Friday, April 2, 2010

"Earthquake" (1974)

"Earthquake" (1974)
Starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy and Lorne Greene
Written by George Fox and Mario Puzo
Directed by Mark Robson

Have you seen "2012"?  How about "Independence Day"?  Or "The Day After Tomorrow"?  Then you've seen the fruits of the labors of "Earthquake."  All these disaster films follow the same basic formula.  You've got your setup of a bunch of disparate characters and storylines that will all eventually come together after the city-and-or-entire-world has been thrown into chaos via natural disaster or other violent incursion.  You've got your every-man heroes who will risk life and limb to save friends and family while others run for safety.  You've got the young, inexperienced scientist making wild claims no one believes who eventually turns out to be correct.  And you've got a lot of visually impressive spectacle as lots of things explode or are otherwise torn apart.

"Earthquake" boasts a massive cast of recognizable faces, from Heston as Stewart Graff to Lorne Greene of "Battlestar Galactica" (the crappy original, not the awesome remake) and  George Murdock (you might not recognize his name, but trust me, you've seen him in something) and even Richard Roundtree (the original Shaft).  They're all pretty much normal people, or at least, the 1974 Hollywood version of them - Roundtree, for example, plays a motorcycle stuntman who's jealous of Evel Knievel.  Heston plays Stewart, an ace structural engineer who tells people that they should spend more money to earthquake proof their buildings and cheats on his wife.  You might balk at that idea, but trust me, his wife is a total bitch; she deserves it.  That just makes both of their ultimate fates kind of ridiculous, though.

What's the major problem with "Earthquake"?  Well, it's a 2 hour movie and the earthquake doesn't come until exactly one hour in.  That means literally half the movie is setup and soap opera, and frankly it's boring.  By the time the quake hits, you want practically the entire cast to die and when they don't, you're just disappointed.  The movie featured incredible special effects for its time, and they're still admirable today.  Sure, they're obviously fake, but it's easy to appreciate the amount of effort that went into destroying fake Los Angeles.  Objects supposedly made of concrete are obviously wood facades, but they all fall apart fairly convincingly.  Major problems creep in whenever things catch on fire or are deluged with water - two things that will utterly ruin any sense of scale, no matter how detailed your models may be.  That's the incredible advantage CGI gives us these days, but I digress.

After the quake hits, it becomes a story of survival.  People are trapped, people are injured... Some characters stand up and do the right thing, others are revealed as douchebags, and the women mostly stand around screaming and begging for rescue.  There's little resolution to anything by the time the movie ends, but that's okay since none of the storylines were really all that interesting to begin with.  It's really only the set pieces in the second hour that make "Earthquake" watchable at all.  With fun special effects and a few nifty death scenes, it's a fine way to waste an hour. 

Ultimately, I'm gonna say, though, that your time is better spent with "2012" - it's pretty much the same movie, only way more ridiculous.  It's also more consistently action-packed all the way through, and the horrendous dialogue should have you rolling with laughter.