By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Los Angeles really rocks.
A jolt from a massive earthquake shakes the Los Angeles metro area one morning, but researchers at the nearby seismological institute fear that there may be another one that will be far stronger and yet they hesitate about warning the public fearing that it may create ‘too much panic’. They agree instead to alert the National Guard about it, so they can prepare for the fallout when it happens, but in the meantime many innocent people go about their day including those working in skyscrapers ill-prepared for the tragedy that is about to befall them.
Due to the success of disaster flicks during the 70’s many studios clamored to get on board and while this concept may have sounded good in theory, it really leaves on lot to be desired. For one thing most earthquakes last on average for only 10 to 25 seconds, so the majority of the film deals with boring, soap-opera-like drama of a bunch of cardboard characters both before and after the quake while there’s probably less than 5-minutes of actual quake effects.
The special effects are, despite winning a Special Achievement Award at the Oscars, not very convincing and come off looking like shots of miniatures homes and buildings made of paper that could easily fall apart without much effort. The shot showing workers falling down while on the Mulholland Dam appears more like they’re all dancing some sort of gig and then intentionally dropping themselves to the ground as part of the dance routine.
The film is also notorious for its elevator scene in which people get stuck inside an elevator as the quake occurs and then it goes plummeting down the shaft before eventually crashing and killing everyone inside. However, due to an inability to effectively spray stage blood onto the stunt people, director Mark Robson decided to have animated blood added in during post production, which looks as cartoonish as it sounds and puts an embarrassing, amateurish mark on the entire production.
The casting is out-of-whack as well and features Charlton Heston in the lead as a sort of hunk even though he was 50 and too old for that type of thing, but is still seen sweaty and shirtless in a couple of scenes nonetheless. Ava Gardner livens things up a bit as Heston’s clingy, bitchy wife, but having her portrayed as being Lorne Greene’s daughter, who in real-life was only 8 years older than her, was ridiculous.
I did enjoy Marjoe Gortner as the psycho grocery store manager, who after the quake occurs, puts on a wig and takes part as a member of the National Guard to control the looters only to become more of a nemesis than a help. Walter Matthau, who appears in a bit part wearing an Afro wig, is funny as a patron at a bar who’s so drunk he’s oblivious to the chaos.
The only part of the movie that I really liked was the end where Heston is helping people out of an underground tunnel that is filling up with water and instead of climbing up out of the hole to his lover, played by Genevieve Bujold, who is waiting for him with open arms, he jumps back down to save his bitchy wife only for them to both end up drowning, which I found interesting. Too many movies especially the ones made these days, always have the hero come out of these things unscathed, or making a full recovery after being temporarily injured, but in reality saving others in treacherous circumstances has its share of risks where not everyone will come out of it alive, so it’s nice to have a film share a realistic balance.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: November 15, 1974
Runtime: 2 Hours 2 Minutes
Director: Mark Robson
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube
The Academy Award for “Earthquake” was largely for the “Sensurround” gimmick that accompanied the movie’s original release. Essentially nothing more than two gigantic subwoofers, these huge speakers would go off causing everything in the theater to shake while the screen characters were avoiding falling debris. Sensurround was a total ripoff, which is why after being used in two or three additional films it was dropped by Universal.
I think that I would have been pleased by Universal’s decision.