Saturday, February 2, 2019

Disaster!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Last night, as is our family tradition each winter during the coldest part of the year, we watched THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, a wonderful disaster flick in which global warming causes a new ice age. It has everything: noble Brits Staying The Course, a little kid with cancer, threatening CGI wolves, and of course, a band of survivors arguing about which books to burn for warmth in the main branch of the New York Public Library. (Every year we Mainers, wiser in the ways of laying fires, wonder aloud why they don't burn the hundreds of wooden chairs filling the main reading room.)



As we snuggled on the sofa together, watching the opening credits dissolve into a menacing storm, the Smithie said, "I love disaster movies!" We all do, dear readers, and I'm going to share some favorites with you.

When Worlds Collide (1951)
The granddaddy of science fiction disasters. A "rogue star" is hurtling through our solar system to destroy the earth. The government doesn't believe the scientist who discovers the terrible truth, and a desperate old millionaire agrees to finance a "space ark" in the hopes of escaping doom. The young men and women who work on the rocket are 100% white and middle class; one wonders about the genetic future of humanity, since the vessel only hold about 60 passengers, plus some sheep.



The Poseidon Adventure (1972) 
You really have to have a sense of the big movie and TV stars of the 1960s to enjoy this movie to the fullest. Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Stella Stevens and Red Buttons have to climb, swing, jump and swim their way to the bottom of the SS Poseidon, after a very large wave flips it tail over teakettle. The best moment is when  Shelly Winters, playing a very stereotypical Jewish grandmother, announces she's a former competitive swimmer and plunges into the water, leading the band of survivors to safety.



The Day After (1983)
There are no light-hearted, action-adventure disaster movies from the 1980s. We were all too afraid we were going to get nuked by the Soviets, especially after seeing this made-for-TV film. The special effects don't hold up too well, but the way two superpowers blunder into mutually assured destruction and the horrific, no-punches-pulled aftermath is still enough to keep you up all night. We've just withdrawn from the last major nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, so it might be a good time to remind yourself of what's at stake!



Dante's Peak (1997)
Pierce Brosnan is at his smouldering best and Linda Hamilton is hot (see what I did there?) in this non-stop story about a  volcanologist and a small-town mayor trying (and trying, and trying) to escape a volcanic explosion that makes Mount St. Helen's look like an elementary science fair project. Best moment: Brosnan, Hamilton and her two kids drive across a lava flow to rescue a dog. Good thing Jeeps keep their gas tanks on the roof of the vehicle.




San Andreas (2015)
Who couldn't love Duane Johnson as an LA Rescue pilot who steals a city-owned helicopter during the worst disaster in Pacific Coast history and abandons his post to save his wife and daughter? Okay, don't answer that. Sit back and enjoy the total destruction of Los Angeles and Paul Giamatti selling the hell out of his role as a seismographer. As San Francisco falls down, bursts into flames and is hit with a tsunami, remind yourself it's those annoying tech millionaires who are getting it in the chops.



What are some of your favorite disaster movies, dear readers? What are their most memorable (cheesy, ridiculous) moment?

Lucy chiming in late to say that Flora Church was the winner of Sheila Connolly's THE LOST TRAVELLER. Email me lucyburdette at gmail dot come with your address please?

68 comments:

  1. Oh, I love good disaster movies! One of my favorites is “Deep Impact” with Robert Duval, Tea Leoni, Elijah Wood, and Morgan Freeman . . . an extinction-level comet, discovered by a boy, is on course to collide with Earth. A hastily-planned space mission places explosives on the comet, but they only manage to split off a part of the comet, and now there are two comets hurtling toward planet Earth. Interesting individual stories play against how humanity would prepare: how to select those to save and how to save them. It holds up pretty well and has a unexpected, memorable conclusion.

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    1. That a wonderful one, Joan. One of the more serious in the genre, as lots of named characters actually die in the cataclysmic event.

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    2. Didn't Deep Impact come out in close proximity to Armageddon? If I'm remember right, I saw both of them in the theater but liked the seriously stupid Armageddon better.

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    3. Yes, Jay, they were released within a few months of each other in 1998 . . . 8 May for “Deep Impact,” 1 July for “Armageddon” . . . .

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  2. I'm actually not much of a disaster movie fan, although I really enjoyed Dante's Peak. I'll nominate Tremors, just for the joy of watching Reba McIntyre handle firearms. But I'll also pause to wonder how we continue to love superheroes after watching them destroy so many cities. The X-Men take down San Francisco. The Avengers blow up Manhattan. And who knows what tsunamis the finale of Aquaman set off? Why do we find such joy in seeing mass destruction? Never mind. Hand me the popcorn.

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    1. Oooo! Wait! What about Twister?

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    2. Twister is a classic, and SO much fun. The scene with the flying cow...

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    3. In the comic books, there was at one time a series being published called Damage Control which was about a company that specializes in repairing the damage from all the superhero fights.

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  3. The only name of a "disaster movie" that I know is The Towering Inferno. I've not seen it. Now, if Dr. Strangelove (and how I learned to love the bomb) can qualify, then that would be my favorite. Except you don't really see the destruction. And I guess, human civilization is equally lost in Planet of the Apes. But then the destruction precedes the story and it isn't shown until the end of the flic. I guess I just don't see enough movies in general.

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    1. The Towering Inferno is a classic of the 70's stretch of movies where a technologically marvelous plane/skyscraper/cruise ship went down in flames (literally, at times.) We're big movie buffs in my family, so we see everything, eventually.

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  4. I avoid disaster movies. Does Titanic count? I watched it once on a bus and once on a plane. Both times it made me seasick.
    Oh, wait. GHOSTBUSTERS! Isn't there a scene where the Pillsbury dough boy strolls through Manhattan wreaking havoc? Loved it.

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    1. I think it's the Stay-Puft Marshmallow who tears down midtown, Hallie. But yes, that's a definite disaster movie moment in Ghostbusters!

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  5. . Oh disaster movies!Fun! In that list that you have in your essay, I’ve only seen… One of them I think. Does The Day the Earth Stood Still? And Nigh of the living dead? How about independence day does that count? And oh, how about yes here’s my favorite, Contagion. Remember that? It starts with someone coughing in a movie theater, and now I have PTSD as a result. Jonathan is proposing Unstoppable, with Denzel Washington as engineer trying to stop a runaway train. But we are trying to decide whether averted disaster counts. And how about A Quiet Place? And what do we think about Bird Box?

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    1. Independence Day and Contagion are fantastic disaster movies, Hank! I think the first two you name fall into the science fiction and zombie category, even though the world is more or less ending. I would classify Quiet Place and Bird Box as post-apocalyptic: what's happened after the disaster has struck.

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    2. “The world is more or less ending” —that’s hilarious! Xxx

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  6. I just remembered my true favorite, and Jonathan agrees. On the Beach.

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    1. I still have nightmares about On the Beach.

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    2. On The Beach is definitely the best!

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    3. On the Beach is truly terrifying. No one would make a movie that bleak nowadays.

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    4. True. It is so haunting... you can’t hear Waltzing Matilda without thinking about it.

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  7. I love disaster movies. Geostorm, The Wave, Megafault, The Hurricane Heist, 500 MPH Storm, Super Cyclone, Geo-Disaster, Fire Twister, San Andreas Quake - I saw all of the ones listed above. I'm always on the lookout for these types of movies.

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    1. Wow, you are a connoisseur! Fabulous!

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    2. You like the bad ones, Dru! So do the kids and I. The Smithie and I were one of fifteen people in the country who actually saw GEOSTORM! in the theater.

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    3. Julia, I was one of those 15 people too!

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    4. I was one of the 15 too. I remember having the theater to myself.

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    5. The SyFy channel is such a good resource for those. I love a bad movie.

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    6. Pat D, the only drawback to the movies they make for the Syfy Channel, is that they are almost uniformly INTENTIONALLY bad movies.

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  8. We avoid disaster movies in this house, feeling the real life disaster movie is American politics. Julia, I liked what you said, "one wonders about the genetic future of humanity, since the vessel only hold about 60 passengers, plus some sheep." I think the future is here. Shudder.

    On the other hand, I adore 48 Hours and the ilk. Django: Unchained may be my favorite movie ever. But disaster films, including dystopian ones, are avoided. I prefer to stay in the land of make believe where they get married and live happily ever after.

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    1. I'll join you - and bring the popcorn - for the 'married and live happily ever after' movies, Ann!

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    2. I suspect we were separated at birth, Amanda.

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    3. See, Ann, to me disaster movies are in the land of make-believe. The heroes are always saved (well, not in The Day After, but that was the point)and, especially in the movies of the last twenty years, the ultimate disaster - usually the destruction of earth - is avoided at the end.

      What I can't watch? Realistic violence. I've never seen Django Unchained because I can't handle seeing people getting whipped, beaten or shot. I won't even see the Deadpool movies, and they look like great fun.

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    4. Julia, me and you..I don't watch realistic violence either.

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  9. No No No...never. No disaster movies for me, thank you very much. I can't take disaster on the big screen beyond that tense scene in The Sound of Music when Liesel's boyfriend gives the family's hiding place away to the Nazis. I still have to watch it with my eyes half-closed.

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    1. I'm with you here Amanda, no disaster movies. No violent ones either, it does not leave many movies to watch, does it ?

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    2. Amanda and Danielle, you make me think of the time we sat down as a family to watch The March of the Penguins - an award winning nature documentary about, you guess it, penguins. Ten minutes in we see an egg roll away from the control of its father (the male Emperor penguins hatch their eggs by keeping them snug between their feet and their lower bodies.)

      "Within minutes, the fetal penguin inside will freeze," narrator Morgan Freeman intones.

      Youngest, then a little girl of around 6, burst into tears. "The baby penguin's going to be okay, right?" We quickly turned off the movie and assured her yes, the baby penguin's daddy would take care of it.

      To this day, we've never seen the rest of that film!

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  10. Count me in on #TeamAvoidDisasters. Too many disasters hovering in real life. I'm the kind of person who sets the radio to come on with the 6:00 am news, so I can immediately gauge to state of the world by the lead story.

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    1. When it comes to real-life disasters, I try to avoid them as much as possible as well, Susan!

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  11. The Towering Inferno -- Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, etc., etc. etc. A star-studded movie (maybe more so) than the Poseidon Adventure, but similar to that movie, except for the disaster ~

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    1. And the other in that 70's triumvirate of disaster films, Airport. That movie (and its sequel, Airport 1975) have been eclipsed by the still-popular spoof, Airplane!

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  12. No, thank you. I'm in the hiding-my-eyes-behind-my-fingers camp. Real life is terrifying enough, especially right now. I've been binge-watching Call the Midwife, and really appreciate its gentle approach to so many potentially disastrous situations. Even when there was a bomb directly under Nonnatus House even the guy trying to defuse the bomb lived through the ordeal.

    The only disaster movie I can remember enjoying at all is Independence Day, and only because it's just so much of a stretch of possibility.

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    1. Believe me, Karen, most of the disaster movies I enjoy are just as much of a stretch, if not more. You should try The Core, where the magnetic core of the earth stops spinning and has to be restarted my a team of terranauts in a ship capable of boring through the plant. At one point they get out in a hollow space in the mantle and walk around. The defiance of science and logic is breathtaking - but fun!

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  13. I'm not an "active" fan of disaster films but you folks have named some of the films I will sit through a second time, Tremors and Independence Day being two. I do love the movies that are more "after the apocalypse" themed, The Book of Eli being one of the best! On the other hand I love, love, love anything where space aliens show up and great confusion ensues.

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    1. Lyda, I'm with you on The Book of Eli. That is just a great post-apocalyptic movie.

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  14. THEM...1954...I was 7...still traumatized!

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    1. Alien Invasions is a fabulous genre of its own, Lyda and Jayne! It Came from Outer Space, Predator, The Edge of Tomorrow, War of the Worlds and of course, the scariest one of all - Invasion of the Body Snathcers!

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    2. I had nightmares for years after seeing the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers! It terrified me, and made me too scared to go into the basement for a long, long time.

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    3. Laughing. My big brother and I watched all those. Believe me the giant tarantula was scarier. My little brother saw Them on tv years later. He called it Them Ants. To this day that movie is Them Ants to us.

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    4. Okay, I'm laughing at "Them Ants" now.

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  15. I’m not a fan of disaster movies. For me, The Wizard of Oz was a disaster movie, even though Dorothy was united with her family at the end!

    I forgot all about On the Beach until SOMEONE here mentioned it. Ahem. I think my brain was protecting me! Fortunately for me, all I can remember about it is that it horrified me, and that I never wanted to see it again. (And now some details are slipping into my my mind but I can’t remember if they’re from that movie or another one. Gee, Julia, what have you unleashed??)

    DebRo

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    1. Wizard of Oz was certainly a disaster for the witches of the East and West, DebRo!

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  16. I love San Andreas despite how preposterous it is. Plus, when you look at The Rock, he's about the only guy other than Schwarzenegger that you could conceivably believe might be able to pull off some of the stuff that happens in these movies.

    I think Independence Day is a cheesy bad but good disaster movie as well.

    A lot of times I am rooting for the natural disaster or whatever is threatening the characters. Have you ever seen The Hurricane Heist? I was rooting for the hurricane. I also rooted for the tornadoes in Twister and for the big giant snake in the movie Anaconda.

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    1. I do, too, Jay! That's the whole point of a disaster movie - large numbers of extras (if not the stars) have to buy it in the course of the film.

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    2. Julia, that is true. However, I think at least half the reason I was rooting for the disasters was because the movies were just BAD.

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    3. There are some real clunkers in this genre, that's for sure.

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  17. My first REAL experience with the disaster film was not actually seeing in the movie, it was in the theater next to where I was watching a murder mystery. As I sat in my theater, with darkness descending as the lights came down, there was a sudden massive rumble, walls and floor seemed to be shaking - the invention of Surround Sound - Earthquake was playing next door. I think I finally saw it on TV, no shaking that time.

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    1. Oh, Surround Sound. Now it's Dolby blasting and booming hard enough to shake your seats. Ross and i went to see DUNKIRK the summer it came out and had to leave - it was just too damn loud.

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  18. Disaster movies can be fun. Twister certainly was and I am still amazed by the young woman I was chatting with, no doubt in line somewhere, who believed every bit of it, down to the silver balls that could be tossed into the tornado that would predict its path. My favorite was Supervolcano, that was shown on BBC and Discovery. It's a "docufiction" about what would happen if the caldera at Yellowstone blew. It really was good and no cheese factor at all. For cheese, watch Earthquake with Charlton Heston and a cast of thousands! Best bit: his having to choose between life with his new girlfriend or death trying to save his harridan ex or soon-to-be ex. Pompeii would be a disaster film but that is too sad to watch. Ditto Deep Impact. Did any of you see The Devil at Four O'clock? Escaped prisoners, erupting volcano, orphans needing rescue. It had it all! That one was from the early sixties. I catch The Day After Tomorrow from time to time just to see helicopters freezing in mid-air. And before I forget, Volcano with Tommy Lee Jones. I still laugh when I think about bulldozers lined up on the streets of L.A. to direct the lava flow. Dante's Peak was much better, and Pierce Brosnan. He's no disaster.

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    1. I almost put Volcano on the list, Pat. Even the great Tommy Lee couldn't stop me from laughing when they stopped a massive lava flow with bulldozers. Maybe the producers should get film of the Kilauea lava flow swallowing up everything in its path and package it as a double feature on the DVD or download. Just to make sure the audience gets a reality check.

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  19. Oh Julia, the original Poseidon Adventure with those amazing stars is a favorite of mine, too. I can still clearly hear Maureen McGovern singing "Morning After" for that movie. "There's got to be a morning after. We're moving closer to the shore. I know we'll be there by tomorrow. And we'll escape the darkness. We won't be searching anymore."

    And, Celia mentioned The Towering Inferno, a movie that had an A-list cast like few others. Paul Newman and Steve McQueen and William Holden and Faye Dunaway and Jenifer Jones, and on and on. Twister was mentioned, too, and I can't remember how many times I watched it, rooting for the storm chasers Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton to outwit the tornado and end up back together.

    The disaster movie that has place of pride in our house is Independence Day. It's a running joke, too, about my husband watching it every time it's on television. The kids ask what Dad's doing and I answer, "Oh, you know. Watching Independence Day." The rest of us have seen it plenty of times, too, but Philip is the champion. There really was no interest in Independence Day: Resurgence in 2016, but we are loyal traditionalists in our movie viewing.

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    1. As are we, Kathy. Coldest day of the year (or thereabouts): THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. Fourth of July: INDEPENDENCE DAY. Christmas Eve: DIE HARD. Both my two oldest have significant others who just don't get this strange movie watching tradition. As the Sailor said, "You're just going to have to learn to love it, babe."

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    2. Hahaha! The Sailor is right! What I don't understand is families who don't have these traditions.

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  20. Is it shameful I haven't seen any of those movies? I don't even think I've seen any of the movies mentioned in the comments, although Independence Day rings a bell. I can't say whether that's because I saw the previews years ago or actually watched the movie though.

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  21. There is nothing like a good disaster flick to bring a family together! I love it! My favorite is probably The Towering Inferno. It came out when I was just a wee tyke so it made a heck of an impact on me. Fire still scares the beejeebus out of me!

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    1. I love the Towering Inferno. The films from the years when production companies just packed as many stars into a movie as they possible could were rally something.

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  22. The disaster movies that kept me awake nights were "On the Beach" and "Failsafe". I'm a child of the 60s, can you tell? Both gave me nightmares. I think the original "On the Beach" was more terrifying than the remake.

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  23. I really liked San Andreas. I only saw it just last year and wish I could have seen it in a theater. I also recently saw The Day After, which I have been thinking (worrying?) about a lot in the last couple weeks.

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