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Good Disaster Movies (2005-10): Everything Is Sinking

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David Appleford itcherThe quality and style of the Hollywood Disaster Movie changed considerably over the decades. The studios were aware that audiences would always have a desire to see an impending catastrophe, but there was a problem: once the most popular style of presentation ran its course during the seventies, the filmmakers could never get the formula right. So, in the second half of the 2000s, they flooded the market with all kinds of genre cross-over styles of disasters in the hope that something was going to work, including a 2009 disaster movie to end all disaster movies. ~ David Appleford

Containing Every Possible Disaster

When director Roland Emmerich’s end-of-the-world, cataclysmic action/thriller ‘2012’ was released, many regarded it to be the grand finale of the disaster film. The movie was crammed with so much – earthquakes, tidal waves, fires – it was as if Hollywood decided that the only way to end the first decade of the new millennium was to celebrate it with a disaster film that contained every possible disaster. It was a massive hit.

You won’t find it included in my five movie recommendations below – it’s too well known – but it has to be mentioned. After all, if nothing else in the genre appeals, you can always go back to ‘2012’ and see something you missed the first time around. There’s just so much to see.

But despite Emmerich’s giant movie, there were still other, smaller films that tackled destructions. First, there were the remakes. The 2009 revisit of ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’ may not have been as much fun as the ’74 original, but the polished look and the star power of Denzel Washington and John Travolta certainly gave the film an attractive, box-office sheen.

There was also ‘Poseidon’, a 2006 remake of the ’72 ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, plus a disaster science-fiction thriller called ‘The Day the Earth Stopped.’ The makers insisted their film was not a remake of the classic ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still,’ but that didn’t stop 20th Century Fox from threatening legal action.

The following are five examples of the state of the Disaster from the latter half of the 2000s. Included is one remake, three films you may never have heard of but worth attention, and a film that you may have seen when it was first released in 2006.


Incendiary Disaster Movie Recommendations

‘Tidal Wave’ (Yoon Je-kyoon, 2009)

With a title like this, there’s no second guessing what this South Korean film is all about.

Billed as South Korea’s first disaster film ever, ‘Tidal Wave’ tells of the impending doom of a massive tsunami that is about to hit a popular and crowded vacation beach area. The town that will soon feel the full force of nature’s wrath is called Haeundae, which is not only a real area but also the original Korean title of the film when it was first released on its home turf.

The film is said to have been the most expensive movie produced in South Korea, though the producers, in an attempt to cut costs, insisted that all the actors perform their own stunts. The screenwriter, Kim-Whi, must have studied those early American disaster films and constructed his script to reflect the same formula.

The first hour sets up all the vacationing characters while the second half deals with the tidal wave and its aftermath, though instead of having one tsunami hit the beach, the writer included two more. Not wishing to be left out of the fun, he also wrote in a character with his own name. As for the tidal waves, they were filmed in California. The director used the water tanks from ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.’

‘Poseidon’ (Wolfgang Peterson, 2006)

Now we’re not sure exactly what happened here, but our best guess is that we were struck by what is known as a rogue wave…

The most interesting aspect about this remake of one of the most famous seventies disaster films of all is that despite it making back its massive budget at the world-wide box-office, most have either forgotten the film or perhaps have never realized there was a remake in the first place.

It didn’t have the star power of the original, and it may have unfairly received a nomination from the Golden Raspberry Awards for the Worst Remake or Ripoff, but the effects were superb and repeated viewings actually make it better.

The setup is the same. It’s New Year’s Eve on the luxury ocean liner The Poseidon and there’s an assortment of characters, each with their personal problems and dramas, ready to raise a toast to the end of Christmas and the coming of a new year. Then it happens. A rogue wave forms out of nowhere and hits the ship, turning it upside down.

The 98-minute feature was meant to be at least 20 minutes longer, but the studio wanted that wave to hit the ship sooner than director Wolfgang Peterson had constructed things. Despite his protests, the film was heavily re-edited, and even though the cutting may have slashed much of the dramatic character buildup prior to the wave hitting the ship, it didn’t spoil the outstanding effects. They were nominated for an Academy Award. 

As for director Peterson, he was furious with the studio’s interference and edits. To date, the celebrated director, famous for such films as ‘Das Boot,’ ‘Air Force One,’ and ‘The Perfect Storm,’ has never made another film.

‘The World Sinks Except Japan’ (Minoru Kawasaki, 2006)

Guess what happens in this film.

The whole world really does sink, except Japan which finds itself as the only place on the planet that can take in refugees from everywhere else. And that’s only the beginning of problems for the country; the experts suddenly discover that the land supporting Japan is rapidly floating out to the Pacific Ocean. Soon, they’ll be nowhere.

Believe it or not, this is actually a comedy. There was an earlier film called ‘Japan Sinks,’ and this Kawasaki-directed film was intended as a parody and a social satire on the problems of immigration, though in truth there appears to be little laughs. Perhaps things were lost in translation.

Still, while some may think of this as a missed comedic opportunity, and the effects tend to be a little cheesy, there’s still fun to be had as the whole world becomes waterlogged.

‘Rogue’ (Greg McLean, 2007)

One of the rules of my tour is that you have only one chance to complain about the heat and flies. They are a fact of life up here and whinging about them all day isn’t going to make them disappear…

The title refers not to a particular kind of tidal wave that can appear out of nowhere in the middle of the ocean but to a giant, man-eating Australian crocodile. There’s a story about a real-life giant croc down under that was known to attack all kinds of boats in Australia between 1974 and 1979. The Aussies affectionately named the croc Sweetheart, but in ‘Rogue’ there’s no affection found for the killer creature.

With star names such as Sam Worthington, Mia Wasikowska and Radha Mitchell, ‘Rogue’ surrounds the disaster that befalls a group of tourists trapped on an isolated beach when a giant killer crocodile corners them and gets ready to pounce.

Not surprisingly, the film did well on its native soil, but was virtually unknown everywhere else. In America, the film lasted little under a week before it was pulled from theatres, which is a shame because while it’s clearly no ‘Jaws,’ ‘Rogue’ is still a slick action/disaster film that genuinely excites.

And if you see the film and wonder how the soundtrack created that ear-piercing noise from violins, the musicians used knitting needles on the strings instead of bows.

‘United 93’ (Paul Greengrass, 2006)

Hey, this is a suicide mission. We have to do something. They are not gonna land this plane…

Out of all the films on this list, the one that you might have already seen is this one, but a second look with some new found knowledge will make all the difference.

United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked on September 11, 2001. Out of the four planes hijacked that day, it was the only one that did not reach its intended target. Instead, passengers bravely fought back. The plane crashed in Pennsylvania with no survivors. 

British director Paul Greengrass used his signature style of handheld photography to create the urgency of a documentary. Dialogue was mostly improvised during rehearsals, and while professional but mostly unknown actors were used as passengers, director Greengrass employed many of the real-life participants of that day in the control rooms to play themselves. Families of both passengers and crew members helped with the production. For further authenticity, the UA 93 flight crew was played entirely by real pilots and attendants.

Ironically, the Iraqi-born though London based actor, Lewis Alsamari, who played the lead hijacker, applied for an American visa in order to attend the premiere in New York. He was denied.


Places to Blow up, Buildings to Burn

The next five years would continue to prove an uneven flow of good disaster films, but the output never stopped.

When movies like ‘2012’ and all of those disaster/horror ‘Final Destination’ films continued to attract large attendances, as far as Hollywood was concerned, there was still a lot of places to blow up, buildings to burn and people to rescue. Stay tuned.

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