I have always been a big fan of disaster movies. Of course, it is escapism – and maybe as a professor put it on Livescience.com, that “the apocalypse is always reserved for ‘the other,’” but these movies are also a welcome respite from today’s actual mayhem. You can be sure that Contagion won’t appear on this list, but let’s delve into Disaster Movies: Take Five.
The Wave is a 2015 Norwegian disaster film directed by Roar Uthaug. It was on a list of top 10 foreign disaster films, so I decided to give it a try. My son, who also likes a good disaster film, watched it with me and quickly moved past the subtitle issue. Normally, I like my disasters relatively implausible, but in this case – if you live in the Norwegian tourist town of Geiranger, catastrophe is nearer than you want.
The real-life town is in danger of landslides from the nearby mountain Åkerneset into the fjord. The collapse might cause a tsunami that could destroy Geiranger. It is such a concern that sirens have been installed in the town to warn residents of a landslide.
I probably do not have to tell you what happens. The only person who has an inkling that something awful is afoot is Kristian Eikjord, a geologist wrapping up his last day on the job in Geiranger to move to big time Stavanger to work in oil. And true to form, everybody (including his boss, his wife and sullen teenage son) thinks he is a little nuts until it is almost too late.
When the siren sounds, residents and tourists have 10 minutes to get 300 feet above sea level to escape. I won’t tell you what happens, but it is worth a watch.
Snakes on a Plane
Maybe it is to my credit that I had never seen this 2006 American film directed by David R. Ellis, although I was familiar with Samuel L. Jackson’s famous line about motherf*cking snakes on a motherf*cking plane. Still, one late night it drew me in.
A vicious mobster releasing hundreds of jacked up poisonous snakes on a plane carrying the only witness to a murder he committed is not a likely scenario, but this flick scared my teen a lot more than a killer tsunami. Maybe it was all the jump scares.
There were a lot of guilty pleasures in this – including an early role for Friday Night Lights star Taylor Kitsch who makes the cardinal mistake of joining the mile high club and disengaging the smoke detector so he could smoke a joint to boot. Enter all the motherf*cking snakes.
The solution to eliminate all of them does not seem remotely possible but it did give my favorite SNL character, Kenan Thompson, the opportunity to land the plane with the experience he gained playing video games. I also liked how it provided Samuel L. Jackson’s character a little flirtation – which he never gets – with the head stewardess, played by Julianna Margulies.
Not a choice for a family friendly movie night, but guilty fun on the right night.
This 2008 American film directed by Matt Reeves, and produced by J.J. Abrams, was my teen’s choice from seeing clips on You Tube. I was not that thrilled about it, but it quickly grew on me. Much like 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, the suspense is heightened because you’re watching “found” camcorder footage, taken by the most annoying member of a group of friends trying to escape a chaos ridden New York. The monster, when finally seen, is not that scary. I thought he had a face like Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon, but the little creatures that pour off him like fleas freaked me out, and the carnage they all inflict was Godzilla-like.
I also liked the fact that none of the leads are well known so I bought into their experience more. The love story appealed to me at least, and the movie features one of the gnarlier death scenes, made less gory by the fact it happens behind a curtain.
My kid tells me that there are two more movies and a complicated mythology about how the monster came to New York, but I just enjoyed it as a standalone.
Remember when 2012 was the year people thought might be terrible? At least director Roland Emmerich wanted you to think so. 2012 was released in 2009 and was the fifth highest engrossing film that year. And John Cusack is the protagonist. Enough said.
This was a Thanksgiving blockbuster, so the destruction occurs on a global scale. It starts with the knowledge of one man, a geologist (again) played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. In 2009, he discovers that the Earth’s crust is becoming volatile after a solar flare caused by an alignment of the planets. The government believes him – and in cooperation that nowadays defies belief – gets to work on a plan with other world powers to save humanity. Or at least some of it. Think Noah’s Ark times nine.
The bottom falls out (literally) three years later and frustrated novelist Cusack somehow manages to get his ex-wife Amanda Peet and their kids to the finish line. Also, Woody Harrelson chews the scenery in a most satisfying way as the knew-it-was-coming-and-went-crazy guy in Yellowstone who can only watch in amazement now that the apocalypse is finally here.
We made it past you 2012. It was 2020 that knocked us for a loop.
One disaster/comedy movie that has not lost its charm is 1990’s Tremors, directed by Ron Underwood and starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as “Val” McKee and Earl Basset, one of the best buddy duos ever.
The disaster is local, or at least it is once the residents of Perfection, Nevada destroy the three giant worm-like creatures that are creating havoc and cutting the town’s handful of residents off from both civilization and help.
This scenario might be one of the only times I would be glad to have the town’s paranoid, arsenal owning survivalists Burt and Heather Gummer as neighbors. They are played by Family Ties dad Michael Gross and Reba McEntire and their “Elephant Gun” saves the day, at least once.
Val and Earl may not be Mensa level intellects, but they are smart and brave enough to save the day, with the help of a seismologist (let’s hear it for the scientists) played by Finn Carter. The scientist is also the first serious girl Val has ever fallen for.
Bacon did not return for Tremors 2, which was released to video, as were the six after that. Tremors: Shrieker Island was released direct-to-video just a few days ago on October 20, 2020. Just in case you can’t get enough of those worms.