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Good Disaster Movies (2010-15): Winds, Waves & Fires, Oh My!

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David Appleford itcherAfter almost forty years of trying to reclaim the momentum of its heyday and never quite getting there, by the time 2010 rolled around, the Hollywood studios decided there was only one thing to do when it came to the disaster genre – forget a formula, just throw everything out there for all tastes, low or high brow, and see what happens. This is what followed. ~ David Appleford

A Disaster Makeover

First, there were the quality features where genres were mixed and given a disaster makeover. Even though he was a producer and not the director, ‘Super 8’ had all the hallmarks of a Steven Spielberg movie. The train crash was spectacular and the alien let loose on earth had some terrific special effects. It was also genuinely exciting.

‘World War Z’ mixed zombie horror with disaster, made filming in Glasgow look like they were in Philadelphia, and generally triumphed. Sandra Bullock became lost in disaster space in ‘Gravity’ earning Oscar nods, Dwayne Johnson helped save chunks of California in ‘San Andreas’ while other chunks crumbled and slid into the Pacific.

There was also some kind of fascination about everything coming to end. Seth Rogen and friends faced the apocalypse in the adolescent black comedy ‘This Is the End,’ Simon Pegg re-teamed with his friends and made the science fiction black comedy ‘The World’s End,’ and Steve Carell teamed with Keira Knightly for the mostly dramatic ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.’

Then, for whatever reason, there came an odd fascination with sharks, resulting with some truly awful material that somehow became a trend. It began with ‘Sharktopus,’ then ‘Mega Shark Versus Mecha Shark,’ ‘Snow Shark,’ ‘Swamp Shark’ and finally, the TV film that no one saw coming; ‘Sharknado’ where man-eating sharks actually fell from the sky.

Depending on mood, taste and the friends with whom you happen to be watching movies, all of the above should work – well, maybe not the ones about the flying sharks – but for five films you may have either missed or simply let slip by, consider these.


Terrific Disaster Movie Recommendations

‘The Tower’ (Kim Ji-hoon, 2012)

It’s Christmas Eve in Seoul and there’s a seasonal party for VIPs taking place in the luxurious 120 story building complex known as Tower Sky. But there’s a problem. Frozen pipes have led to faulty sprinkler systems just at the time when a helicopter crashes into the side of the tower, its fuel setting the building alight and trapping everyone inside. 

If the plot of this South Korean disaster thriller sounds a lot like ‘The Towering Inferno,’ mixed with the Christmas setting of the first ‘Die Hard,’ it’s not a coincidence. Director Kim Ji-hoon was actually inspired by the Irwin Allen 1974 classic and had always wanted to make a burning building movie, which is exactly what he did, even if it took thirty-eight years to start the fire.

The film may have too many characters, plus the buildup to get to know everyone before the fire is set ablaze may take longer than you would like, but the action, effects and big explosions as the body count grows is surprisingly effective. It broke box-office records in South Korea. And if subtitles are one of those things that just get in the way, here’s the perfect example of a foreign language film where you don’t have to read the words. Just watch the flames.

‘The Wave’ (Roar Uthaug, 2015)

As the title suggests, ‘The Wave’ is a disaster thriller about a small, Norwegian village with a big water problem. Some nearby rocks have crumbled and slid into a fjord, setting off a tsunami. Now, there’s a giant tidal wave heading towards the village and everyone needs to get out.

The director of ‘The Wave’ was a huge fan of Hollywood disasters and wanted to make his own, except that Norway had never produced a disaster movie. Uthaug, not wanting to repeat what he’d already seen, wasn’t sure what his subject could be. Then he read about a real-life 1934 tidal wave that wiped out a Norwegian town after a rock slide created a tsunami, and suddenly Uthaug had his film.

Even though the movie has done little business outside of its home-turf so far, critics from other countries gave ‘The Wave’ generally positive reviews, and with good reason. It’s a nail-biter. The effects are good and the emotional impact is far more effective than many of its Hollywood counterparts.

If you’re a movie buff who’s interested in seeing what drew Scandinavian audiences to a film that smashed Norwegian box-office records, look for ‘The Wave’ as soon as it appears on the rental shelf!

‘It’s a Disaster’ (Todd Berger, 2012)

So what you’re saying is that when we die we’re going to a place where 106 billion people are sitting around playing the harp. That would be really fucking annoying…

With a title like this, you’d think that the producers were asking for trouble, but once you realize you’re in for a comedy – a very black comedy – then it all fits.

Performed by a Los Angeles comedy group known as The Vacationers, including a few famous names like Julia Stiles, America Ferrera and David Cross, ‘It’s a Disaster’ tells of eight friends who regularly meet for personal, therapy purposes only to discover that on this particular day, small bombs containing chemical weapons are exploding all over major cities, including theirs. It looks like the world is about to end, and the house guests haven’t even eaten their meal yet.

The acting talent involved makes this festival circuit film fun, depending on your unconventional sense of humor, and to all surprised, it was well received! It may be a comedy, but there’s a lot of intelligence in the dialog. When the cast speculates what heaven might be like and what they’ll be wearing everyday in the afterlife and how good they might look in white, the humor – as odd as the whole thing really is – has a sudden ring of truth to it.

‘Into the Storm’ (Steven Quale, 2014)

Sir. I have been studying storms all my life, alright? This one is bigger than one that has ever been. Do you hear that? It will flatten this building in seconds…

When a clump of tornadoes and oversized hailstorms suddenly strike a small, Oklahoma town, a high-school principal is forced to act the hero and do what he can to save his pupils.

The plot is straightforward enough and many of the effects of flying vehicles and the overall damage done to small town Oklahoma are superior when compared to several other low-budget disaster films, so why did audiences stay away? Probably because of the device used to tell the story.

‘Into the Storm’ uses the tired found-footage formula where everything is seen either from the point of view of someone’s hand-held camera or from a cell phone. Frankly, it has already become a cliché. But at least when viewed on a small screen, the queasy and often nauseating impact of watching hand-held filmed movies is lessened considerably to the point where you can actually appreciate some of the big effects.

The sight of a 747 aircraft being blown away from its parked position at the local airport once the tornado hits is particularly impressive, though how such a small town in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma came to possess or need such a massive international looking airport with 747s parked on its runways is another matter.

‘The Impossible’ (J.A. Bayona, 2012)

Some of those stars have been burnt out for a long, long time. They’re dead, but once they were so bright that their light is still travelling through space. We can still see them…

Out of all the films in this recommended list, ‘The Impossible’ is probably the one you may know, or at least, it’s the film you may have heard about. To date, it has yet to make back its budget, suggesting that despite the hype and the publicity at the time of release, you probably never saw it, but you should. It packs a wallop.

Like the Norwegian movie ‘The Wave,’ ‘The Impossible’ is a based-on-a-true-story disaster film about a tsunami taking place at Christmas. It happened in 2004. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play a married couple on vacation with the kids at a new resort in Thailand. Within two days of relaxing, a rogue wave hits the coast without notice.

There’s no buildup – it just happens. It devastates everything in its path, including the resort and the family who become washed away in a wall of water. The point of ‘The Impossible’ isn’t simply the survival of a massive wave; it’s trying to stay alive during the aftermath when pieces of floating debris come at you like projectiles at the speed of lightning.

The real story was based on a Spanish family, though for marquee value and box-office appeal, the leads and the film’s language were changed to English. Just about everything that you see is based on the real event. The real couple from Spain who survived the wave remained on the movie set throughout production, giving tips and letting the director know how things happened. As for the big moment when the tidal wave hits, planning for the one sequence took a year of preparation and could only be filmed once. Rebuilding the set for more takes was too expensive.


Back to the Future, Again

From this point, what will happen to the genre and where it will go is difficult to say. But one thing is clear: Audiences will always want to see a good disaster movie, which is why Russia is releasing its own version of ‘Earthquake’ and America is unleashing ‘The 5th Wave.’ 

And if neither of those two sounds appealing, there’s always another ‘Sharknado’ on the horizon. No kidding! Look for a third movie in the land-locked man-eating shark adventures. It’s called ‘Sharknado 3, Oh Hell No.’ I think the title pretty much sums it up.

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