book I have says that's true! ;-P

Rustbelt said...

Andrew, Dave, if you look in the back of the book, you'll find there's also a second reason:

It plugs up the hole. Because as every volcanologist knows, liquid hot mag-MUH has nothing against the body of a virgin stuck inside the throat of a thunder mountain.

Rustbelt said...

As for Frank...well, this is only speculation, but maybe he bumped into a PYT intern during his standup days who said she thought it was a cute 'do. Perhaps he's still hoping she'll recognize him if they meet again. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, That makes a world of sense! LOL!

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