Recently, I randomly quoted from one of my favorite movies, Airplane! This spawned a strange series of connected thoughts that eventually ended with me purchasing a 4-DVD set of 70s era disaster movies and renewing my Netflix disc subscription. I know that sounds weird but it’s just how my brain works at times.
It’s a natural leap for me to develop this sudden obsession. I’ve long been a fan of vintage cinema. You know, that sounds very posh and uppity. Let’s say I like old movies and have a high tolerance for cheesiness. I adore 50s science fiction B-movies, for example. The giant monster attack is one of my favorite genres. 70s disaster movies are more serious and star-studded than those two types of movies, but they are within the same class. Or order. Maybe even the same phylum, for all I know. I never went to film school.
Here are my thoughts on the six 70s disaster flicks I’ve watched so far. They are presented in order from worst to best.
Hindenburg – Good disaster movies follow a very specific formula. After a little “day in the life” of some random people, BOOM, disaster strikes. The drama for the rest of the movie comes from the fallout. Who lives? Who dies? Who sacrifices themselves nobly? Hindenburg puts the disaster in the last 10 minutes, and the made-up drama that comes beforehand is a real snoozefest. And mixing in the real Hindenburg footage feels wrong.
Airport – It may have been the first major disaster film in the 70s, but it wasn’t the best by a long shot. All the elements that would be copied are there, most notably a good, if long-in-the-tooth, cast. But there isn’t really much of a disaster here. The enjoyment I pulled from it came mainly from seeing how different the flying industry is some 40-odd years later. And also those groovy fashions.
Rollercoaster – Taken on its own, this is a good movie. It just isn’t a very good disaster movie. A young Grandpa Goldberg hunts down a bomber who targets rollercoasters around the country. The sense of tension and suspense is compelling, as the audience usually knows where the bombs are. I enjoyed the appearance of Michael Bell, voice actor for Duke from G.I. Joe and Transformer Prowl! The best part? Watching the movie is like using a time machine to visit classic theme parks.
Earthquake – This one checked all the boxes for me. It has Ben-Hur, Commander Adama, Pam Ewing, and a bunch of other folks you’ll recognize, including Shaft as an Evel Knievel knockoff! The miniatures effects are stellar, comparing favorably to Godzilla films two decades newer. Watching all the characters come together at the end (well, most of them) kept me on the edge of my seat. Great stuff!
The Poseidon Adventure – About halfway through this, I’d have put it a few places lower in this list. I’m a special effects junkie and apart from some nice model work here and there, the effects aren’t really… well, special. But the smaller cast means you get to know the characters better throughout, and that makes the inevitable death count absolutely grueling. The acting and the script are top notch. An amazing film.
The Towering Inferno – This one is the height (hur hur) of the genre, for sure. The special effects are riveting and incredibly realistic. The cast is spectacular, a who’s who of the era, and they all make the most of their screen time. There were several moments when I paused the movie to yell at my wife “DID YOU SEE THAT? I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!” which goes to show you how compelling the situations are. Maybe it’s the inevitable 9/11 comparison, but even at the time I’m sure this was an emotional roller- uh, it put viewers through the wringer.
That’s all I’ve watched so far. I’ll revisit this later when I watch a few more. I’ve got the remaining Airport movies (all three of them) plus the Poseidon sequel and Meteor (with James Bond!) yet to go. If you have any suggestions, let me know!