film reel image

film reel image

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Earthquake 1974 * * 1/2 Stars

Director: Mark Robson
Year: 1974
Rating: PG
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Charlton Heston, Richard Roundtree, Ava Gardner

You know, I think I'll start things out by borrowing Charlton Heston's famous quote from the 1968 classic Planet of The Apes and apply it to the movie I'm currently writing about. "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty quake!" ahh, couldn't resist. Heston is just one of the big name stars featured (a large cast takes precedent over this film) in Earthquake, a 1970's disaster flick that depicts the biggest, most destructive natural disaster to ever hit the city of Los Angeles.

Of course you know what I'm talking about. The title of the film says it all. It is a somewhat effective exercise in that there is a strong sense of realism for its subject. "Quake" shows mass destruction and carnage in a way in which I believe things would actually go down in a crisis situation. Truth be told, its got spectacular special effects that surely don't need the CGI stuff. But I'm not gonna sugarcoat it for you; this is a very depressing movie. Call it cinema of the antihero kind if you will. The characters in Earthquake are mostly unlikable. Most of them don't have many redeeming values and the ones that do have them actually die. Added to that, "Quake" doesn't have much of a happy ending. In fact, it doesn't really have an ending at all. You don't really know if everyone is truly okay, who really survived, and who didn't. The movie leaves the question opened that maybe the plight of everyone involved might suffer another small aftershock or tremor after the credits roll. Alas, this is something that is left up to the viewer's imagination.

When you watch this 1974 picture, you'll find that it is split into three standard acts. This first is character development, or should I say getting to know the whole cast (George Kennedy, Ava Gardner, and Victoria Principal just to name a few). The second act is the earthquake sequence which for me, is the most effective part (it lasts a good ten minutes, it's brutal and graphic in detail, and it's very well done). Then there is the third act which shows the aftermath of destruction (or aftershocks, hint hint) and how the people in the city deal with the sadness of L.A. in ruins.

Another aspect you'll notice when watching Earthquake is how the MPAA ratings board was so forgiving in handing this thing a PG rating. Along with the graphic violent images that accompany the film (a handful of people perish in an elevator scene and it's a doozy) there is a lot of adult themes (mild drug use, suggested inappropriate language, adultery, attempted rape) that would ultimately disturb or turn off a lot of younger viewers in the PG rated crowd. Then there is the cringe worthy moments that truly don't belong or fit. I mean this in the strongest way. You got a cameo of who I think might be Walter Matthau, getting drunk at a bar and falling asleep at every possible moment. He says things like, "where can I get a drink in this place?" and calls out random actor's names (Peter Fonda for example). When the quake hits and everything is being destroyed around him, he continues to drink his whiskey shots and act like a buffoon. It's a comedic element thrown in and an unnecessary one at that. Also, after the strongest jolts of the quake, when everybody is dying and suffering in a random L.A. hospital, there is a clown character that goes around and tries to make people laugh by doing clown tricks. Believe it or not, there are actually people laughing nervously. I almost had to turn the DVD off. It's the movie equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

While I'm a sucker for disaster movies in general, I am going to give a mixed review on Earthquake. It's effective in the special effects department but that doesn't compensate for a mediocre script and less than stellar acting. Truthfully, it's hard to care about the people in this movie even when harmful things happen to them. They aren't underdeveloped, they are just unlikable. I don't know if this was the director's vision, you know to make something that's not by Hollywood's standards. But nevertheless, this method doesn't bode entirely well on screen. As I said earlier, the script is problematic in that while it's heavy on detail and protocol for people involved in a natural disaster, there is an emotional center missing and it costs this film a shot at greatness. I guess it's frustrating when you have to imagine what happens to a character when a scene cuts away right before learning their fate. An example would be Richard Roundtree (playing Miles Quade) driving his motorcycle away from an exploding dam of water caused by the seismic burst. Right as the gushing water threatens to drown him, the camera cuts to something else and we never see or hear from him again. Then there is the character of Walter Russell (played by Kip Niven). This guy discovers the threat of the quake, tells his superiors (including the mayor) to warn everybody and then that's it. 30-40 minutes into the film and we also never see or hear from him again. This, along with the cringe worthy moments mentioned earlier in the review, make it very difficult to garner my recommendation. All in all, you desperately root for this film to be great, you really do. But you surrender to its misguided approach. And that's the kiss of death for me as a movie critic.

With all that being said, there is a positive note to observe when watching this past box office blockbuster. No one and I mean no one, looks cooler in dark sunglasses than the late Charlton Heston.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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