film reel image

film reel image

Sunday, September 10, 2023

St. Helens 1981 * * Stars


Watching 1981's St. Helens, you realize that the filmmakers decided to get this thing going right after the actual incident of an eruption in Southwest Washington happened just four months ago. A little eager in Tinseltown are we? I mean back then the phrase "too soon" could've been used (considering said eruption was the most disastrous volcanic spew in U.S. history). Whatever. Forty-plus years later, "Helens" is almost an incidental thang at this point, a flick to ponder on a rainy day via YouTube. "But if she goes, I want to be there". Indeed. 

With what looks like archive footage of the real 1980 venting of Mount St. Helens and starring Art Carney, David Huffman, and Cassie Yates, "Helens" puts forth almost 90 minutes of build-up, establishing lots of characters, various subplots (some of the romantic kind), similar locales, and inching tension leading up to the inevitable (if you're my age and haven't been living in a bubble, you'll probably remember what went down). 

Sure the music by progressive rock band Goblin is eerie beauty and sure, the cinematography by Jacques Haitkin is authentic enough. But HBO television might've rolled this thing out in a rushed attempt, asking the audience to painfully relive an event that killed 57 people and destroyed a hundred square miles left to wasteland.

That's not all. I mean where's the continuity here in regards to "Helens?" And why is everyone involved so mean, pent-up, and rattled? And what's with the Chuck Norris-like action clip (about 25 minutes in)? St. Helens has intentions (how could it not) but it could've hit the stratosphere had it not been so TV-movie harnessed (which it so is) and jumbled from a narrative slant. It's almost like a half-pie, edited version of The Towering Inferno. Sadly I wasn't quite "blow-ed away". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

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