About Me

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Disaster Movies of Titanic Proportions

From The Onion's Our Dumb Century

The sinking of the RMS Titanic was a story so big and so tragic in its day that even one hundred years plus four days later, people lime me are still blogging about it.  The demise of the White Star Line's flagship on its maiden voyage in 1912 went on to become story that even influenced our very culture. I first heard about The Titanic when I was 5 or 6. The disaster was sounded so culturally archetypal (that's the exact wording I used at 6 years old) that, for the longest time, I thought it was a story from the Bible. No doubt the "God Himself couldn't sink her" line has something to do with that . After all, the good book is full of people challenging God's power and living to regret it big time, usually via some form of flood, plague or other Act of God (which, BTW, has always sounded like the kind of thing that goes down in an abusive relationship, but that's a whole other blog post).

Of course, there are the movies that are based on the event itself, like A Night to Remember and that one there that's one of James Cameron's early low budget art house movies from his pre-Avatar period.  More than that, though, the sinking of the Titanic has influenced movies in terms of both theme and narrative. Particularly prevalent are movies from the pinnacle of the 70's disaster movie craze that are filled with themes of decadence combined with human technological hubris. Like, you know, the hubris of, say, building ridiculously large ships that don't have even enough lifeboats on board because, after all, "God Himself couldn't sink her" and then decadently partying it up on said ship till an iceberg comes along and sets things straight.

These themes are, of course, most often seen in disaster movies, most especially one made sure the height of the genre's popularity in the 1970's.

Here's three for instances...

The Poseidon Adventure

Many of the 70's disaster movies are essentially the Titanic in a different context. Case in point, The Poseidon Adventure.

Producer Irwin Allen's  spectacular 1972  disaster movie even keeps the passenger liner setting of its inspiration. The ship in question is the mythologically monikered SS Poseidon. While on a New York to Athens cruise, The Poseidon gets hit by one of the biggest tidal waves ever recorded. Of course, the wave doesn't just chose to hit the boat at any old time. No, the great waters of the world decide to flex their aquatic muscles just moments after midnight on New Year's Eve. In a heavily ramped-up sequence of stunts and screaming, many people are brutally killed on what some might call the Worst New Year's Eve Ever. The survivors must find their way to the "bottom" of the ship, which, of course in now the "top" of the ship before the whole kit and caboodle (oh, yes, the caboodle too) sinks. And all the while, everyone is in their nice fancy-pantsed tuxedos and hoity-toity evening gowns. It all makes for a very Titanic paradigm. That, and the whole movie is a blatantly flimsy excuse to show Ernest Borgnine running around in his undershirt for two hours.

Not to be confused with its two 2005 remakes.

The Towering Inferno

Irwin Allen is at it again. And this time it's 1974.

This disaster of Titanic proportion gets out of the water and into the world's tallest building. Set in San Francisco, The Towering Inferno features a 138 story marvel of modern architecture that was at the time the world's tallest fictional skyscraper. A second tower, not quite as tall, stands next to it. The "twin towers" of the film are a fairly obvious allegory to then just opened World Trade Center in NYC; a veiled comment on how buildings as tall as those of the World Trade Center towers were, ultimately, doomed to disaster.

No comment.

Due to some shoddy wiring by a crooked contractor, a small electrical fire breaks out on the 79th floor. Only it doesn't stay small for long. This, of course, happens on the opening night (ie: maiden voyage) of the skyscraper . The top floor of the, as it is refereed to in the film, Glass Tower is filled with San Francisco's decadent social elite. Everyone is all feted up in their decadent evening gowns and tuxedos, 70's style (and, oh yeah, there's some kitschily hideous clothes on display in this movie).

Of course, the building is too tall for any of the fire engine ladders to reach high enough to rescue anyone. So that leaves us with a lot of people running around on fire and some spectacular failed rescue attempts in the form of fiery helicopter crashes.

The Towering Inferno features one of the most impressive casts that big Hollywood money can buy: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, William Holden, Robert Wagner and, filling out the historical irony department, O.J. Simpson.

Speaking of the historical irony department, the 70's disaster movie genre may have, from a 21st century stand point, gotten very disturbing. The Airport series of movies, which depicted many innovative airborne disasters, were also very popular at the time (though, thematically speaking, not quite Titanic enough for this post). At one point, the series producer's idea for next film in the Airport franchise would have involved a 747 passenger jet crashing into -wait for it- the world's tallest skyscraper. The Airport producers ditched the idea when they heard that The Towering Inferno was in the works.

Good thing. That movie woulda been a bit too creepily prescient all around. And just imagine what those video rental figures would have been like on September 12, 2001.

Raise The Titanic

Raise The Titanic is a disaster of a different sort; a disaster at the box office, involving both hubris and decadence.

This 1980 film was based on the bestselling novel of the same name by author Clive Cussler. After Raise The Titanic, Cussler did not allow another one of his books to be adapted to the big screen ever again. The only exception being Sahara in 2005, and even then Cussler sued over it.

As the title suggests, the film is about an attempt to raise the Titanic from its watery grave (nobody tell James Cameron about that idea). Through a convoluted series of plot thickening events, it is discovered that not only is there this rare fictional mineral that's really important to American national defence tech but that the only known samples of this mineral were on board the RMS Titanic when that iceberg went and sunk it. Suddenly, the Americans and Russians are in a race to find the Titanic and raise it from the bottom of the ocean. The Americans, led by badass Logan's Run Sandman Richard Jordan and a slumming Jason Robards, find the Titanic first.

They finally (SPOILER ALERT) succeed in raising the ship. However, when doing so, they conveniently skip over the fact the Titanic's hull was split in two when it sunk. That plot point might be a passable bit of artistic license were it not for the fact that there is a scene where they actually show footage taken from a submarine that shows the Titanic in two pieces on the ocean floor.

The critical and financial success of Raise The Titanic, or lack thereof,  is where the hubris and decadence bit comes in. In 1980, the movie cost an estimated $40 million to make. To date, the film has only made back $13 million worth of that initial investment. Those numbers include the era of Beta, VHS, laser discs, DVD, Blu-ray, cable movie channels, Netflix, digital downloads and the financial bump of just about any movie with the word "Titanic" in the title that came in the wake of Cameron's 1997 blockbuster. The almost total failure of Raise The Titanic drove both Cussler and veteran British film producer Lord Grade out of the movie business entirely.

Raise The Titanic is also historically significant in another way. It was nominated for Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay and Worst Supporting Actor at the 1st Annual Golden Raspberry Awards.

I'd only seen bits and pieces of Raise The Titanic on TV once or twice so I decided it was only fair to seek  it out and watch it. As is often the case with bad movie hype, it really wasn't THAT bad. Not the greatest movie I've ever seen but certainly no insert your favourite go-to big budget movie that bombed here either.

I'll be back with some more Disaster Movies of Titanic Proportions for the 200th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic...


  1. Your remarks about the Titanic being broken apart are irrelevant to this movie. Had you done all of your homework you would know that the real Titanic wreck was not discovered until 1985. Even that first year after discovery the broken hull remained ambiguous. Raise the Titanic was produced in 1979-80 and at that time the common accepted theory was that she sank intact. There is no scene in Raise the Titanic showing the hull in two pieces. No "broken" model was ever constructed for the movie and the original 55-foot model sat abandoned on the studio backlot in Malta for years until it rusted away. When you take it upon yourself to profess such bombastic statements of fact, as here, you should make sure it really is fact.