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Good Disaster Movies (2000-05): Fingers on the Button

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David Appleford itcherFor Hollywood, the new millennium couldn’t have come fast enough. Most industry insiders agree that when you talk of the worst movie decade in history, the clear winner is the nineties – it just didn’t work. And that wasn’t just for the Disaster genre; it was for everything. But with a new decade came a new hope, and occasionally, some fresh ideas. But not always. When it came to disaster movies, the industry went in a different direction in the noughties. What was old could always be made to look new again. ~ David Appleford

Hollywood Would Not Give Up

Knowing that disaster films and big screen catastrophes will always attract an audience, Hollywood wasn’t going to give up. But it had a problem – no matter how hard the industry tried, it couldn’t repeat the success of the seventies disaster heyday. 

There was no Irwin Allen to guide the survival of passengers from an overturned and sinking ship, or the rescue of party-goers stuck on the top floor of an oversized and burning skyscraper. In other words, there was nothing or no one familiar enough associated with the disaster movie that could guarantee an audience as it once could. So the studios did what they often do when business is flat; they went back for their future.

They were careful about it. The second half of the new decade produced more remakes of familiar titles than the first, but the seeds of rehashing something already known were firmly planted. And it began with rats. The following are five varied examples of disaster-themed movies released for both TV and the cinema in the first half of the millennium, beginning with an oldie presented as something new.


Multi-Screen Disaster Movie Recommendations

‘Willard’ (Glen Morgan, 2003)

How do you think Socrates felt when you stuck him? Answer me!

It wasn’t billed as a remake. The producers initially wanted the audience to think it was a re-working of a previous subject – or a re-imagined production – but by any other name it was still a remake. ‘Willard’ was based on the 1971 horror/disaster of a social misfit who controlled a colony of rats and let them loose.

Willard (Crispin Glover) is a young man constantly abused by both his boss and his mother. It’s when he befriends a rat and trains him that Willard’s life turns. More rats crawl out of the woodwork, and before Willard knows what’s happened, he has a virtual household of vermin on his hands, and he uses them with deadly and disastrous force.

If you look closely at all the photos on display in the house of Willard’s father, you should notice they’re all of actor Bruce Davison. But he’s not in the film. He played Willard in the ’71 original. Plus, in order to keep that feel of something familiar going, the remake also featured the hit Michael Jackson song ‘Ben.’ The song was written for a ’72 film of the same name, which was the sequel to the original ‘Willard.’ 

When the film was in conception, the producers were aiming for an adult rating, but the studio wanted things toned down a little in order to expand its audience, so the violence, the blood and the language were lowered. But make sure you check the DVD Extras. All things cut are there, plus there’s an alternate ending.

‘Deterrence’ (Rod Lurie, 2000)

President Roosevelt said “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” By god it’s true…

Just in case you’re a release date purist, some listings show the Rod Lurie-directed nuclear disaster film as a 1999 movie, but this isn’t quite true. The movie was held back until the following year, so, yes ‘Deterrence’ is really a film of the new millennium, and it s a good one.

Filmed within a remote Colorado diner during a late night, freak snowstorm, President Emerson (Kevin Pollack) is on the campaign trail, but the weather has forced him and his entourage to take refuge. It’s while the United States president is snowbound and sipping coffee that international events on the other side of the world take a nasty turn. The leader of Iraq invades Kuwait. 

From laptop screens and cell phones, the president uses the diner as his crisis headquarters and it’s from there that he threatens Iraq with an ultimatum. If the enemy refuses to retreat from Kuwait then America will bomb Baghdad with a nuclear weapon. And that’s what happens. To everyone’s horror, the president actually pushes the button. What follows will surprise.

‘Deterrence’ plays out like a piece of theatre. With rewrites, it could easily be a stage play, though writer/director Lurie’s intention was that it be a made-for-cable movie on ‘Showtime.’ However, the finished product was polished and gripping and deserved a big screen presentation, which is what it got. In the end it did little big screen business, but DVD gives viewers a second chance, and this should be seen.

Look closely at the combination of numbers used to unlock the nuclear suitcase. They read 08061945, or August 6, 1945. That’s the date America dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.

‘The Core’ (Jon Amiel, 2003)

For the twenty-second time in a row, everyone on earth is dead. Now we’re going to take a little quiet time, and you all are going to try this again…

There was a film released in 2000 called ‘Deep Core’ about a global disaster beneath the Earth’s surface and a self-propelled drilling vessel that could travel through magma. No one remembers it, and that was a plus for the makers of ‘The Core,’ released three years later. Both films have a similar setup, but it was the larger 2003 disaster release with the bigger special effects budget that got all the publicity, even if both films are today all but forgotten.

There’s something wrong with the rotation of the Earth’s core. It’s stopped spinning. As a result, strange things start happening on our planet’s surface, such as horrendous thunderstorms, birds flying into buildings, and people with pacemakers dying within moments of each other.

There’s only one thing to do. Six people need to burrow down to the center of the Earth in a special drill made of a metal called Unobtanium and set off a series of nuclear explosions. This should get everything back on track. If not, then the Earth is doomed.

The release of ‘The Core’ was delayed by several months because of the extra CGI required to make the effects, and many of them look terrific, particularly the suicidal pigeons of Trafalgar Square going wild. But the film did little business. In fact, it lost a fortune, then vanished.

Sure, the film is nonsense – there’s even a course at the University of British Columbia in Canada that’s said to use the movie to illustrate how bad the science theory behind the story really is – but years later you can now watch the adventure without the baggage of negative publicity. You’ll be surprised how much fun it can be. And as for that mysterious metal called Unobtanium, that’s the comically generic name given to a metal or a substance when a writer can’t think of a better name. Coincidentally, it’s also the name used for that valuable material mined in James Cameron’s ‘Avatar.’

‘Flying Virus’ (Jeff Hare, 2001)

Yeah, well maybe you better get your ass out of here before I introduce my foot to your ass…

No one’s kidding anybody here. ‘Flying Virus’ is pretty bad, but it’s fun bad. It’s the kind you need to see with a group of like-minded, movie-buff friends who love to shout at the TV and throw things at the screen. It’s the only way to see a cheesy disaster movie, and this is THE cheesy one to see.

When a series of Amazonian Indian attacks result with a slow of production at an American petroleum installation in Brazil, a ‘special program’ is developed: killer bees are unleashed. But intrepid reporter Ann Bauer (Gabrielle Anwar) who happens to be in Brazil, discovers something interesting. Despite the killer aspect, those bees also posses a special healing power that could be priceless if properly researched.

On a plane trip back to New York, the reporter, her husband and some others, smuggle the bees on board, but when turbulence hits and the bees are accidentally released, all hell breaks.

The film had another title when released on DVD. It was called ‘Killer Buzz,’ though ‘Bees on a Plane’ would have worked just as well. Here’s the bottom line: the stunts are bad, the dialog flat, some of the explosions seen in the Brazilian jungle were literally taken from Sylvester Stallone’s 1985 adventure ‘Rambo: First Blood Part 2,’ and you might even notice some of those Amazonian tribes falling to the ground as if dead seconds before an explosion occurs. But with a film like ‘Flying Virus’ it’s all part of what makes this ludicrous disaster enjoyable.

‘On the Beach’ (Russell Mulcahy, 2000)

Hey, I’m not blaming you. If it was one of your politicians or your military with their bloody warrior mentality, I would be. “We’re protecting your freedom!”

The title may sound familiar. It should. ‘On the Beach’ was originally a 1957 novel by Nevil Shute that became a famous 1959 film. This version is an Australian made-for-TV movie, another disaster film remake that played in America on cable and is now released as one, lengthy, three hour epic on DVD. The good news is, with a few updates, it really does the book justice.

Starring Aussie favorites Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward, ‘On the Beach’ is an apocalyptic disaster adventure. After a nuclear war, both China and the United States are destroyed. In fact, most of the world has gone.

Australia is yet to feel the radioactive fallout, which is where the submarine crew of the USS Charleston find temporary refuge, but a radio broadcast soon lets listeners know that within a few months, that fallout will be reaching down under. Pretty soon, there’ll be nowhere to go.

Purists may bulk at the different ending, but there’s a lot to like about this remake. At three hours, the buildup may seem slow, but given the extra time afforded a TV series, the characters tend to exhibit an emotional depth absent from the 1959 movie original. 

It even received award nominations. Even though it never won, the Golden Globes nominated the film for ‘Best Miniseries’, and Rachel Ward was nominated for ‘Best Actress in a Mini Series’. Well worth your time.


Spell Disaster for All

In addition to the above five very different disaster recommendations, the popularity of other more well known films such as ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ and ‘The Perfect Storm’ proved to Hollywood that beyond a doubt, give the public a great disaster and audiences will go, which is exactly what happened but in larger numbers in the second half of the 2000s. More to come.

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