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Earthquake is directed by Mark Robson and written by Mario Puzo and
George Fox. It stars Charlton Heston, George Kennedy, Ava Gardner,
Geneviève Bujold, Lorne Greene, Richard Roundtree & Marjoe Gortner.
A catastrophic earthquake hits Southern California and begins to level Los Angeles......
"It's not a negative to have heart in the disaster genre of film"
Take yourself to 1974, are you there? Good, now maybe you can appreciate this film a little more? Maybe? Earthquake does suffer from old age, it's a statement we see and hear a lot, but it's a fact that some film's stand the test of time whilst others do not. In this desensitised computer age, it is easy to forget that not all the tools available in film making today were available back when film's like this were being made. So as is my want, I firmly judge this as a 1974 offering, to which it delivers enough entertainment to fully satisfy my genre leanings and entertainment persuasions.
The main complaint of many is the long build up of the characters, cries of boring can be read across internet forums and critics blogs. I just don't see it that way, yes we want the quake and the mayhem destruction that will follow it; because really this is a disaster film after all, but is it so bad that the film has heart to go with the crash bang wallop? After the build up of characters, where relationships and character traits are formed, the disaster strikes; and it doesn't disappoint, utter destruction as effects and noise fill the eyes and ears, those with a good home cinema system finding it literally does rock the house. We are then treated to a series of sequences that hold and engage our attention, upsetting passages of human sadness, punctured by heroic surges as Heston and the fabulous Kennedy set about saving life, hell! saving the town even. Then it's the film's fitting finale, where there are no cop outs, the makers choosing to go out with a darker edge than its detractors give credit for.
Some can scoff at a blood splat effect, or rant about some of the acting on show, but Earthquake achieves two important things. One is that it entertains as a visual experience, the other is that it doesn't soft soap the devastating effects of an earthquake. As the camera pulls away from a ravaged L.A. the impact is sombre, reflection is needed and surely got. 7/10
"Sometimes, earthquakes bring out the worst in people."
Thus is a line spoken by Sgt. Lew Slade in the last reel of the film "Earthquake." The earthquake(s) in this film are not so much metaphysical, as they might appear to be, but rather in the mind of the average human being in society as we know it today. The human mind is a fragile, and intricate creation, and we as a society must do our best to bring the human living standards to punctilious means.
L.A.: A high place for society and people of all types, and a place for the danger! The story begins with a high profile roster, starting with Stuart Graff(Charlton Heston) who is a top-of-the-food-chain executive in engineering and constructing "monstrosities" in Los Angeles. He is in a desolate marriage to Remy Royce- Graff(Ava Gardner.) He is carrying a friendship-and nothing more-with beautiful actress Denise Marshall(Genevieve Bujold), who lives near Sgt. Lew Slade(George Kennedy) who is being hassled by work and former charges Miles Quade(Richard Roundtree) and Sal Amici(Gabriel Dell) and his sister, Rosa(Victoria Principal.) All people are living frivolous, and in some ways, inspiring lives, of daredevil antics and blithe lifestyles. Then, as the title so perceptively puts it, an earthquake hits L.A. causing reckless mayhem to the buildings and petrifying danger to city inhabitants. But the story doesn't stop there. There are many quakes, and plenty of danger to go around, and that is where the story takes flight. The focus of this film is not the quake itself, but how it affects the people of L.A.
The film, being extremely Hollywood driven(note: the all-star cast; menacing "sensurround" effect) might appear to be presented as a top of the league disaster film of the trend which was popular at the time, and special effects driven, and it might have been, but there are also many artistic qualities to be found here. One has to examine it first. The scariest thing about this film is that it is plausible, though not probable. The other disaster films at the time were all man made disasters(boats upside-downing; Fire spreading through out a sky- scraper) but "Earthquake" was the first disaster film to show a disaster that might actually happen, and present characters that people can relate to, in such a treacherous situation. These are real people, and most of them are affected in ways beyond psychological apprehension. But director Robson still manages to make it a fun and enjoyable film without making the situations seem too grim.
The characters could all be discussed in a psychology class, to be analyzed even, as each one has his/her own story to tell. However, one of the main characters, the "quake" itself gets credit too. As there are two jolts, the big quake, and then an unexpected aftershock to boot, there is more than enough rumble to go around. The "rumble" though, is lasting through out the characters minds, as each one goes a little crazy after the shake, be it irrational, or rational, as there are many different types of people in society. There is parallel destruction going on as well. As the city is torn apart, so are these people and the way they view life, as one character loses it and blows away some fellow roommates who have mistreated him, while others are healed, as a Sgt. who is a drunk and louse, who shapes up and becomes really responsible after the quake. These specifications may or may not be apprehensive to the average audience, and true, opinion is opinion, but "Earthquake" is a good film that demonstrates how we as a society have allowed for far too long the deterioration of our world and all that affects it. This world is not a toy, it needs to be taken care of, and when we as a society are mean to it(and each other for that matter) mother nature strikes back at us.
Be it a big Hollywood Blockbuster, or social commentary, which ever you choose, this film is a great, and overlooked gem in Hollywood history, and an interesting one to read up on(the special effects were outstanding and won a well deserved Oscar) and study in film classes. Great performances by all as well. Mario Puzo wrote the precursor to the "Superman" earthquake with this one, and Mark Robson has a guilty pleasure tone to his directing.
Earthquake almost realistically shows us the devastating effects of such "an event" on a large modern day city. Since movie studios didn't have the resources in 1974 to add expensive computerized effects, miniatures, camera trickery and a few large-scale destructions were used to simulate the quake. However even by today's standards, most (but not all) effects work pretty well. Many of the buildings we see crumbling to the ground are actual locals in Los Angeles and anyone who ever lived is this area (myself included) would still find watching this film chilling to say the least. The sets are very impressive - they made one helluva mess of Universal Studios making this film. The acting is so-so and the ending is disappointing and leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions: what ever happened to Miles and Rosa's brother anyway? And the scenes with Jody the weirdo are just plain uncomfortable. But as far as pure "end of the world" disaster entertainment goes, this film has it all.
I saw this movie on the big-screen when it was released and I actually found the Sensurround (R) to be annoying, but the film isn't as bad as critics made it out to be. I agree, the casting could have been better (the Ava Gardner/Loorne Green argument is a good one), but this is a special effects movie, and the special effects were pretty good by 1974 standards. Besides, how can a movie about the destruction of LA be so bad?
What can I say about "Earthquake" that hasn't already been said before?
A cast that includes Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, Lorne Greene,
Genevieve Bujold, George Kennedy, and Victoria Principal, head this
great story of Los Angeles and the lives that are affected by those who
live their after a tremor registers at 7,1! The lives and lifestyles of
these people, some pleasant, and some not, are put to the test as they
are forced to deal with the cause and effect of having a thriving city
on tectonic plates, that are rapidly moving. A gem of a film, ridiculed
to no end because of varying opinions that should not matter to one of
those inquiring minds! Ugh! And they say smoking is bad for you. People
need to open their minds, and see. See that this film is not half as
bad as most say it is. True, this film is a big Hollywood monopoly
fest, and their are no unknowns to be seen, as you have Charlton
Heston(Ben-Hur); Ava Gardner(MGM actress); Genevieve Bujold(Anne of a
Thousand Days); among others, and even co-stars as Richard
Roundtree(Shaft) and Victoria Principal(Dallas.) The cast works really
well together, and the print shines.
There are a lot of facts explored here, such as animals crying out or running away moments before the quakes, that really give chills out of the reality of it. These are the really great things that happen, and give excitement, not artificial scares made up for the ongoing monopoly that this film has such a reputation for, but rather realistic knowledge that shows what might happen would such a quake strike the earth at such force. Also of note are the scenes with the dam, and the water rising after each "pre-shock" while a man falls out of an elevator full of water, drowned from it.
Great sets as well. Many sets are being torn apart in the quake scenes, while maintaining the reality of sets the tone.
The effects, which won a very deserved Oscar, are what really opens the audience's eyes. We see the valley, we see Capital Records, we see Wilshire, and even Zsa Zsa Gabor's bushes get totally eschewed during the disaster. What is really amazing, is that such matting and blue screen was put to use, that to this day, I still scratch my head on how it was all done. It would really be nice to see a featurette on how they did it all. Those scenes, in which there is an after shock, show millions of people running from a huge building that is literally falling to pieces before our very eyes! Amazing stuff. There is truly beauty in this film when looked for. An event... as the tagline reads is right. Every one knows earthquakes cause damage, but how much damage is seen? It was amazing to see Los Angeles fall to pieces, and show the rest of the world what it would be like were a 7.1 ricter scale.
Equally great is the Mario Puzo script. The first thing that drew me to this film was how well it pulls the audience into the drama between the characters. Think, in recent films, "Magnolia" meets "Volcano." The relationship between Heston and Gardner, while, can be laughable due to the nature of two divas facing off, is still capable of being appreciated. George Kennedy as a worn out cop plays strictly for drama, and even though he is inter cut with Walter Matthau as a sleazy barman cameo, he gets some seriousness for himself in the end. The structure of the film, from the setting up of the characters some fun(like Principal as Rosa Amici with her friend Roundtree as a daredevil) or characters that you can relate to(Bujold is great as aspiring actress.) As for the development of the disaster itself, the way the tremors start as small, and then the big shake, and then the after shock, builds really well, and the characters, with their emotional baggage and structured emotions deep, intertwine and create a great story that is fun for all.
Sensurround was a fast growing mechanism used in films and was fully extent in this one. Many people see this technique as the only reason this film was made, and yes, this was a big Hollywood picture made for monopoly purposes, but there was art in it from the artists who those big wigs hired.
There is a really good film here, and it still stands to this day. Great score by John Williams and there is a website you can go to to further understand the film as it is.
In the end, even though the reviews have not given this film the justice it deserved, the loyal filmmakers that appreciate art and the joy of dedication and film-making have kept this film where it belongs, with the reputation it deserves.
In 1974 I was 29 years old when I first saw this movie. At the time I
question the suitability of the lead stars as I had grown up with them
appearing in other films. Considering all the various genre of films I had
seen up to that time, I must confess that it didn't seem a bad effort at
that point in time. I grew up with various westerns and others and one film
in particular I remember well is the classic "King Kong".
Critics who knock this film must remember that 1974 was a transitional period where techniques were still being learned. Without the benefit of computers, I might add. When you have grown up with computer wizardry, that is, since the start of the seventies, it it far easier to find fault than to see the merit in what these people achieved.
However, with the passage of time, one realizes the major fault with this film was the poor casting. This should not detract from the efforts of the special effects people. They have led the way and shown the young people coming along what can be done with skill and imagination. 3/10 for casting, 6/10 for special effects.
Sensurround! How I do miss it! How this movie misses it! It was the
thing it had going for it when it was released in special theaters with
sound equipment designed to vibrate your fanny as it sat snugly in those
theater seats. Unfortunately, without the vibrations, Earthquake just
ain't as much fun.
As disaster films go, Earthquake is certainly not the worst, but is far from the best. Charlton Heston, fresh from having saved a 747 from certain disaster in Airport 1975, now does his best to save the city of Los Angeles. To be fair though, we knew he wasn't going to stop the earthquake, leaving that for Christopher Reeve in Superman some years later. But we just knew that as Construction Engineer, Stewart Graff he'd do his best to save a lot of L.A. citizens stuck in precarious situations. Why else would he be here? And just for fun, he even brought George Kennedy over from Airport 1975 with him although he's a cop named Lew Slade now instead of tinkering around with jetliners. What a treat!
It seems that Lew Slade was chasing a bad guy who had been drunk driving and run down a kid. Unfortunately the bad guy crashes his vehicle right on the property of Zsa Zsa Gabor, which is out of Slade's jurisdiction. When another officer who is in the proper jurisdiction berates Slade for messing up Miss Gabor's shrubbery, Slade let's the young officer know how much he cares about plant life by landing a right cross. This lands him a suspension, and supposedly helps us get to know his character a little better while we pat our foot waiting for the big rumble to start. Did you really think they were going to open a disaster film with the actual disaster? There's a code in the screenwriter's handbook that says that's not allowed. At least that's what I'm told.
Meanwhile somewhere else in L.A., Stuart Graff is married to Remy Royce-Graff(Ava Gardner) who was fathered by Sam Royce(Lorne Greene) when he was seven I think. Sam is also Stuart's Boss. Stuart is having an affair with Denise Marshall(Genevieve Bujold) who happens to be the widow of a former co-worker of Stuart. We are not told whether Stuart had anything to do with the death of Denise's husband so he could put the moves on her but they could have added that to the plot too. Generally in these types of films they throw everything in but the kitchen sink anyway so why not?
Then on the other side of town we have motorcycle daredevil Miles Quade(Richard Roundtree) along with partner Sal Amici(Gabriel Dell) getting ready to put on the show of his life. His sister is Rosa Amici(Victoria Principal, before Dallas)who has about the funkiest curly hairdo I think I've ever seen on film. Think Shirley Temple with coal black hair. Then there's supermarket manager, weekend warrior, Jody(Marjoe Gortner)who happens to be a fanatic about women with curly coal black naturally curly hair as you'll soon discover. Now all this might sound interesting on paper, and might make a good soap-opera. In this film it's all useless information since this is a film about an earthquake and after it hits we could care less about what happens up to that point. Think of it as the filler before the thriller.
Even without the oscillating seats, the earthquake itself is still fun to watch. We get skyscrapers crashing to the ground, buildings falling on people, shards of glass piercing the good citizen's skins, people scalded by stoves, houses explode, freeways cave in, Stuart, Remy, and Sam get trapped in a high rise, a bar comes crashing down around Lew, Miles big motorcycle stunt comes crashing down, Rosa loses her popcorn in a movie theater, Denise's son takes a dive on his bike, and good boy Jody gets to put his uniform on and show us just how psychotic and messed up he really is. This is cool stuff folks even for 1974 type special effects. Unfortunately, the Earthquake momentarily subsides and we are left to deal with some of the silly plotting the film started out with. Guess you can't have everything.
If you can overlook the usual silliness and terrible dialog which seems to go with the territory in disaster films, you might be entertained by some close calls and daring rescues after the earthquake. You'll certainly get a few laughs out of Marjoe Gortner's cracked-up soldier performance. George Kennedy is pretty darn good as the cop. Heston is better than he was in that Airport thingy, and though his romance with Bujold is an obvious mismatch, it doesn't come near to equaling the absurdity of his relationship with Karen Black on that 747. Ava Gardner plays the bitchy Remy as if she were competing for the Shrew Olympics. Lorne Greene looks as if he wishes he was back on the Ponderosa with Hoss, Adam and Little Joe. Richard Roundtree is fun as the daredevil, but we see little of him after the earthquake. Tiger Williams as Denise's son Corry spends most of the film unconscious and we are grateful for that. Usually the kids in disaster films are scripted to be overly cute and annoying. I think there's a rule in the screenwriter's disaster film handbook about that too.
If I have one suggestion to make it would be avoid the version of this film with the added TV footage at all costs. For those of you familiar with Welcome Back Kotter, if you see any footage of Rosalie 'Hotzie' Totzie(Debralee Scott)riding an airplane, change the channel, remove the tape, just do what you have to do. Why this goofy footage was ever added is beyond me.
In it's original form my grade for Mark Robson wiping out L.A.: C- Hotzie Totzie gets an F and it's back to the sweat hogs for her.
Yes, it is only ahead of the dreadful nadir of Allen, "The Swarm", but while you are excoriating it watch San Andreas first then return to this movie. The acting alone dwarfs that CGI crap-fest that is today's lobotomized excuse for a narrative. The cast has good acting in it especially Heston, Kennedy and Greene. Sensurround was always a sign the movie was in big trouble. The other two big films: Midway and Roller-coaster also were bombs. The rumor at the time was that preview showings of this movie had walk outs and the studio plastered the Sensurround logo all over everything. It does sound great on Blu Ray with the restored Sensurround track much better, ironically, than San Andreas. Besides superior acting, did anyone else notice that San Francisco, after the earthquake, in the new movie, seems to have had all the survivors beamed into outer space? Where are they? The Rock's daughter perambulates around amidst an apparent ghost town. Here, the costs of the earthquake in human suffering and citizens without protection from nut jobs with guns, working for the National Guard, helping themselves to helpless women they desire. This is the strongest point missed by the scathing criticism, yes the love triangle with Heston, Bujold and Gardner is way too long, but look at the contrast with how the after effects are dealt with compared to the CGI fantasy?
The next big improvement is people help other people here; see, Heston doesn't drive by oblivious to all the suffering around him. All through this movie people are helping others, total strangers. What is so funny about San Andreas is how the Rock has a helicopter and he flies obliviously over all the people who could use some help. I don't have to tell readers from other countries reading this how incredibly narcissistic America has degenerated into. San Andreas is the culmination of a string of movies: Star Trek: Into Darkness, the man saves his precious baby while killing fifty strangers, oh well, oops! Man of Steel where Superman levels Metropolis, but hey, he saves Lois and a token family. Earthquake is plenty silly in parts, it suffers from way too much soap opera sub- stories yet if you wish to appreciate it more contrast it with San Andreas; other human beings do not even exist to these self-absorbed narcissistic effects junkies. I own the movie for the performances especially Kennedy who exceeds Heston here.
Another contrast is quite hilariously ironic, for the bad looking effects generate much more suspense than the beautiful CGI of San Andreas. Show of hands, how many people thought the Rock wouldn't make it up the side of that tsunami? See, Heston buys it here, a note to hardcore 'I am Moses' Heston haters. In San Andreas, part of the boredom is we know the Rock is invincible and this kills any real suspense. Here, when the dam breaks, they are trapped in the sewer system and the approach of the water creates real suspense. Sadly, money doesn't necessarily make a good movie as we all discovered with Prometheus. Young people, if you hated Towering Inferno, the best of Allen, don't watch this it is one of his worst. When I read all these acidic reviews, yes, it is bad, but it is Citizen Kane compared to San Andreas. There are not supertankers dropping multi-ton containers next to the Rock's motor boat and he gently swerves around them. The suffering, aftermath and the suspense tower over the new effects lobotomized special. I will not own The Swarm and this was borderline but please, it is a much better delineation of an earthquake and its aftermath. Heston's dying is well done and performed trying to save another. Nobility, try finding it in a modern movie: Good Luck. A Mediocre Movie But Better Than San Andreas.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I first saw "Earthquake" in a small-town theater newly equipped with
Sensurround, and it was a pretty fun experience, at age 14.
I might be able to clarify an issue or two for people who may have only seen the movie recently and who may be confused. At this time, most are probably seeing "Earthquake" on AMC. This is a bloated version that one of the networks (NBC?) cobbled together in the mid-70s when it first showed "Earthquake" on TV. My recollection (from almost 30 years ago, mind you) is that the network added a lot of poorly-done footage, specifically the entire subplot with the interminable scenes of the newlywed couple on the airplane!. It wanted to broadcast the movie as a big, two-night ratings extravaganza, but messed it up by adding airplane! scenes that were boring, cheap and cheesy. Not that the movie is all that great in any version, but in its original form it was tighter and had better production values.
Watching the AMC (NBC?) version recently, I am reminded that the network did a horrible editing job. Early on, the airplane! is passing over a smoggy and uninspiring Grand Canyon, en route to LA, with an ETA of, what, 45 or 50 minutes? Cut back to the original LA scenes, where Charlton Heston goes through enough experiences involving his career and love life to occupy several ordinary days, and is leaving the office when the earthquake starts. Sometime later, we cut back to the airplane!, which is just landing in LA at this point. The airplane! scenes look as though they were filmed for about $500, with talent that should have stuck with doing deodorant ads. The rest of the movie isn't too bad, although as '70s disaster movies go, I much prefer "The Poseidon Adventure."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Co-written by Mario Puzo, the man who re-defined the gangster genre,
`Earthquake' is the quintessential disaster movie. The elements are all
there: the large, all-star cast, the pathos, the massive devastation, the
many intertwined subplots, the Wagnerian heroes and the ultimate banality.
For those who find nothing to enjoy in soap operas, trashy romance novels,
or depictions of mass destruction on the scale of a `Gojira' film, there is
nothing here. But for the rest of us
`Earthquake' was the `Independence Day' of its time. I remember kids talking about how thrilling it was to be `allowed' to see this very frightening PG film (I was very young when it first was released). I remember the hype about `Sensurround' and the sensations that this new sound system was meant to induce. The 70's were an age of Disaster films, perhaps a Return of the Repressed fears that decades of the Cold War had inspired. Certainly the scale of destruction depicted in `Earthquake' is of an apocalyptic scale. Larger quakes have since hit the West Coast several times, and it is now difficult to believe that anyone ever thought a 7.0 quake could devastate LA so completely. What is shown is not the real effects of a massive quake, but the Hand of God reaching down and destroying the impure and testing the strong.
Our heroes are heroic on a grand scale, and Charlton Heston is king of the heroes in `Earthquake.' Again and again he sacrifices and risks himself to help or rescue others, but he is not alone in his altruism. Lorne Greene, George Kennedy (and what is a disaster movie without George Kennedy?) and Fred Williamson all do their part, some sacrificing their lives for others in the process. Unfortunately, `Earthquake' suffers from a lack of interesting villains for these heroes to offset themselves against (aside, of course, from relentless Nature herself), although Marjoe Gortner's nasally National Guardsman does give George Kennedy a chance to note that `Earthquakes bring out the worst in some people.'
Those who have celebrated the everyday selflessness of rescue workers in the 9/11 tragedy will find the depictions of lazy and selfish rescuers a bit surprising here, although, again, this was a comment on perceptions of the times. The 1970's was a time of renewed selfishness in American culture, with former Hippies turning away from love and LSD, and towards profit and cocaine. By the 1980's, Americans had become comfortable with the new `Me Generation,' but there was still lingering guilt to work out when `Earthquake' was released. Perhaps this is why Charlton Heston, portraying a successful engineer, must repudiate his trade, saying `I'm ashamed of my profession,' and why businessmen and CEOs must die in their towers of glass and steel. Secretaries, suspended cops and unsuccessful actresses are saved, and the meek inherit the Earth.
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