As 2012 opens today in an all-out effort to clobber your senses with visions of the world “eating it”, it’s time to reflect on a lineage of disaster that spans back almost 40 years. Some highlight the local disaster, others global– but no matter their scale, nine out of ten movie-goers agree: watching lots of people die for fakes is fun.
Nowhere? There is no “nowhere” any more. (Dan)
The Day After (1983)
Directed by Nicholas “Star Trek II” Meyer, The Day After was controversially set and released in the absolute height of the Cold War and presented a realistic scenario of an America before, during and after an all-out nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. As a kid, even seeing the promotional images of heartland American skies streaked with missile plumes on their way to Russia were haunting and unnerving. Having viewed it again as an adult– and even with its dated effects– The Day After remains a frightening, deeply affecting and ultimately depressing account of disaster that doesn’t even have a whiff of happy ending.
It is unsinkable. God himself could not sink this ship. (Andy)
Titanic is easily the greatest disaster movie ever made. Not only is it the all-time highest grossing domestic release ($600 million), but it also has two prestigious Oscars to boot, Best Picture and Best Director. And why? Simple: It’s a great film. It’s spoken of with derision quite often, but Titanic is full of action, humor and romance. And then you have the last third of the movie, which depicts with grim detail the sinking of the ship on April 15, 1912 and the subsequent deaths of 1,517 people on board, including Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) who, much to the teary-eyed chagrin of teenagers everywhere, sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Look on the bright side. We’ll all have high schools named after us. (Dan)
Deep Impact (1998)
The late 90’s had a lot of things going for it: some Dan guy’s pending graduation from college, economic gang-busting and not one but two asteroid-destroying-the-earth-as-we-know-it tentpole films in summer of ’98. Michael Bay’s Armageddon and Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact. We all know the movie that went on as heavyweight and declared winner; what with its two space shuttles, animal cracker love scene and endless repeats of Aerosmith’s blood-curdling “I don’t want to Miss a Thing”. Deep Impact may have walked away as Miss Congeniality, but its focus on subtle sentimentality, realism and — gasp– humanistic story prove it the champ a decade since its release. Its scenes of self-sacrificing astronauts and an Eastern seaboard douching by way of the Atlantic don’t hurt its disaster credo either.
It’s a fire, mister, and all fires are bad. (Andy)
The Towering Inferno (1974)
Not to sound like an undecided wuss, but The Towering Inferno is tied in my book, with Titanic, as the best disaster movie of all-time. In essence, it really is the Titanic story, except the ship and iceberg are replaced by a hotel and a fire. This one was loaded with talent: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Vaughn and Robert Wagner were among the notable actors facing the certain death of a raging fire. The Towering Inferno made me scared of high-rise hotels in the 1980s, especially after the scene where a woman falls out of a glass elevator. It must have entertained and scared others, too, because it was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Fred Astaire).
Hold on! We’re goin’ for broke! (Dan)
As the grandpappy that started it all and spawned three sequels and a spoof (Airplane!), Airport remains a hammy piece of kitsch cinema. But with a who’s who list of 1960s starpower, including the swaggering Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin, Airport laid the foundational template of the disaster movie genre– an ensemble cast with a whole lot of little dramas percolating under one giant cluster-fudge. While Airport‘s problems weren’t of the bum-puckering magnitude favored by today’s world-ending cinematic trips, heart-of-gold suicide bombers and major snowstorms will still end anyone’s world when they’re 30,000 feet in the air.
No, you did not shoot that green shit at me! (Andy)
Independence Day (1996)
Before The Phantom Menace hit theaters in 1999, there wasn’t a movie I anticipated more than Independence Day in the summer of 1996. Not since 1993’s Jurassic Park did a movie seem so large in scale and absolute fun and grandeur. And I wasn’t alone. Millions who watched the Green Bay Packers beat the New England Patriots in the 1996 Super Bowl also witnessed the obliteration of The White House by pissed-off extraterrestrials. The movie didn’t disappoint. Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich constructed a fun popcorn movie that launched Will Smith’s career into mega-stardom and also re-ignited the large-scale disaster movie. Hey, and ol’ Roland is still busy making disaster movies: 2005’s The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, which opens today.