Various interconnected people struggle to survive when an earthquake of unimaginable magnitude hits Los Angeles, California.Various interconnected people struggle to survive when an earthquake of unimaginable magnitude hits Los Angeles, California.Various interconnected people struggle to survive when an earthquake of unimaginable magnitude hits Los Angeles, California.
Par for the genre's course, death-defying rescues amidst the sawdust and tinsel is very much the order of the day, but here connected by much bizarrely incongruous throwaway padding involving everyone castwise from Kennedy downwards. There are faint intimations that this could be self-reflexive parody, but given that facetious rock bottom is hit with an unintelligible Walter Matthau's "cameo" as an inebriated barfly (who's decision to go incommunicado under his real Panavision-necessitating surname must surely have come about after seeing the finished product), I very much doubt it.
Save for Kennedy's derisory aside "Earthquakes bring out the worst in people", the film has absolutely nothing to say about the psychology of societal collapse; or why, post 9/11, we continue to enjoy watching tall things falling down with people still in them. But any movie in which a pantomime Gardner's first line is "Goddammit!" can't be a total lost cause. And after her and Chuck's opening domestic tussle, which would come pretty close to John Waters, had he yet gained mainstream acceptance and managed to persuade Liz Taylor to star for him - "Of course i'll induce vomiting, I know the rules by now!" - the film finally delivers 2 hours of not-so-solid (like it's "40-storey monstrosities") entertainment value. Even if after all is said and done with the laugh-a-minute dialogue, the Incredible Upside Down Cows, the cartoon blood in the liftshaft, Gardner playing Lorne Greene's DAUGHTER which meant he would have had her at 7 years old etc etc etc, the movie ends up nothing but its own 'Airplane!'.
Sole aesthetic virtue is its naturalistic sound editing (which understandably won that year's Oscar) and subterranean bass pitch which, combined with the short-lived cinematic 'wonder' of Sensurround - ie earthquake-simulating theaters - meant that certain moviegoers got to join in the vicarious fun of mass panic and devastation.
If like me, you like this film for precisely the wrong reasons, you will want to seek out its Japanese rival 'Jishin Retto' (1980) for no doubt 'hours' of endlessly fascinating film-studyish comparison...
- Aug 27, 2002