Wednesday, May 10, 2006


A full-on revival of interest in disaster movies is in swing as we approach the release of Wolfgang Petersen’s ultra-expensive remake of Irwin Allen’s (and Ronald Neame’s) trend-setting The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Both Poseidon (1972) and The Towering Inferno were unleashed in splashy two-disc DVD packages this week-- Inferno even features an unlikely commentary track hosted by Los Angeles film critic F.X. Feeney, surely the most literate and serious-minded consideration this movie has ever had.

And Universal Home Video has jumped on Allen’s coattails this week with the DVD release of Earthquake, in remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital stereo but, alas, no Sensurround (just boost your subwoofer to 11—that’s about all Sensurround was anyway). Though I haven’t seen the slipcase packaging, I’m assuming this new edition of Earthquake will also be sans one of my favorite film critic blurbs ever to appear on a DVD, an endorsement from no less than Pauline Kael--—“The picture is swell!” But anyone familiar with her review of Earthquake (from the Reeling collection) will remember that the piece was anything but enthusiastic—it was, in fact, a scorching pan. And a close look at that review reveals that whoever edited the copy for that original Earthquake DVD probably just, um, made an honest typographical error—yeah, that’s it. Kael’s original review reads, “The picture is swill, but it isn’t a cheat, like Airport 1975, which was cut-rate swill.” (And in case that’s not clear enough for you, she goes on in the next paragraph to say that “Earthquake is Universal’s death wish for film art.”)

So, in the proper spirit of celebration of a week dedicated to cinematic disasters, there’s a lot of good online reading available to carry you up to the first showing of Petersen’s take on that 90-Foot Wall of Water Coming Straight Toward Us at 12:01 Friday morning. David Hudson of Green Cine Daily has rounded up a collection of early reviews of Poseidon, including Ed Gonzalez’s pan at Slant. How about this for an opening salvo?:

Poseidon recognizes and encourages belief in the popular popcorn-movie theory of The Survival of the Whitest. Twenty whole minutes shorter than Ronald Neame's trash classic The Poseidon Adventure, the film's short-attention span is apt to this era. (The only surprise here is that the hole left behind by Shelley Winters wasn't filled by at least one anorexic Nicole Richie type.) This may be a deliberate ploy on the part of the filmmakers: Move the story so fast and stupidly that it will convey the sense that it has nothing on its mind, making critics appear snobbish for wanting to grapple with it. For sure, the film doesn't think very much, but that's only because Wolfgang Peterson's latest travesty insults us on an unconscious level, and there's no shame in calling out his dumb-as-shit Aryan fantasy for rewriting ‘Back of the Bus’ as ‘Bottom of the Ship.’”

But then there’s Michael Guillen over at The Evening Class, no pushover he, who dug it just fine:

“I found it satisfyingly if not thoroughly entertaining for what it was: an homage to the disaster flick of 1972 that was part and parcel of the Irwin Allen consciousness that permeated my boyhood. I love disaster flicks!! It's something demiurgic in me… the Rogue Wave that capsizes the oceanliner Poseidon will undoubtedly survive as one of Hollywood's great cinematic characters. Peterson gave the Rogue Wave a chance in The Perfect Storm to see what she could do and—finding her more than adequate—cast her in Poseidon, where she makes your breath catch in your throat.”

And while Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice seems to think Petersen’s updated take on the capsized luxury liner is "an utterly empty-skulled genre mechanism and nothing more," Sean Burns of the Philadelphia Weekly begs to differ, and he reserves special praise for one of the film’s stars:

“It's a compact, satisfying genre piece that honors tried and true Hollywood formulas, delivering the goods with a minimum of foolishness. And the always-dependable Kurt Russell is the film's ace in the hole. America's most underrated actor once again proves himself incapable of being anything less than absolutely forthright and sincere. ‘You know it's not fair who lives or dies,’ Russell admits during the movie's single pause for speechifying. ‘It never is.’”

But easily the most satisfying and hilarious take on Unofficial Disaster Movie Week 2006 comes from our friend That Little Round-Headed Boy, who offers up a real gut-buster: the comprehensively titled ”WHEN TIME RAN OUT on THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE to THE TOWERING INFERNO because an EARTHQUAKE unleashed THE SWARM on a ROLLERCOASTER near the AIRPORT”, a very special round-up of the top 10 actors to ever appear in a ‘70s disaster movie. Strap yourself in, Ms. Swanson— we're in for a bumpy ride!


The 'Stache said...

Thanks, Dennis! I had no idea there was such heartfelt appreciation for '70s cheese out there. I love it! By the way, what has happened to Wolfgang Petersen? The falloff from DAS BOOT and IN THE LINE OF FIRE is pretty steep, eh?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I'd say so. Outbreak, Air Force One, The Perfect Storm, Troy-- Hmm. I think The Perfect Storm is an admirable attempt, but the rest of that stuff just doesn't work. That said, I still hold out hope that Poseidon will be a good time. Sans Shelley Winters et al., I don't see how it could top the 1972 version, even with all the CGI in the world, but Sean Burns is right-- Kurt Russell is a very underrated actor, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he brings to the table. Again, fantastic post on your site, TLRHB. As Conan O'Brien says on the back of one of those collections of pieces from The Onion, "Hilarious, laugh-out-loud, so good it makes you mad you didn't think of it first!" Only if I had, it wouldn't have been your piece... :)

The 'Stache said...

For what it's worth, here's Kurt Russell on TROY at a roundtable press junket. Perhaps, this should be a new requirement for many movies:

" I would implore you to watch 'Troy' with the sound turned off. I'm not saying that as a joke. You know what? With the sound down, it's a very different movie. That's why it did so well in Europe, I think. They can't understand what they're saying."

Anonymous said...

I too also have a copy of the newly released Towering Inferno set to arrive in the mail sometime this week. I remember standing in line at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood waiting to see this SPECTACULAR disaster film from the master of disaster himself Mr. Irwin Allen. That 40' high paper cutout of the cartoonish high rise building on fire that sat on the rooftop entrance is vividly burned into my brian pan. I could care less how cheesy this film may seem to everyone else, I love this film right along with it's swill filled sister film Earthquake. Hey does anyone remember that text crawl that used to run right before Earthquake started that went something like "Your Attention Please. Earthquake has been filmed in a new multi dimension called SENSURROUND. ..." I don't remember all the rest but I can tell you that when I saw this film in it's initial run at the old Paramount theater, now the El Capitan, they really had that low end frequency turned up really loud and the auditorium contained these huge woofer boxes in each rear corner and the ones directly in front and below the screen were so massive the theater needed to remove the first 3 rows of seats just to fit them in. That was showmanship along the lines of The TINGLER.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Sal, I regret never getting to see Earthquake presented in Sensurround. I do remember, however, my buddies and I and our ill-fated attempt to wire up a couple of car stereo speakers to my friend's parents' 25-inch TV in an attempt to boost the sound quality of the movie when NBC showed it. Needless to say, without any significant added power to drive those speakers, our attempt at homegrown Sensurround was, shall we say, insufficient. However, I did see Midway (Zzzzzzz..... BOOM!) and Rollercoaster in Sensurround, and it was quite the subwoofer blast indeed, though both shows were in crackerbox cinemas that were probably smaller than that gigantic row of subwoofers you saw stacked up at the Paramount. I'm still not sure that Earthquake is much of a movie, but I do regret never getting to see it the way it was supposed to be seen... and heard... and felt.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, my folks and I were on the old Universal Studios Tour about 3 months before EARTHQUAKE was released and the tour included a special stop at one of their screening rooms to preview the SENSURROUND experience. Now that was cool.

Speaking of the NBC broadcast. The television premier of EARTHQUAKE was simulcast on FM stereo (I believe it was K-MET, the Mighty Met) here in L.A. and it was pretty impressive. I actually taped it on cassette and used to play it back once or twice a year until I misplaced the damn thing at some point. Nevertheless, I also have the original soundtrack LP that also included some of the low frequency effects. A couple of years ago I picked up a copy of the soundtrack on CD at the old DAVE'S Video - The Laser Place which used to be over on Ventura Blvd (great Place) and while in the store I asked one of the sales guys to put the CD in one of their theater systems so I could hear it before I bought it. WOW... we had a small crowd gather 'round the sound room just to listen to the RUMBLE. A few months later I revisited the store just before it abrupt closure and the same sales guy told me they would use the EARTHQUAKE CD for demonstration purposes and would instantly sell subwoofers immediately after they played it. I walked out of there with a SUPER DEEP discount on a bundle of laser discs.

And BTW, simply turning up your subwoofer or increasing the base level will not give you the SENSURROUND experience. The soundtrack was not embedded with the low frequency response as it's done now with multi-track recordings. The DVD needs the low end remixed into the existing soundtrack so our modern DVD opticals can pick it up. I was hoping they would do this on a new release of the film, but from reading your post I guess that was wishful thinking on my part.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Anonymous: Now that you mention it, that FM simulcast of the Earthquake soundtrack sounds familiar. That may have been what gave us the idea about hooking up those car stereo speakers. Unfortunately, I grew up in a town where the nearest FM radio signal originated from at least 200 miles away, and was of a squirrely quality even at night-- and I think the signal we were trying to pick up came from even further away than that. It all added up to a big Sensurr-flop, no matter how you cut it.

Yeah, it seemed like there was an opportunity there on that Earthquake disc to at least make an attempt to simulate the Sensurround frequency that was squandered. Perhaps Universal was afraid of blowing out subwoofers nationwide? :)

And I'd completely forgotten about that soundtrack LP. I don't think I ever owned it myself, but one of my buddies did. Nice to know that it sounded so impressive on CD. I wonder just how difficult it'd be to find one of those? (That distinctly high-end frequency you just heard was the siren call of eBay...)

Eric Henderson said...

Strange, I've always read Pauline's Earthquake review as the closest she ever came to a rave-in-pan-drag. Or, rather, the furthest she put her tongue in cheek for a movie she appeared to enjoy. I should do that blog post on Earthquake.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Eric, you might just be right. But whether she really liked the movie or not, I always thought it came across loud and clear in Kael's review that she certainly enjoyed the spectacle, however cheezily rendered, of Los Angeles being destroyed. I don't have it in front of me, but wasn't there some line about the audience secretly wanting to giggle at people dumb enough to build high rises on a fault line and stilt houses on unstable hillsides, and enjoying seeing them get theirs? I always thought it strange/funny that Earthquake was such a big hit, especially in Los Angeles, a city that just three years earlier went through the real thing.