Earthquake(Universal Home Entertainment, 5.9.2006)
In the 1940s, director Mark Robson was often the go-to guy as producer Val Lewton redefined the American horror film with pics like Bedlam and The Seventh Victim. In the 1970s, as Irwin Allen firmly put his print on the disaster flick, Robson served as a hired hand for executive producer Jennings Lang (the Airport movies) on 1974's Earthquake, a shlocky disaster pic more on par with the TV movie 10.5 than either The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno. That's not to say that Earthquake deviates from the subsequent Allen formula of introducing us to a cast of well known actors, cramming them into the disaster grinder, and seeing what comes out on the other side. But in this one, we actually root for the earthquake.
In between penning the screenplays for The Godfather and Superman, Mario Puzo allegedly crafted an intriguing script in which Charlton Heston was a suicidal antihero, with Genevieve Buold's single mother emerging as the true heroine. Apparently finding this draft to be too nuanced, Universal hired novice George Fox to bang out drafts two through eleven until the flick resembled something more boilerplate. And sure enough, the film opens with the histrionics of man's man Stewart Graff (Heston) arguing with his suicidal wife, Remy (the atrocious Ava Gardner), apparently over who can chew the most scenery.
The film then bounces around L.A. as we meet George Kennedy's disgruntled police sergeant (his misadventures in a bar play like deleted scenes from The Naked Gun). Richard Roundtree (Shaft) plays an Evel Knivel wannabe (think Kanye West in his "Touch the Sky" video) and Victoria Principal is his hype woman, apparently because she has an even bigger 'fro than him. And Walter Matthau (credited as Walter Matuschanskayasky) is the insouciant drunk who serves as a sort of Nero while L.A. burns.
After about 50 minutes of exposition and trite backstories, we get to the quakes themselves and they do not hold up. The special effects might have been groundbreaking at the time, but they basically consist of a camera being shaken, a bunch of random-looking stuff falling from sets, choppy cuts every few seconds, and ridiculously apocalyptic matte painting shots of the devastated city. These flaws might have been obscured in 1974 when theatergoers "experienced" this film in floor shaking Sensurround, but watching it at home now is sort of like watching Jaws 3-D and wondering why the camera lingers on a victim's floating hand for ten seconds.
This featureless disc includes a solid 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. The bottom line, though, is that if you want to watch a good film about a bunch of Angelinos thrown together by an earthquake, pass on this one and check out Robert Altman's Short Cuts instead. -- Colin Miller