Took a look at the classic old disaster movie, Earthquake, from 1974, which has a great preview/trailer:
This movie surprises, first of all, because its strongest images inadvertently connote 9/11. Not what one expects from a movie set in a natural disaster.
Of course the plausibility question, so often an issue with disaster movies, cannot even be raised: heck, the Northridge quake of 1994, costing in the range of $40 billion in 1994, remains one of the worst natural disasters ever to befall the US. Earthquakes happen in Los Angeles.
So where do the writers -- including Mario Puzo -- choose to go for drama?
I can tell you where the writers of today go for drama -- in this weekend's Into the Storm, to a couple of teenagers who barely know each other and find themselves on a video shoot in an abandoned factor as a monster torpedo spins near.
Frankly, the dumbness doesn't almost matter -- the movie does flying tumbling vehicles spectacularly well. Perhaps better than anyone. Witness the conclusion of the trailer, which uses silence and darkness to hint at a story -- slightly reminiscent of the great preview for Twister -- but thoughtfully short:
Arguably flying tumbling vehicles -- usually cars, but increasingly semis and even airplanes -- have become the most dramatic visual of action movies (of various types) this century. Look at Fast and Furious, Transformers, The Dark Knight, the list goes on and on.
Yes, all too often, that's what drama has come to on movie screens in 2014: will this tumbling semi-rig spin and tumble and crush our hero/the camera?
Okay, sorry. So in 1974. by contrast, with Mario Puzo of "Godfather" fame writing, where did the filmmakers choose to go for drama?
They focused on a love triangle around a super-successful architect/developer, played by Charlton Heston, who is being pursued by the extraordinarily beautiful Genevieve Bujold, dressed in neat peach-colored pants, turtleneck, and jacket. A single mom, she cares for her young boy more than anything, and saves him from a fiery and water disaster -- in part due to her scandalous friendship with an influential married man.
Probably her greatest role. The movie's great success and her bralessness made her a 70' icon, at least to some of us, and a website that tracks such culture epiphenomena as Susan Dey and Genevieve Bujold.
And how did the writers convince us that Charlton Heston, playing an architect/developer vaguely reminiscent of John Galt, is as successful and worthwhile as he is good looking?
He has a telephone in his convertible. It rings as he's driving and he picks up and answers. Yes, it's true. In l974.
Final point. There are a pair of characters -- a daredevil and his supportive pal -- who play a surprising role in both movies.
In Earthquake, it's the always appealing Richard Roundtree, who has a scruffy white pal who helps him make up the stunts, transport the bike, also wear the leather outfit with lightning bolts, etc. In Into the Storm, it's a couple of redneck stunt-loving bozos who just want to get themselves into a YouTube video and get a million hits. They drive a beat-up old pick-up armored with sheet metal, spray-painted Twista Hunterz. It's pretty hilarious.
So: short comparison/review. Into the Storm is a crummy movie with only one character of any real distinction, a beleagured high school vice principal. A little humor, and a bunch of teenagters who all but snore in speech. Oh well, the images are so strong it almost doesn't matter. Earthquake is a richer and far more cohesive movie, more emotional and less random, and its effects -- which won a slew of awards, and two Oscars-- retain great power. Movie also has a great soundtrack by John Williams, as well a startling character, an angry cop played by George Kennedy. He loses his temper (before the earthquake strikes) and sits down at a bar like a corrupt beat cop in a big city, and has a drink and a smoke while on duty. Unexpected!
Perhaps these people deserve punishment for their sins? It's an interesting question on which to hang a disaster movie. Distantly related to the Grand Hotel/Stagecoach/Lifeboat group drama, but arguably better, if not especially deep. Was nominated for a Golden Globe as a drama.
But forget story about for a minute -- these are disaster movies! What images do we remember?
From Earthquake, a semi tumbling off a high free-way bridge and tumbling down towards another freeway.
From Into the Storm, an image of parked passenger jets at an airport being blown back and ever so gently lifted into the air by the oncoming tornado two miles across...