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Thursday, March 23, 2006 09:50 am

Movie disasters

Hey, the recent tornadoes gave me a great idea for a column!

While was sitting in the dark on the night of the tornadoes, I realized that the topic for my next column was right in front of me. The disaster genre has given us some substantial hits over the years but very little in terms of quality. Why worry about a hackneyed soap-opera plot when it can all be buried under special effects? The onslaught began with Airport (1970), which only partially fits into the genre. Next up was The Poseidon Adventure (1972), a film that sacrifices scientific reality to propel an inane plot. A giant tidal wave capsizes a luxury liner, and the crew and passengers fight to reach the bottom. Along the way to survival, the intrepid characters are required to stop every few minutes for a petty argument. Science is what ultimately sinks Poseidon. Experts claim that a tidal wave cannot capsize a ship in open water, and that it would merely create an increase in the water level. The real damage occurs on the shore. In fact, with enough warning, ships are taken out to sea, where they are safer. Earthquake (1974) was the next big one, and it is even worse. The special effects are too shoddy to cover up the wretched script. The Towering Inferno (1974) proved the most successful disaster film of all, and it is only marginally better than Poseidon. Scientific stupidity is held back until the end, and it would be a spoiler to reveal it. Twister (1996) is the one that strikes closest to home. The special effects are simply breathtaking. Few images can grab your attention as a funnel cloud can. Twister could have been a great film if the two stars had just shut their mouths and done their jobs as storm chasers. Do we really need to hear the endless bickering between Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton about their failed marriage? Who cares? Let’s see more flying cows. Philip Seymour Hoffman, this year’s Best Actor winner, appears as one of the less annoying chasers. Disaster movies are back. The Day After Tomorrow (2004), which isn’t that horrible, jumpstarted the recent trend, and we’re being threatened with the remake Poseidon in May.
Available on DVD this Tuesday (March 28): King Kong and Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
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