Category Archives: Disaster Flicks

The Concorde … Airport ’79 (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Missile targets passenger plane.

A corrupt arms dealer, Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), has his deadly surface-to-air missile system target a Concorde airplane while it’s in the air when he finds out that one of the passengers on board, a news reporter named Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely), has incriminating information on him that she plans to report on once the plane lands. Captain Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) uses his superior piloting skills to avoid the missile, but then learns Harrison has installed a device on the plane that knocks-out its cargo door causing the plane to literally rip apart and forcing a dangerous emergency landing in the Alps.

This terrible idea for a movie came from its producer Jennings Lang who greedily wanted to squeeze out a story from an already tired formula if he felt it could continue to make a profit. Sometimes it’s best to get out while you’re ahead, but Lang, who wrote the story for this one, didn’t see it that way and ended up making a clunker that’s even worse than Airport 1975, which was already notorious for being one of the worst disaster flicks ever made. The plot here has all the trappings of being written by someone more interested in turning a profit than creating an actual movie as the characters are one-dimensional and the situations contrived.

The espionage undertone makes it seems more like a James Bond flick with most of the action occurring on the ground than in the airplane. Watching the plane trying to avoid the missile isn’t exciting because the unconvincing special effects clearly look like images being matted onto the screen. The scenes showing the passengers screaming as the plane turns upset down become laughable and get shown with a boring regularity. The part where Eddie Albert’s chair goes through the floor is the film’s unintentional comic highpoint particularly when he states “I thought I had the best seat on the plane.”

Yet the craziest element in the story is the fact that the plane, after the passengers spent the whole flight being terrorized by incoming missiles, lands in Paris and the people spend the night in a hotel. Then the next day they all happily board the plane again, which simply would not happen as there is no way that anyone anywhere would get back onto a plane, especially so quickly if ever, after what they had just gone through.

George Kennedy gives a solid performance and helps to give the film some minor credibility in what would turn out to be his last major film role as he would be relegated to minor supporting roles and B-movies afterwards. The rest of the cast though either gets wasted; particularly Mercedes McCambridge who only gets a few speaking lines, or become just plain irritating.

Jimmie Walker is the most annoying playing a goofball who boards the plane while still carrying his saxophone, which would never be allowed in reality, and even starts playing it creating worse noise pollution than the singing nun did in Airport 1975 and should’ve been enough to have had him thrown off the airline…while it was still in the air. Tacky B-celebrity Charo appears briefly as a nutty lady who tries bringing her dog on board. Fortunately she gets booted off before the plane takes off because otherwise I would’ve been rooting for it to have crashed.

The only interesting aspect about the movie is the plane itself. The Concorde was the fastest commercial jet built that had maximum speeds that were twice the speed of sound. I thought it was cool the way the plane light up signs informing the passengers once they had reached Mach 1 and made me wish I could’ve flown on one, but sadly the Concorde ceased operations in 2003 even though flying in one was quite safe. Ironically the only crash that occurred during its 30 year history happened with the plane that was used in this film, Flight 4590, which crashed minutes after take-off on July 25, 2000, killing all 109 on board.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 17, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Lowell Rich

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Airport ’77 (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Plane crashes into ocean.

Rich tycoon Philip Stevens (James Stewart) invites his high society friends to his home in Palm Beach, Florida by flying them over on his luxury jet. Unfortunately a gang of hijackers have decided to use this opportunity to steal some expensive artwork, which is also on the plane, by rigging the venting system with sleeping gas, which temporarily knocks-out the Captain (Jack Lemmon) along with all the passengers. Then as everyone sleeps the thieves steal the artwork while the co-captain (Robert Foxworth), who is in on the crime, pilots the plane, but while going into some heavy fog the plane grazes an offshore oil rig that sends the craft and everyone on it into the ocean forcing the panicked people to figure out some way to signal those on the ground that they need help.

Although Airport 1975 did well at the box office it was critically maligned and producer Jennings Lang wanted to come up with some way to keep the theme fresh and inventive. In most ways the film succeeds and can be considered an admirable sequel as the silly humor from the first two is taken out and the audience gets left with a high adrenaline disaster flick that is convincing and compelling.

Unfortunately the first 35 minutes almost kills it as the film is too intent on setting up contrived soap opera-like storylines for all of its characters. The lovesick gaze that Kathleen Quinlan gives to blind musician Tom Sullivan as he plays a romantic tune on the piano is sappy enough to make some viewers want to turn the movie off completely. The side-story dealing with Lemmon’s relationship with head stewardess Brenda Vaccaro was not needed, although the way he rescues her at the end is quite cool, and is too similar to one between Dean Martin’s and Jacqueline Bisset’s characters in the first film. Lee Grant can play a bitch with a capital ‘B’, but here it gets over-the-top making her so unlikable I didn’t care if she lived or died. I was hoping that, through the course of the film, her character would be forced to show a sympathetic side at some point, but she never does.

If you can get past the clunky beginning then you’ll be rewarded with a genuinely exciting and tense second-half. The special effects are well done and watching the cast, who bravely did most of their own stunts, get doused with gallons of rushing water inside the plane is a tense and impressive moment.

Lemmon is excellent and his presence helps elevate it from just being a cheesy disaster flick. Christopher Lee is good in an uncharacteristically sympathetic role making me believe that maybe he should’ve played more of these types of parts in his career. Foxworth is also effective as the duplicitous co-pilot. He’s played bad guys before, so watching him become evil wasn’t a stretch, but I enjoyed how the camera cuts back occasionally to show his guilt-ridden face as he watches the others struggle to survive.

Screen icon James Stewart is wasted in a part that gives him very little to do other than standing around with a perpetually concerned look on his face and it would’ve been more interesting having him on the plane with the others. George Kennedy gets his token appearance as Joe Patroni the only character to appear in all four Airport films, but it hardly seems worth it. His caustic, brash personality that made him so engaging in the first movie is completely lost here making him dull and transparent and virtually pointless to the main story.

While it does seem a bit too similar to The Poseidon Adventure it still has some great underwater footage particularly when the rescue naval crew puts balloons underneath the craft in an attempt to lift the plane out of the water, which is unique and not shown in any other movie and makes this worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerry Jameson

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Airport 1975 (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stewardess pilots the plane.

A businesses man (Dana Andrews) suffers a fatal heart attack while piloting his private plane causing his aircraft to fly directly into the cockpit of a Boeing 747, which kills the co-pilot (Roy Thinnes), the navigator (Erik Estrada) and seriously injures the pilot (Efrem Zimbalist Jr).  This forces the plane’s head stewardess (Karen Black) to take control of the plane even though she has no experience. Those at the control tower try to direct her via a headset on what to do, which helps steady the jet while they devise a way to get a professional pilot onto the craft in order to land it.

Compared to Airport this is a real letdown. In the first film the individual passengers came off like real people all suffering from their own personal dilemmas, but here they’re more like cardboard caricatures that barely have any speaking lines and there only to show panicked expressions and not much else.

The dialogue and ‘drama’ quickly becomes inadvertently campy. Linda Blair plays a Pollyanna-like girl suffering from an undisclosed illness who befriends a nun (Helen Reddy) who breaks out into an impromptu song on a guitar that would have most passengers complaining of noise pollution. Playing herself is aging silent film actress Gloria Swanson who dictates her autobiography into a tape recorder as she is on the plane, which seems dumb because it allows the other passengers to overhear it although at least for their benefit it will allow them to avoid having to buy the book once it’s published since they will know all about the juicy details already. The only entertaining passenger is Myrna Loy as a tipsy old lady who enjoys drinking boilermakers.

The plane’s excessively wide interior and its large seats make it seem more like the inside of a luxury train. The plane even has a winding stairwell at the center of it for people to walk up. I’ve flown on many jets in my life and have never seen one with an upstairs/downstairs. If you’ve been on a plane that has had one then please let me know. (Note since this review was written one of the followers to this blog, Rob, has supplied us with pics of an actual 747 from that era and proves that indeed these things described above did exist at one time in a plane, so please be sure to check-out his links to pics in the comments section.)

The special effects get badly botched. The sequence involving the small engine plane crashing into the jet looks fake as the plane gets shown through the cockpit window and is quite obviously matted in on a bluescreen. You can clearly tell too that an inflatable dummy was used as the co-pilot when he gets sucked out through the hole that is formed from the crash. The scene where the replacement pilot (Ed Nelson), who tries to board the plane to help land it, is killed when his release cord becomes caught in the jagged metal, comes-off as unintentionally  funny instead of horrific.

The outdoor aerial footage shot over the Wasatch Mountains is the film’s one redeeming element. I also enjoyed Karen Black in what is likely her definitive role. She has played so many kooky, offbeat characters that it’s interesting seeing her portray a normal one. I just wished that she would’ve piloted the plane the whole way through and even landed it. Having Charlton Heston, as a professional pilot, literally ‘drop-in’ and takeover is far less compelling. It also seems quite sexist by intimating that women aren’t capable of taking on challenges to their completion and at some point a man must step-in even when the women seem to be handling the situation quite well without them.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Airport (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Terror in the skies.

During a major snowstorm at Chicago’s Lincoln International Airport manager Al Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster) must scramble to keep the place open while trying to get a disabled jet plane that is stuck in the snow off the runway. Meanwhile on a flight headed for Italy there’s the mentally unhinged Guerrero (Van Heflin) sitting with a bomb in his briefcase set to go off and explode the airplane and killing everyone inside, so that his family back home can collect on the insurance money.

The film is based on the best-selling novel by Arthur Hailey and despite some critics, like Pauline Kael, hating it for its soap opera-like dramatics I still came away feeling it was perfect crackerjack entertainment. The characters on the plane are quite diverse with unique problems and personalities making them seem like real people that the viewer becomes genuinely concerned for. The special effects, particularly those done inside the plane, are effective and the film has a nice dramedy balance.

The only drawback, and I hesitate to bring this up as I think they did the best they could’ve done under the circumstances, are the special effects dealing with the snow storm. It was shot at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport during the winter of 1969, but unfortunately the whole time the film crew was there the weather remained sunny forcing them to eventually have plastic snow shown falling while the in the background the sky remains crystal clear and sunny. The snow shown falling during the nighttime scenes is equally problematic. I resided for many years in the North Country and I know that when it snows at night the sky gives off a bright white glow and it’s never pitch black like it is here.

The film was considered innovative at the time for its use of the split-screen particularly when it would show people talking on the phone to each other. Director George Seaton wisely doesn’t overplay this and uses the device sparingly for the most part however the segment where Lancaster is shown in one square talking to his wife, who is in another square along with their two daughters who each pop-up in their own individual squares it starts to resemble the opening to ‘The Brady Bunch’.

The acting by the female performers is quite strong. I was really impressed with Jean Seberg, her career started back in 1958 when she beat out 18,000 other applicants to get the starring role in Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan despite her lack of acting experience and although her performance in that film was lambasted by the critics I felt here she was solid and she could’ve easily carried the film during the scenes at the airport without Lancaster’s presence, who plays her boss, being needed at all.

Jaqueline Bisset is equally good as the stewardess who knows how to think on her feet.  I liked how this role didn’t take advantage of her looks or sexiness and instead kept it focused solely on her dramatic acting ability and I loved her shoulder length hair cut here as opposed to her really long hair style that she usually sports. Helen Hayes is hammy as the old lady stowaway, which netted her an Oscar, but Maureen Stapleton, who was also nominated for best supporting actress, is quite good too. Her talents lie more in her expressive face particularly the moment when she looks out the airport window and witnesses the plane carrying her husband, who she knows has a bomb, take off.

Dean Martin is excellent on the male end. Typically he comes off as tipsy and laid-back, but here he surprisingly takes the reins and helps propel the picture. George Kennedy is also surprisingly strong. Most of the time his presence amounts to nothing more than token supporting parts, but here he plays the gruff, brash airline mechanic to great effect and could help explain why his character was the only one to appear in all four airport movies.

The film does come off like it was released in the ‘50s instead of the 70s by having a cast that was mostly past their prime, but it’s by far the best disaster flick from the ‘70s, and there were a lot of them, as well as better than any of the three sequels that followed it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1970

Runtime: 2Hours 17Minutes

Rated G

Director: George Seaton

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

City on Fire (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Title says it all.

When Herman Stover (Jonathan Welsh) gets fired from his job at an oil refinery he decides to get his revenge by opening the valves on the storage vats, which sends gasoline spewing out into the water system that soon sets the entire city on fire. Dr. Frank Whitman (Barry Newman) realizes that his hospital is in line of the approaching blaze and tries desperately to get the place evacuated.

Despite the American cast the film was financed by a Canadian production company and filmed on-location in Montreal with a few shots done in Toronto. While the movie bombed at the box office and later got mocked in an episode of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ it’s actually decent on the special effects end.

In fact I found the effects to be quite impressive particularly at the beginning where two firefighters find themselves trapped in an apartment building in an actual blaze where the flames literally leap towards the camera and make the viewer feel like they are being engulfed by it. Most movies will show people set on fire, but only while wearing a protective body suit, but this one has them set ablaze while wearing regular clothes and with flames not only shooting out from their clothing, but their hair as well, which looked dangerous to film. It also graphically captures the charred burned skin of the victims.

The eclectic cast of old Hollywood veterans is fun for the most part with Ava Gardner hamming it up as an alcoholic newswoman trying to cover the disaster. It’s also nice seeing Shelley Winters playing a ‘normal’ person for once instead of a kooky, eccentric and she does it so well that she ends up not standing out at all, which never happens in any of her other movies.

Watching Susan Clark play a wealthy socialite who suddenly becomes a Florence Nightingale incarnate after the victims start piling up is too much of a dramatic arch and the film should’ve just had her as a regular nurse from the start. The part though where she helps with a delivery at least has the baby coming out of the womb with an umbilical cord as too many other movie births never show this.

Outside of the effects there’s little else to recommend. The scenes dealing with the culprit, played by Welsh, are dumb. For one thing he doesn’t seem unhinged enough to do what he does and in fact comes off as quite bland and even tries helping the victims later on. Also, when an employee gets fired they are usually escorted out of the building by security especially in a refinery and not allowed to just run around the facility freely and unmonitored like here.

It would’ve worked better had the number of characters been cut down to just a few and the story focused solely on their efforts to survive instead of coming off more like a news report trying to capture the chaos as a whole.  The idea of mixing pyrotechnic special effects with a lame storyline and hallow characters doesn’t work and becomes just a poor excuse for a movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 29, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Gray Lady Down (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Submarine crew needs rescue.

Captain Paul Blanchard (Charlton Heston) is on his final submarine mission, but just as the vessel surfaces it gets struck by a Norwegian freighter, which sinks it to the ocean bottom. The navy’s rescue team is unable to get to the crew due to a rock slide that covers the escape hatch. Eccentric Navy Captain Gates (David Carradine) is brought in as he has created a submersible vehicle that can go down the depths of the ocean and remove the rocks from the sub, but his personality clashes with that of Captain Bennett’s (Stacy Keach), which further hampers the rescue efforts.

The story, which is based on the 1971 novel ‘Event 1000’ by David Lavallee gets off to a shaky start. Although the interiors of the vessel look quite authentic the exterior shots, especially those showing the crew sticking their heads outside the vessel’s port hatch, were clearly done on a soundstage in front of a green screen and nothing is worse than a film that tries hard to be meticulous in one area only to compromise in another. When the sub gets hit many of the crew, which were made up of stunt men and not professional actors, overreact giving it an unintentionally comical feel.

The cutting back and forth to scenes inside the Norwegian ship and how that crew becomes panicked was not necessary. Again, the acting gets a bit over-the-top here too and the dialogue is shown in subtitles due to them speaking in their native language. It might’ve actually added to the intrigue had we not seen what went wrong with the other ship to cause the collision especially since the focus of the film is on the rescue effort anyways.

Once the rescue gets going it gets better with a solid pace that keeps things on a realistic level and continues to throw in new twists that makes the attempted rescue continually more difficult. Although it does get to a point where it seems nightmarish scenarios are introduced simply for the sake of drama and almost like it was piling-on the problems making the submarine crew look like they were the most unluckiest people on the planet in order to have one bad luck situation happen after another.

The scenes involving Carradine and his relationship with his pal Mickey (Ned Beatty) as well as his animosity with Stacy Keach are more interesting than the ones involving the crew stuck in the ship. Part of the reason is there is no backstory given to any of the characters, so we never see them as three dimensional people and our empathy for their welfare isn’t as much as it could’ve been. A brief bit shows the wives of the crew upset at the news, but an added side-story would’ve helped. In fact I was genuinely shocked that Rosemary Forsyth, who plays Heston’s wife, has only a single line of dialogue. I realize she may not be an A-list star, but she has a respectable enough body of work to expect something more than a just a token walk-on bit and I’m surprised she took the part.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is tense and filmed in a way that you’ll never realize that the subs used were simply miniaturized models shot on a soundstage with smoked used for the underwater effects. However, the drama could’ve been heightened especially when one of the characters sacrifices their life to save the others, which should’ve come off as a shock, but the film telegraphs it, which lessens the effect.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Heston’s a stiff acting doesn’t always work, but here he’s excellent and despite being well over 50 appears amazingly young and agile. This marks Christopher Reeve’s film debut who looks absolutely boyish as well as a reunion of sorts for Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox who starred together 6 years earlier in Deliverance although here they do not share any scenes together.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 10, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Greene

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Hindenburg (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blow up the zeppelin.

Based on the 1972 novel by Michael M. Mooney the story centers on Colonel Franz Ritter (George C. Scott) who was a part of Luftwaffe, which was the aerial warfare branch of the Nazi government and was employed to protect the Hindenburg zeppelin on its voyage across the Atlantic. Rumors had swirled that hostilities towards the Nazi party could cause a terrorist attack on anything connected to them and since the airship is German made it made it a prime target. Martin Vogel (Roy Thinnes) assists Ritter in his investigation, but the two find themselves at constant odds as they must sort through a wide array of suspicious passengers all of whom have the motivation and ability to cause harm to them and everyone else.

The film of course is based on the actual explosion of The Hindenburg zeppelin that occurred on May 6, 1937 in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Although there had been bomb threats made against The Hindenburg before its flight and the theory was investigated there has never been any hard proof that is what caused its destruction. The story is completely speculative, which is primarily the reason why the film is so weak and uninvolving. Conspiracy theories can be interesting if there is some hard evidence to back it up, but this thing makes it all up as it goes along. The fact that it occurred so long ago only heightens how pointless it is. Everyone that was involved is now dead, so even if there is some truth to what it is propagating what difference could it possibly make now?

Richard Levinson and William Link who wrote the script where known for their love of mysteries and helped to create both the ‘Columbo’ and ‘Murder She Wrote’ franchises, but their character development was not one of their stronger suits. The cast of characters here are bland and cardboard with nothing interesting to say. I’m surprised that they managed to corral a decent list of big name stars to appear as they have little to do and for many of them are seen only briefly. William Atherton gives the film’s only interesting performance and I did like Charles Durning as the ship’s captain as well, but that is about it.

The recreation of the airship, which was painstakingly done by a group of 80 artists and technicians who worked around-the-clock for 4 straight months on it is impressive and resulted in a highly detailed 25-foot-long model. Watching it glide through the clouds are the film’s best moments as is the scene where Atherton’s character tries to repair a hole in the outer fabric and almost slips to his death.

(Below is a pic of the actual Hindenburg along with the model used in the film.)

The climactic explosion, which should’ve been the film’s most exciting moment, comes off instead, like everything else in the movie, as protracted and boring. Director Robert Wise decided not to recreate the ship’s fiery end through special effects, but instead spliced in scenes of the character’s trying to escape the burning wreck with black-and-white newsreel footage from the era. This results in distracting the viewer and emotionally taking them out of the movie at its most crucial point because up until then everything had been in color and then suddenly it shifts to black-and-white making it seem like we are no longer following the same movie. The actual explosion and subsequent fire happened very quickly, in less than 2 minutes, but here it gets stretched to almost 8, which makes it seem too ‘Hollywoodnized’ and not authentic or compelling.

(Below is a pic of the Hindenburg explosion along with the burned out skeleton of the ship as captured the day after the incident.)

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Wise

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Night of the Comet (1984)

night-of-the-comet-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Comet wipes out humanity.

A comet passes by earth, which kills off everyone that was outside watching it. The only people that survive were those that remained inside rooms incased by steel. Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and her sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) are two of the survivors. As far as they know they are the only remaining inhabitants, but then a secret group of scientists track them down pretending at first to be their friends, but in reality they are after the two for their blood as the researchers were inadvertently tainted by the comet’s effects and now need a fresh blood supply from those that were not exposed in order to remain alive, but will the two sisters catch onto their ruse before it’s too late?

This film, which has become a major cult hit, starts out sharply and could’ve been a really great picture had it kept the dry, quirky humor that it has at the beginning. Unfortunately it devolves too much into a drama that loses its momentum and becomes draggy. I enjoyed the scenes showing Los Angeles as a deserted wasteland and these moments were apparently shot in the early morning hours during the minutes when the cars where stopped at traffic lights, which made it all the more impressive and I wished the movie had more of these scenes as it gives the film a surreal quality.

The two female leads are fantastic. Stewart is not only really beautiful, but her acting is excellent and I liked the fact that when she gets attacked by a zombie she doesn’t break out into a scream like is the clichéd reaction of most female characters, but instead keeps her composure. The film would’ve been far stronger had these two remained the sole cast as the implementation of the Hector (Robert Beltran) character does not help things and in fact weakens it as it makes it seem that a man is necessary in order to save them since apparently females are not strong enough or smart enough to do it themselves. The evil scientists are uninteresting as well and outside of seeing Mary Woronov playing a more serious role their time on the screen is quite boring.

The story does not take enough advantage of its quirky concept and misses the chance for a far more original scenario. Adding in zombies is a downer as there are already way too many zombie flicks out there and this one adds nothing to the mix. Seeing two valley girls learning to ‘toughen up’ and survive by solely using their own wits would’ve been the best story angle.

The film is also too tame. When the Hector character does appear Samantha becomes jealous when he chooses Regina over her, but why couldn’t they just do a ménage-a-trois? Since there is no other people around, or very few, that means societal conventions no longer necessary, but for some strange reason the characters here become more ‘civilized’ as the story progresses when in reality the exact opposite would likely occur.

There are also too many logic loopholes that never get addressed. For instance why does the electricity remain on when most likely employees working at the power plants would’ve disintegrated along with everyone else? If the power goes out how are they going to store food in order to keep it fresh or cook it for that matter? These questions along with a variety of others helps knock down what is initially a great idea and impedes this cult flick from living up to its reputation.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Thom Eberhardt

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Soylent Green (1973)

soylent-green-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: People are the food.

This Review May Contain Spoilers.

The year is 2022 and the world is so overpopulated that people must sleep on stairwells and hallways and fight over getting their hands on the one and only food source called Soylent Green. Thorn (Charlton Heston) works as a police detective and assigned to a case involving the investigation of the murder of William Simonson (Joseph Cotten) who worked as a board member to Soylent industries. Thorn is convinced that there is more to the killing than simply an in-home robbery, but finds as he pursues the case that others are trying to prevent him from continuing on it, which makes him more determined to find the answers and connect-the-dots.

We’ll get the elephant out of the room right away by divulging that Soylent Green is made up of people who are killed to feed the rest of the population. Normally that would be considered a ‘spoiler’, but this film has become so well known for this ‘twist’ it that it seems almost absurd to avoid giving it away. If that ruins the film for you then I apologize, but the truth is I knew going into this how it was going to end, due to watching one of many parodies done on the movie particularly a SNL skit from years back involving Phil Hartman, and yet I came away enjoying it anyways. Mostly what I liked was the film’s neo-futuristic look that combines old buildings with a mod image and an opening sequence, which is the best part of the movie, used over the credits that was done by filmmaker Charles Braverman and shows visually through rapid-fire photographs how the world came into its bleak situation.

I was also really impressed with Heston’s performance. He is not an actor I’ve particularly enjoyed as I feel he is routinely too stiff and conveys his lines in an overly dramatic way that is quite stagey and even hammy and yet here he portrays a rough-around-the-edges man quite well and I consider this one of his best performances.

soylent-green-2

This also marks the final film of screen legend Edward G. Robinson who died only 20 days after production was completed. The scene where he and Heston eat fresh food, which is something the characters hadn’t done in a long time due to its scarcity, was completely improvised, but an excellent and memorable moment. I did feel though that there needed to be a backstory about why these two men, who had such contrasting differences in age, were living together and the fact that at one point both men say that they ‘love’ the other made me wonder if it was implied that they were gay.

The ending isn’t bad and I liked the way Thorn investigates the inner workings of the Soylent factory with the only noise coming from the plant’s machinery and no music, which makes it creepier. It is mentioned earlier though that this plant is ‘highly guarded’ and yet he is able to get into it rather easily and he walks through it for quite a bit before he is spotted by anyone and even then the men aren’t armed, which makes it seem like it isn’t too well guarded at all. Also, I didn’t get why Thorn, who is quite jaded for the most part, would get so noble and heroic once he found out the plant’s secret and feel the need to ‘warn’ others. The world they live in is quite bleak, so what is he ‘saving’ them from anyways as some may actually choose death over the squalor that they were stuck in.

The ultimate logic to this ‘clever’ twist ending doesn’t hold up too well either. For instance the idea that the company would just kill a few people here and there wouldn’t be enough to keep up with the demand and at one point does the overpopulation begin to go down? If so many are supposedly being killed to feed the others then the crowding should lessen, which again only reiterates the fact that the filmmakers hadn’t completely thought this thing through and if anything the film should’ve used Thorn’s discovery as springboard to a more complex and intricate plot instead simply relying on it as a ‘shock’ ending.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 9, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Meteor (1979)

meteor

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Save earth from rock.

Inspired by the ‘Project Icarus’ report done by MIT students during the spring of 1967 the film surmises what would happen and what defenses might be used should a gigantic asteroid come barreling towards earth. Here the meteor is described as being 5-miles wide with an impact that could prove catastrophic and turn the earth’s climate back into the next ice age. Dr. Paul Bradly (Sean Connery) is brought in to advise since he is the one that created an orbiting nuclear missile space station specifically for this reason, but its firepower will not be enough and they must rely on the help from their Russian counterparts, who have a similar missile station in space, in order to get the job done.

The story and characters are quite bland with little to no effort made to enrich the drama with any side-stories or issues. The viewer is teased with a potential romance between Paul and Russian interpreter Tatiana (Natalie Wood), but it goes nowhere. The constant cutaways showing the meteor zooming through space actually lessens the tension because as it gets dwarfed amongst the immensity of the universe, which makes the rock look rather small and therefore it doesn’t seem all that impressive.

The special effects are tacky although the scene where a smaller asteroid fragment hits New York City has a shot of the World Trade Center collapsing in much the same way that it did on 9-11, which is eerily prophetic. The mud slide in the subway tunnel does have merit and the actors do at times seems genuinely overcome by it, but everything else borders on being unintentionally funny. The only thing that really impressed me was the amount of extras they were able to attain including participants in a ski race that seemed to border on the tens of thousands.

The cast is made up of old Hollywood has-beens who careers peaked long ago and all seemed better suited for a guest shot on ‘The Love Boat’. None of them were under 40 and therefore younger filmgoers of the day where disconnected from it although Brian Keith is a scene stealer as the Russian scientist and speaks fluent Russian rather amazingly given the fact that he did not know the language and was only doing it phonetically. I also got a kick out of Martin Landau as a hot-headed general who has the perfect eyes for a glazed over expression of a dead man, which the viewer gets treated to briefly.

Several special effects teams were reportedly fired during the course of production simply because they could not provide adequate enough effects on the limited budget, but it seems dumb to produce a film that hinges on spectacular effects if that is something that can’t be provided, which ultimately is why this did so poorly at the box office.

meteor-2

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 19, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ronald Neame

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video