More noise than signal

Disaster Movies

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

We deal with the enduring, sometimes mystifying appeal of Disaster Movies today, covering films from the 50’s right through to modern day, with a variety of dooms for us, fire, flood, earthquakes, volcanoes, asteroids, … and bees. Millions of bees. Please join us for our whistlestop tour of A Night To RememberThe Poseidon AdventureEarthquakeThe Towering InfernoMeteorThe SwarmTwisterIndependence DayDaylightDante’s PeakVolcanoArmageddonDeep ImpactThe Day After Tomorrow2012, and San Andreas.

A Night To Remember

Inspired Shalamar’s 1982 post-disco classic, for which it is most well remembered.

It’s about the Titanic, the famous boat what hit an iceberg and sank and that, which I trust you know well enough to not need me to recap any further. I don’t know if you can call this the progenitor of the disaster movie, as there’s plenty of prior art of natural disasters in film, but it’s fair to say it was influential.

It’s told more from the perspective of the Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller (Kenneth More) than anyone else, but it’s all third person POV stuff which gives it scope to cover the night’s events. It’s credited as being as historically accurate as was possible in 1958, and by focusing on the ship’s officers and designer it’s able to clearly explain the circumstances and reasons for the ship going down without feeling like a Powerpoint presentation. Director Roy Ward Baker wisely recognised that there’s quite enough drama to be had from one of the worst maritime disasters in history without slapping some maudlin, sappy, crappy love story in as the main focus.

Made on a shoestring budget, certainly for this kind of film, of £500,000 (for comparison Vertigo‘s budget in the same year was close to $2.5 million), it does a very creditable job of hiding it. There’s a couple of model shots that are a bit of a bathtub special mixed in with some much more convincing ones, but the set dressing and detail I think drags this up to a reasonably competent production value, even by today’s standards. I’d still rather see a crap model shot than a crap CG shot.

A solid turn from Kenneth More anchors the piece, with a commendable ensemble performance from all involved. By it’s nature there’s no deep characterisation going on, but some characters still stand out.

All in all, it’s a pretty effective film, and a much more interesting experience than some of the later entries in the genre.

The Poseidon Adventure

Irwin Allen, of course, is the name in disaster movie production, and direction for that matter, and in a great many ways this capsized boat extravaganza is the template for all of his movies that followed it, particularly in the composition of the plucky band facing adversity.

They’re headed up by “angry, rebellious, renegade” preacher Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman), who convinces a small group that staying put in the now inverted ballroom is a surefire way to die, and they must head up to the bottom of the ship if they hope to be rescued. I’m not convinced that’s the right line of thinking in reality, but it certainly is in disaster films, as we soon see by the watery dispatching of those choosing not to scale the Christmas tree of salvation.

And so it goes, with the band fighting their way through fire, flood and adversity with tempers flaring and so on and so forth, with a lot of the tension coming from clashes between Hackman and Ernest Borgnine’s inexplicably confrontational copper Rogo. The rest of the group fulfil a number of plucky underdog / damsel in distress / comic relief / cannon fodder roles.

There’s some visual novelty as well as mortal hazard caused by the sets being upside down, and it’s all fairly convincing. As the vast bulk of the film is our gang traversing engine rooms and the like, there’s little to no reliance on model shots or other effects work that tends to age these kinds of films. Just about the only thing that’s ageing The Poseidon Adventure is the clothes and hairstyles.

What hasn’t improved with age is the dialogue that could not feasibly be clunkier, which is by and large a common flaw to every film we’ll talk about today. Hackman and Borgnine somehow manage to bluster their way through it, or perhaps over the top of it, and the emotions are believable, if the words aren’t.

Certainly one of the best disaster films of the era, and established exactly what the genre standards would be essentially to this day – all we’ve added is CG. It’s influence cannot be denied, and it’s well worth checking out if you haven’t already seen it on its many sojourns through the bank holiday TV schedules.


Set, as is an earthquake films wont, in Los Angeles, this shows a disparate bunch of characters and their attempts to survive the Big One, and the preceding two little ones that served as a warning. And the aftershocks. A whole lotta shaking, going on down there.

The main focus is on structural engineer Graff (Charlton Heston), whose marriage to Remy (Ava Gardner) seems quite firmly on the rocks, not helped by the affair he’s having with Denise (Geneviève Bujold). Elsewhere, hard boiled cop Slade (George Kennedy) is close to being drummed out of the force for not respecting those pencil-pushers in city hall, and ace stuntman Miles (Richard Roundtree) is preparing for what he hopes will be his big break. They’re all likeable enough turns, and for once the dialogue sounds like something a human being might conceivably say.

Most disaster films spend about 45 seconds on their character’s lives before fate slaps them silly – in Earthquake they’re given a luxurious 45 minutes. To be honest, despite the central clearing, cookie-cutter nature of the characters I still found myself warming to them, perhaps because any characterisation at all is foreign to much of the genre. Still, I suppose this is only good in comparison to the rest of these films, rather than good in and of itself.

The first plot keyword listed in IMDB’s page for this film, called Earthquake, about an earthquake is “pantyhose”. “Earthquake” comes third on the list. Now, some may be disappointed that there’s not quite as much earthquake action as they’d like, but undeniably there’s more of that than there is pantyhose.

Unfortunately much of the effects work is so ineffective that further discussion of pantyhose might have been preferable. Most of it’s okay, and they’ve certainly not skimped on the stunt players, but there’s a few very shonky moments on the wider shots and a that baffling decision to animate and overlay a cartoon blood splatter on a crashing elevator scene that’s downright laughable.

There’s a few oddities that really don’t seem to belong – the subplot of Marjoe Gortner’s National Guard character going mad with power seeming particularly out of place, along with the entirely incongruous cameo by Walter Matthau as a sozzled bar patron, drinking on oblivious while people die around him which was just plain weird.

General opinion, it seems, holds this in very poor regard, and I’m not completely sure why, apart possibly from it being outshone by the same year’s Towering Inferno, which whose budget Earthquake could not hope to complete. It seems perfectly serviceable to me, but nothing more than that. If you’ve an affection for this period of the disaster era then it’s worth watching, but the casual viewer can safely ignore.

The Towering Inferno

I’d imagine for most people it’s a toss-up between Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno for the most iconic disaster movie of the Allen era, as an all star cast gathers to battle this fire in a super-skyscraper. Curiously that means that it’s also become iconic for its petty wrangling for status amongst it leads.

Paul Newman’s Doug Roberts continues the run of job titles unlikely to dual role as an action hero as the architect responsible for the design of this remarkable new skyscraper, but on the eve of its official opening he discovers that a small fire has broken out due to Jim Duncan (William Holden) and his son-in-law building it with cheap, sub-standard materials. Roberts calls for an evacuation, but as Duncan’s hosting a swanky opening party for the likes of Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, and Roberts Vaughn and Wagner, he’s more interested in keeping it under wraps for appearances sake. This swiftly bites him in the ass when the fire runs out of control, trapping them in the upper floor ballroom.

Enter the fire department, headed by Steve McQueen’s Chief O’Hallorhan, who along with Roberts attempts to quell the fire and save as many people as they can, by dint of great heroics on their part, occasionally hampered by acts of panic or stupidity on other’s. That’s perhaps as much of a plot recap as there need be for this, although it does feel rather dismissive of a film that’s quite imaginative in putting its leads in many more different flavours of peril than you may expect from the title – by the end, they even have to worry about drowning.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I feel that Newman and McQueen aren’t exactly on their best form in this film, or again are perhaps just underserved character-wise in script where the real top billing should go to the fire itself. Both felt a little on the flat side for me, and the supporting cast aren’t given much to do either, given the cost that Allen laid out to hire them, leading to having guys like Robert Vaughn just wandering around in the background. I’m sure he must have had a few lines, but none even remotely consequential. The PR for the film promised five great love stories – the actuality of that would really be no great love stories, and what little attempt there was at them being so forgettable that I can’t think for life of me who they involved.

I suppose, even back in the day, you’d not be expecting to go to something like The Towering Inferno to enjoy a well observed character piece, and for the most part this delivers on the action and thrills with some bold stunt work. Some of the model shots haven’t survived the transition to HD screens particularly well, would perhaps be the my only complaint. If you were to stop and think about the writing in any detail you’d perhaps come up with some very valid complaints, in particular that the building seems to move between being impassable, or perilously so, and so passable O’Hallorhan might as well have a teleporter largely as the pacing of the film demands rather than as the fire spreads.

But of you were to stop and think about most films of this ilk you’d have much worse lists, and overall Inferno holds up much better than I’d expect. Certainly worth watching, and it’s one of those rare films that cornered it’s little niche of the genre so well that I can’t think of any notable attempt to do anything too similar – there’s a few, to be sure, but all quite obscure. One of the more enjoyable films that we’ll talk about in this episode.


I normally have some sympathy in films for scientists who find that their work has been subverted for military applications, but ex-NASA boffin Paul Bradley (Sean Connery) has less of a case, given that he designed and built an orbital nuclear weapons platform. Still, he seems genuine enough that he wanted this to be used as a meteor defence, rather than a Russkie slapdown device.

Bradley is brought back into the fold when he’s informed of a five mile wide meteor heading towards them, which if not quite a planet killer is at least a planet great inconveniencer. While the solution seems simple – nuke it – there’s two problems. The first one is political, as the existence of such a weapons platform is top secret (somehow, despite there being seemingly no effort made to disguise it, and it surely being visible from ground with a moderately competent telescope) and against all anti-proliferation treaties, making it inconvenient to acknowledge its existence.

Secondly, after running the data through the finest computers 1979 has to offer, the results are in and more firepower is required than the platform can muster. The solution to this is simply to convince the Russians to help with their equally secret and denied Ruble intensive orbital ordinance delivery vector, which is a degree of perestroika and glasnost that General Aldon (Martin Landau) is not comfortable with. This might cause some problems for Bradley, were Aldon not immediately dismissed for gross stupidity in a commendable display of common sense not overwhelmingly common to the genre, but a bit of a dampener drama-wise. Particularly when he shows up apologetically later in the film have realised the gravity of the situation, before entirely evaporating from the film completely.

Meteor has problems. The cast are perfectly adequate, with a decent enough Connery turn and some able support from the likes of Karl Malden and Henry Fonda, but the characters have close to no agency in any of the main events of the film. They’re bystanders in to most of the natural disaster havoc caused by early arriving fragments of the the meteor, and when some do affect them it’s too late for us to care about their survival.

Shorn of any human reason to care about the film we have to fall back on spectacle, and frankly the quality of those on display make me wonder if the release date on IMDB is wrong. Coming eleven years after 2001: A Space Odyssey, the effects appear to have been created eleven years before. They surely can’t have been impressive at the time, and they certainly aren’t now.

Overall, it’s just a pretty dull film, with far too much waiting around for something interesting to happen, and even then watching missile platform models lethargically rotate against a poor back projection wasn’t all that interesting. I did not know this film existed until Craig brought it up in relation to this podcast, and I think overall I was happier with that state of affairs.

The Swarm

Ah, The Swarm. It is the best of films, it is the worst of films. Mainly it’s the worst of films. The Swarm perhaps better than any other film represents the wheels coming off the genre and it largely falling off the map for a few decades. We’ve been through fire, earth, water, and the likes of Airport takes care of the fourth element. The only element left to exploit for disaster, then, is obviously bees, an unlikely choice for the fifth element.

Michael Caine steps up to combat the menace of African Killer Bees largely through the medium of shouting as top entomologist Brad Crane, who in a way that is in no way whatsoever believable happens across a missile silo that’s just been ravaged by the killer bees, with one of the few escaping the carnage being the site’s doctor, Katharine Ross’ Captain Helena Anderson. Soon Richard Widmark shows up as General Slater, tasked with investigating what happened at the base and, once the top brass have accepted the reality of our bee based bother, told to help Crane in any way possible.

Despite this, Widmark doesn’t trust Crane and orders his subordinates to keep tabs on him. I take this to mean that Widmark suspects Crane is in league with the bees, or possibly is a bee in disguise, because frankly that’s the level that we’re working on in this film. And so it goes, with Crane and his assembled scientists trying to come up with ways to kill the bees without destroying everything around it, while the bees for some reason slowly buzz towards Houston killing everything in their way, because this film seems to have no idea what a bee is, or what they do.

Despite Crane’s impassioned pleas at one point not to ascribe human motives to this force of nature, it’s clear that the only explanation for the every action that the bees take once they leave the outskirts of the small town where they’d hived up is that it was written by humans in a ham-fisted way to up the stakes, including causing an off-camera nuclear meltdown at a power plant. Despite a reasonable budget, it’s production values are of no value at all, and its special effects are in no way special, perhaps topping out with the hallucinations of giant bees that their stings apparently cause, which I’m sure is 100% scientifically accurate. So, no meltdowns for you, nor when the order is given to burn Houston towards the end of the film are you getting any more than six boys running around in bee-keeper outfits with flamethrowers. Sure. That’ll work. Small town, Houston.

Caine is, I suppose, treating the material with the contempt it deserves, although it’s a low point in the man’s career, and the career of cinema in general. We’ve said the dialogue is horrible for a number of these films, but in The Swarm it transcends into being downright laughable. While this film is, on absolutely every level, hot garbage of the lowest order, everyone really should see this film at least once, even if you’re not the sort of person who normally subscribes to the ironic watching of bad films. It’s tough to describe quite how inept this film is, and so on that level it’s essential, terrible viewing.

Special anti-thanks to whatever clown decided the home releases should be two and a half hours long, rather than the cinematic cut of 116 minutes, itself at least 115 minutes too long.


Our only wind-based entry on the list, 1996 brings us Jan de Bont’s hurricane-chasing escapade, which I supposes differs from the rest of these natural disaster films in as much as it’s the only one where the protagonists are more eager to get themselves into harm’s way than out of it.

Jo (Helen Hunt) and Bill (Bill Paxton)’s relationship as the Hardings seems set to be ending, with Bill delivering a set of divorce papers in person to Jo, who doesn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about signing them. Before this can develop into a major shouting match with Bill’s new girlfriend Mellisa, the lot of them, including their captive gang of supporting… scientists, I guess, although any science happening seems purely coincidental, all go chasing off across Oklahoma after some gusty tornado action.

The reason for this madness is that Jo’s team have finalised one of Bill’s designs for a analytical device that will allow them unparalleled data on the tornado’s flow patterns and so forth, with the only downside being they have to drop it slap bang in the middle of the danger zone for it to be carried away by the wind.

And, so, that’s what the rest of the film is based around doing. Which seems like a dismissive way to cover two hours-ish of film, but there’s not a huge amount else that’s particularly memorable. Indeed, I’m writing these notes the day after watching it, and the details are already surprisingly hazy.

There’s a pointlessly added rival team, headed by someone the Hardings have a beef with, the origins of which were never explained. There’s a good number of talented supporting actors, particularly in the support team that have close to nothing to do at all – Alan Ruck’s character, for instance, gives road directions three times. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s role appears to be to screech intermittently.

I suppose Twister largely delivers on its promise, which was to contain tornadoes. It certainly has tornadoes. Tick that one off the list. It has tornadoes destroying things. Tick. It has an airborne cow. Tick. Although I’m not sure that was strictly promised. And for the most part, barring one notably garbage exploding tanker near the end the effects work isn’t too bad – or it covers its limitations well, at least.

What it doesn’t have is any particular reasons to care about any of the characters, and while I suppose it’s plausible, the device for these folks getting in harm’s way isn’t exactly compelling which rather tests my sympathy for their troubles.

I like Bill Paxton well enough, but not a leading man, or at least, not as this leading man. Helen Hunt’s doing as well as anyone can with the material, but everyone else could be replaced with cardboard cutouts of themselves for all the importance to events or dramatic opportunities they’ve been given.

This is purely an effects led film, half of which is closer to a chase film than a disaster film. It’s an easy, undemanding watch, should you happen upon it, but I see no reason why anyone would ever revisit it. Of more interest, I think, would be the story of the film’s production which is worth at least glancing over the Wikipedia entry on, particularly as it had almost as many injuries to the cast and crew as it had scripted to fall victim to the tornadoes.

It also received one of my favourite MPAA warnings, though – “Rated PG-13 for intense depiction of very bad weather”.

Independence Day

After a few modest to decent sci-fi successes, commercially at least, in the shape of Universal Soldier and Stargate, Roland Emmerich was given leave to indulge his other obsession, destroying the planet Earth. In film, at any rate. I have no firm evidence of any planet-killer hyperlaser that Emmerich may or may not be building in what may or may not be described as his lair. All I’m saying is that it’s vital we stop this madman before his insane plan can be brought to fruition.

The early warning sign for this of course came in the shape of the iconic weapons wielded by the invading alien force that causes landmark buildings to explode in Independence Day, which is pretty much a full description of the plot of Independence Day.

Aliens invade, explode a bunch of stuff, our best weaponry bounces off their shields, President Bill Pullman, Computer Scientist Jeff Goldblum and Pilot Will Smith decamp to Area 51 and concoct a plan to fly into the alien mothership in an old, crashed alien ship with a nuke attached and an Apple Powerbook that can somehow hack their computer systems and disable their shields, and the world is saved in a globally coordinated counterattack.

Independence Day was a very successful money-making film, but let’s be clear – it’s as stupid as a box of rocks. It is, however, substantially more entertaining than a box of rocks. In fact, though I’m far from proud to admit it, I enjoyed this colossal lump of cheese when it was first released, and I still enjoy it now.

I can’t justify that with any logic or reason, of course. It’s a film composed of cliches glued together with jingoism, and has no pretence at being anything other than a container for explosions. Plaudits must go to the cast, who manage to wring every drop of charisma they have out of their stock characters and a script that is not overburdened with complexity.

Will Smith comes to this off the back of Bad Boys and Fresh Prince, and this may be the peak of his likability as an actor, and Jeff Goldblum would be almost as likeable if he weren’t constantly espousing this obnoxious and misplaced eco-warrior line.

The effects and action scenes hold up better today than most of its contemporaries, perhaps just through enthusiasm alone, although of course CG has come a long way in two decades.

As we record this its sequel has just been released into cinemas, to what appears to be an overwhelming cry of “No, thanks”, so it may well be the case that you’d be better off rewatching this.

It’s tough to recommend something like this where you know that it’s quite so flawed, but even with that in mind it’s such a poster-child for the current spectacle-as-blockbuster that, as daft as it sounds for something so flyaway, it’s worth watching just to understand its influence on practically every film budgeted over $50 million these days.


You have to respect the brutal efficiency of Daylight’s setup, if nothing else. Pretty much before the opening credits have stopped, we’re shown an illegal toxic waste convoy and a dangerous car chase and like two star-crossed lovers, they come together in the New York to New Jersey Holland Tunnel. This causes a disastrous cave in, leaving the tunnel unstable, and no longer quite as watertight as you’d ideally want. A disparate group of people are trapped inside a blocked off portion of the tunnel, and after dusting themselves off must think about getting out.

First on the scene outside the tunnel is disgraced ex-Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Chief Kit Latura (Sylvester Stallone), who sets about helping as best he can. When the current Chief is killed in a further cave-in, people turn to him for guidance. After seeing the plight of those trapped in the tunnel, he decides to brave the dangerous trip to meet them, and try and guide them out through a warren of old, disused chambers and tunnels before the whole thing comes crashing down.

Despite the difference in setting, most of the time it feels very much like it’s directly channelling The Poseidon Adventure, particularly towards the end as the floodwaters start rising. It’s lifting from the template well enough to struggle its way up to mediocre, and with largely practical effects that aspect holds up better than the early CG reliant disaster films, but there’s nothing that it does that’s at all above average. So much so that I can’t think of much more to say about it. So I won’t.

Dante’s Peak

Dante’s Peak seems like a nice little backwoods town, after all, there’s no risk at all that the volcano it’s at the foot of will ever erupt. What topic are we covering again? Oh, right.

Vulcanologist and pyroclastic cloud enthusiast Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) is dispatched to investigate some weird readings in the area, and his gut tells him it’s gonna blow. The volcano, that is. Not his gut. He convinces town mayor Rachel Wando (Linda Hamilton) to call a council meeting to discuss preparations before Dalton gets his wings clipped by his boss, who thinks he doesn’t have the evidence to back up his claims, given the disruption it will cause.

So we’re treated to around an hour of Dalton and his team trying to collect evidence of an impending eruption, and then it erupts. Who would have thought it, etc. Now, I suppose I should applaud what seems at least to be a plausible depiction of the blackening of the skies that the soot thrown up by an erupting volcano would cause, but what that means in this film is that between that and DVD artifacting there’s a half hour stretch of this film that I might as well have closed my eyes to, for all that can be seen.

The human interest come from Dalton helping Wando and her kids first to reach her bafflingly idiotic mother-in-law and then to escape the chaos, but, well, it’s not all that interesting. Neither Brosnan or Hamilton are served well by their material, and while there’s a certain degree of charisma from the pair it’s largely residual from other, better, films rather than anything they do in this one.

It’s a below average disaster movie and is at best tolerable. Not worth digging out of the rubble at all.


Which brings us to 1997’s other magmatic offering, Volcano, where Tommy Lee Jones’ Mike Roark, Head of the Emergency Management Office deals with a small earthquake that triggers something much worse, as a volcano forms in the Los Angeles tar pits and starts bothering the city with a lava flow.

It’s up to Roark and his team to try and come up with a plan to stop the lava, minimise the death toll and keep his daughter safe. Part of that team is passing geologist Dr. Amy Barnes (Anne Heche) and Roark’s deputy, Don Cheadle, and the usual ragtag parcel of the pointlessly obstructionist functionaries and obvious lavafodder.

The main thrust becomes a scheme to drive the lava in to the sea, which I think is called the Bridger doctrine. And what lava it is. What crappy looking lava it is. What roundly unconvincing, crappy looking lava it is. And as the only card this film has to play is lava, its busted flushes all around.

Tommy Lee Jones is up there, doing his usual Tommy Lee Jones gruff act, and it’s fine, I suppose, but in no way remarkable. I suppose both he and Heche should be commended, as their double act is has at least a mild chemistry despite the some of the clunkiest dialogue we’ll mention in a podcast full of it. Mostly in the films, rather than us, for once.

Science and effects-wise it’s almost veering into the ironically enjoyable due to it’s garbageosity, but not quite. It’s not bad enough or good enough to be remotely interesting, so if nothing else between this and Dante’s Peak we’ve learned that volcanoes are a disaster too far. Bring back the bees.


In retrospect, of course Michael Bay’s need to blow up things of ever increasing scale could not be contained by the likes of Bad Boys and The Rock, leading to this Earth vs. Asteroid experience. A planet killing rocky bastard is heading our way, and it’s up to NASA to make a last ditch roll of the dice to save the planet. Well, not NASA, exactly.

After hiring renowned oil driller Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) as a consultant, and he discovers that they somehow haven’t the technical mastery to build a drilling rig, he insists that his crew of oil rig workers be trained to be astronauts in a fortnight to allow them to land on the asteroid, drill into it, plant a nuke and ye-haw on home.

It is a stupid plan.

And, well, it’s a stupid film. The sort of film that un-ironically uses Aerosmith tracks for emotional resonance. The sort of film where someone wrote that Buscemi’s character had “space dementia”, and everyone thought that was perfectly reasonable, and then filmed it. It is not, let’s say, a scientifically rigorous film.

Indeed it’s composed pretty much entirely of cliches, I suppose under the assumption that Bay’s had everything so crashingly swiftly cut into each other that you don’t have time to notice one before it’s on to the the next. I don’t remember a scene longer than five seconds. It’s practically an assault, even by Bay’s standards.

There’s a number of problems in Armageddon, see above, but there’s only two that really annoy me: its effects work looks almost as bad as Meteor‘s, and Ben Affleck is in his “difficult third album” phase of his career. He started off his career essentially playing himself, but while Matt Damon was clearly, from the outset, the better actor, Affleck had the looks and got these leading man roles before he really got his style together, giving bland, anodyne (or “blanodyne”) performances such as these for a few years.

And yet, it seems almost by accident rather than design, it’s an entertaining film. Not good, but any stretch of the imagination, in fact it’s heading more towards “so bad it’s good” territory, but the talented ensemble cast lend more personality to the script than it really deserves, and most of its goofy cornball antics somehow land where they intended.

Deep Impact

The other asteroid based film of 1998, this takes a rather longer and, at least in comparison to Armageddon, more scientific view of impending spacerock-based destruction.

Journalist Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni) stumbles on an uncomfortable truth – President Beck (Morgan Freeman)’s government knows that a massive asteroid, or massteroid, discovered by schoolkid Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood) is on a collision course with Earth, and it will cause the extinction of humanity.

The film then follows our best efforts to avoid this fate, including the improbably named astronaut Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall) and his team’s mission to nuke the rock, in a rather less bombastic fashion than in Armageddon, and when that looks to fail, the building of massive shelters to preserve our way of life, as best as is possible.

Perhaps the main difference in between the two films is that Deep Impact covers months, perhaps years of preparations and concern through its characters, as opposed to Armageddon‘s long weekend. This gives it much more breathing space to cover the horrors of the anticipation of the event, not just the carnage itself, which is close to unique amongst the films that we’re talking about today.

It bombed in comparison to Armageddon, and it’s certainly a very different take on the problem. For example, there’s dialogue that might conceivably be spoken by humans, and reactions and emotions that border on believable, making this nearly unique in this selection of films.

While Armageddon‘s relentless pace and cheeseball nature still lends it some enjoyability, it’s pretty clear from this distance that Deep Impact is a much better film – better acted, better written, better directed, more thoughtful – there’s few levels that it’s not better on. I’m not necessarily saying that Armageddon‘s place in the history books needs to be diminished, but I’m certainly suggesting that Deep Impact‘s has been underwritten. One of the better disaster films of the modern era.

The Day After Tomorrow

Roland Emmerich returns to kill us all again in this film, nominally based on the threat of climate change, although any scientific accuracy would appear to be entirely coincidental.

Drew’s favourite charisma vacuum Dennis Quaid takes the mantle of Jack Hall, a climatologist who becomes convinced an ice age as a result of climate change is coming, with inconceivable suddenicity. He tries to convince higher-ups on this, but as usual they don’t believe him until it’s too late and the big freeze begins. Then he treks to New York over the frozen ground to try and rescue his kid, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal).

That’s yer lot, plot wise, and I don’t think I’m leaving anything significant out. I know this, because there is nothing of significance in any of the film.

Quaid continues his run of blanodyne lead performances, and while I’ve got quite a lot of time for a good portion of the supporting cast, like Gyllenhaal and Ian Holm, but there’s not really a lot of human interest in this film at all, it’s all about the CG effects.

Which, as spectacle, have some merit, I should admit. The shots of a frozen New York are undeniably eerie and effective. But they’re nowhere near compelling enough to hang a film on. It’s few setpieces, such as the crashing of the RAF helicopters, seem almost out of place, having no position at all in the central narrative.

I’d normally let it slide in this genre, but the basis for these events is so preposterous that it deserves special mention, as even if you are just trying to watch this for the spectacle alone it’s so relentlessly stupid that belief is well and truly de-suspended.

This film probably achieve Emmerich’s goals, to be a big frozen CG showreel, but it’s a poor film. Not worth looking at.


Roland Emmerich double returns to re-kill us all again in this film, which has essentially no basis in science at all, instead latching on to the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world nonsense that was the style at the time.

If I saw 2012 at the time of release I can’t remember it, and having watched it last week for this podcast, I can’t remember it, so I have no idea what triggers the disaster in the film. I can’t imagine that it’s all that important, though.

The film reduces to little more than John Cusack’s Jackson Curtis, a struggling author/limo driver, attempting to save his wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and their kids from the cataclysms that befall the world through a variety of exceedingly unlikely set-pieces.

I’ll say this for Emmerich, he breaks stuff fast. In Earthquake, we’re still being introduced to the characters at the 40 minute mark – in 2012, he’s already dropped the Western seaboard of the USA into the sea, finally fulfilling Lex Luthor’s dreams.

Unlike The Day After Tomorrow, this has both leads and a supporting cast that I can normally get behind, but they don’t really have a great deal to do other than feign surprise at the latest CG disaster that chases them from California to China.

Again, it’s not much of a film, in any sense other than a CG setpiece showreel. It holds up better than The Day After Tomorrow, but only really because its effects are less dated rather than because it’s inherently a better film.

It might represent peak of destruction of the planet on film, but it’s not even worth catching up with on that score. Superhero movies have very much taken the mantle of crushing landmarks, and even the worst of them have better characters than this.

I can’t say 2012 was an entirely unenjoyable watch – like Armageddon it’s so breathlessly paced and so keen to destroy stuff that it’s certainly difficult to be bored by it, but I can’t really give much of a reason to give it two and a half hours of your life.

San Andreas

It’s been at least zero films since we last destroyed California, so it’s time to crack open the San Andreas faultline in this CG earthquake outing.

Dwayne “It Doesn’t Matter Who The Rock Is” Johnson plays Raymond Gaines, a search and rescue chopper pilot, estranged from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) who now live with construction firm boss Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd). He’s about to take a well earned holiday when disaster strikes.

Predicting said disaster is earthquake researcher Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti), largely abandoned by a script that goes to great lengths to try and explain how such a large earthquake could occur while accidentally inverting how tsunamis work.

If science isn’t the films strong point, you’d hope spectacle would be, but San Andreas barely delivers on that front either. Its characters are largely forgettable too – while there’s some goodwill gained by having its leads act sensibly, in particular Daddario who at least for portions of the film is more than a damsel in distress. I was briefly impressed that Ioan Gruffudd’s character wasn’t written as a weasly slimebucket to be karmakilled later, but, well, that didn’t last past the first reel.

Very much a middle of the road film, and to be honest there’s much more of interest in Earthquake than San Andreas.