The best Disaster movies on DVD
(Originally published in Hotdog, February 2005)
1: THE TOWERING INFERNO
The Movie: The Everest of disaster movies, Irwin Allen’s classic tale of dodgy wiring and even dodgier fashions takes a gigantic roster of Seventies stars, and strands them in a flaming tower block with no hope of escape. Paul Newman is the architect looking to escape city life, Steve McQueen (who famously demanded equal billing, equal pay and an equal number of lines with Newman) is the tough talking fire chief out to quench the flames, while familiar faces like Richard Chamberlain, Fred Astaire and Robert Vaughan look concerned, panic, undergo major life changes or tumble flaming from the nearest window. A full-on, two-and-a-half hour disaster banquet of truly towering proportions.
The Extras: The theatrical trailer- and nowt else. We smell a two-disc anniversary edition on the horizon…
Classic Moment: “Did you leave a cigarette burning?” Robert Wagner and Susan Flannery discover the meaning of the word “understatement” shortly before their fiery demise.
The Movie: Nobody understood the true, delirious silliness of disaster movies as well as the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrams, who took the script of 1959 airline flick Red Alert, and turned it into one of the loopiest comedies ever filmed. From the inflatable auto-pilot to the Saturday Night Fever-influenced flashback, it’s a non-stop explosion of off-the-wall nuttiness as semi-crazed war veteran Robert Hayes tries to save a passenger flight after an outbreak of fish-related food poisoning.
The Extras: The R2 has a directors commentary that’s fitfully entertaining, but the new R1 also includes a brace of deleted scenes and interviews.
Classic Moment: Air hostess Julie Haggerty tries to build confidence in her passengers, and then messes up by enquiring “Does anyone know how to fly a plane?”
3: THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE
The Movie: Led by Gene Hackman’s tough-talking preacher, a group of rag-tag survivors struggle their way through an upside-down cruise liner when a tidal wave causes it to capsize. Naturally, they’re soon dropping like flies, and the 1972 adventure that kicked off the disaster movie bandwagon keeps the grit level high and the death count at an impressive level, all while letting seasoned veterans like Hackman and Ernest Borgenine, do what they do best.
The Extras: Apart from cast profiles, all this disappointing disc has to offer is a 1972-made puff-piece featurette that spends most of its time saying how fantastic the film is.
Classic Moment: Showing her unlikely history as an ex-swimming champion, Shelly Winters saves Hackman from a watery fate– but perishes in the process. Blub!
4: DR. STRANGELOVE
The Movie: Determined to protect his bodily fluids from the evils of communism, General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) takes the extreme route of ordering his bombers to nuke Russia. While Group Captain Mandrake, President Muffley and loopy ex-Nazi Dr. Strangelove (all played by Peter Sellers) try to find a way of stopping the countdown to doomsday, Stanley Kubrick’s pitch-black satirical comedy stares the impending nuclear holocaust in the face and laughs its head off in demented style.
The Extras: On top of the 90-minute making-of, there’s documentaries on Sellers, the Nuclear Threat, and the Production Design, as well as a selection of kooky interviews.
Classic Moment: Waving his cowboy hat and whooping his lungs out, Major Kong (Slim Pickens) rides a nuclear bomb down into cinema history.
The Movie: The first half of James Cameron’s epic romance may be like being slowly drowned in golden syrup, but once the iceberg hits and the supposedly ‘unsinkable’ ship proves to be anything but, the mayhem truly kicks into gear. With gigantic sets flooded with water and digital effects bringing the sinking to amazingly detailed life, it’s a thrilling and heart-pounding ride that almost makes up for having to sit through the ear-shredding torture of Celine Dion.
The Extras: After the initial vanilla disc, Fox have pulled out the stops with a 4-disc marathon that offers everything from multiple commentaries to a host of deleted scenes.
Classic Moment: Leonardo and Kate hang on as the rear section of the boat makes its final plunge into the icy depths.
6: INDEPENDENCE DAY
The Movie: It may be an alien invasion flick, but in every other respect Roland Emmerich’s mighty B-movie follows the Irwin Allen disaster formula to the letter. There are families reunited, multi-ethnic bonding, an evil officious authority figure and the line “I picked a hell of a day to quit drinking!”, as President Bill Pullman leads the charge to wipe out the extra-terrestials, and Jeff Goldblum uses their foolish lack of antivirus software to deliver the killing blow.
The Extras: Featuring the theatrical and extended versions, as well as a documentary and commentaries, this 2-disc edition covers the movie in exemplary fashion.
Classic Moment: Pure disaster movie cheese in action, as a cute kid’s golden retriever makes a last-minute leap to safety from an all-consuming wall of fire.
The Movie: The peak of the big, dumb late 90’s Blockbuster, Michael Bay’s symphony of explosions and sheer goddammed macho bravado sees the world threatened by an asteroid the size of Texas, and the only men for the job are Bruce Willis and his gang of oil riggers. With enough testosterone to power a major city, they’re soon sent into space to blow the offending rock out of the sky, while Bay’s ballistic filmmaking style takes the OTT disaster movie into another dimension.
The Extras: After an intial ‘flipper’ release, Buena Vista finally came through with an edition loaded to the gills with commentaries and special effects info.
Classic Moment: A stray asteroid fragment crashes down into Paris, and transforms the city into a smoking crater.
8: THE BIRDS
The Movie: There have been plenty of “Nature turns against Man!” movies, but none with the delicious brutality and nastiness of Hitchcock’s quietly devastating classic. Rich girl Tippi Hedren chases after Rod Taylor in a quiet west coast town, but soon the local birds have mysteriously taken a psychotic dislike to her, and anyone else in the vicinity. Building to a series of fabulously violent avian assaults, this is smart and terrifying moviemaking at its finest.
The Extras: An impressive selection for a 1963 movie, with the “All About The Birds” featurette, Hedren’s screen test, an alternate ending and a heap of storyboards and photos.
Classic Moment: Trapped in a phone booth in the middle of an attack, Hedren finds herself dive-bombed by some seriously hacked-off seagulls.
The Movie: Not only did Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi classic invent the futuristic blockbuster, it also transforms into a prototype disaster movie in its final act. As the downtrodden workers are provoked into destroying the factories by the evil robot Maria (Bridgette Helm), suddenly their own city ends up flooded by waves of water. Cue hundreds of extras milling desperately about, some spectacular model shots, and some of the greatest H2O-aided property destruction you could ever wish to witness.
The Extras: A delicious two disc edition, with a documentary on early German cinema, a commentary, photo galleries and- most importantly- a beautifully remastered print.
Classic Moment: Freder (Gustav Frolich) and the real Maria are re-united in the middle of a seething crowd of half-drowned workers.
10: DANTE’S PEAK
The Movie: This CGI-happy disaster fest hits all the right notes as nervous Vulcanologist Pierce Brosnan gets suspicious about the rumblings near the town of Dante’s Peak. Unfortunately, the locals don’t want to hear him cry “Volcano!” for fear of scaring away the tourists, and are soon wearing egg (and major amounts of ash) on their faces when the lava starts gushing forth. Loud and brilliantly shallow, it’s Hollywood cinema as a rollercoaster ride taken to its utmost extreme.
The Extras: Universal could at least have managed an educational featurette on Volcanoes- but instead, we’re “blessed” with production notes and a trailer.
Classic Moment: While escaping across a lake by boat, Brosnan realizes that the water has been turned to acid and is now eating through the hull…