Construction Engineer Stuart Graff is estranged from his jealously possessive wife, Remy, and has an affair with Denise Marshall, the widow of a co-worker. Meanwhile, Remy tries to persuade her father, Sam Royce, who is Stuart's employer, to use his influence to stop Stuart from seeing Denise. Rogue policeman Lew Slade is suspended from the L.A.P.D. for having punched an obtuse officer from another jurisdiction. Embittered, Slade contemplates quitting the police force. Jody, a perverted grocery store manager, lusts after Rosa Amici, sister of Sal, the assistant to Miles Quade, an aspiring daredevil motor cyclist. The lives of all these people are devastated when a major earthquake rips through Los Angeles and reduces the city to ruins.
Directed by: Mark Robson
. Starring: Charlton Heston
, Ava Gardner
, George Kennedy
, Lorne Greene
, Geneviève Bujold
, Richard Roundtree
, Marjoe Gortner
, Barry Sullivan
, Lloyd Nolan
, Victoria Principal
, Walter Matthau
, Monica Lewis
, Gabriel Dell
. Music by: John Williams
"Earthquake" belongs to that wave of disaster films that shook up the world of filmmaking in the early 70's. It all started with the surprisingly Best Picture nominated "Airport" that set up the pattern of a series of movies where natural elements terrified an audience hungry for new sensations. As if watching characters drowning in "The Poseidon Adventure", burning alive of jumping out of buildings in "Towering Inferno" or getting tons of concrete on their heads in "Earthquake" exorcised people's inner fears by turning them into a form of sadistic escapism and entertainment.
Or maybe this is too much thinking of Hollywood and it's fair to assume that through the success of the disaster sub-genre, just like the vigilante movies, they have literally struck the Mother Lode, then a film about the 'Big One' was inevitable. This is not meant to diminish at all the value of such premise; after all, "The Towering Inferno" did exactly the same thing and met with the same fate than "Airport", being nominated for Best Picture along with "Chinatown" and "The Godfather Part II". But "Earthquake" doesn't play on the same league at all. The 1990 version was thousand miles better and more spectacular, 16 years later maybe but it was made for TV!
The main difference between "Inferno" and "Earthquake", released the same year, lies on their psychological approach. While "Inferno" exploits the natural fear of fire and pushes it to the most extreme situations, in "Earthquake", the characters mostly deal with the aftermath, getting out a bridge, descending a building literally cut in two, digging a tunnel and even deal with those who 'snapped' and revealed the darkest side of their nature after enlisting in the National Reserve. So apart from a spectacular 10-minute sequence where most of Los Angeles is destroyed, the rest of the film could as well be set in dystopia.
But the earthquake part is overall satisfying, buildings and bridges collapse, people are buried alive under rock or earth, glasses get shattered, electricity and water become redoubtable killers, elevators are lethal traps where either you die suffocating, drowning or in pieces ... the film doesn't spare its imagination, and you got it for your money. The special effects vary from extremely convincing to disastrously laughable -I guess if I mention the two words: blood and elevator- you'd get it. But in these times were CGI were not even in its infancy, I concede that the images must have been quite a kill for the 70's.
The problem with the film is that it doesn't try to dig deeper in the many possibilities it offers. Fear must be the very ingredient of disastrous films, and you can get more thrills for moments of pure expectations. Apart from a few tremors that take you in a mild surprise, "Earthquake" doesn't capture that horrific vibe that you get when you have the feeling that earth is shaking, something most viewers can relate to. At the end, it's just an exercise in grandiose filmmaking and mass destruction that doesn't leave much to root our imagination and basic feelings into. Our eyes are hooked, but there is something in the story that leaves both heart and mind in a state of unfulfilled hunger. And maybe characterization is to blame.
The irony is that despite its A-casting, the film doesn't get rid of its B-movie feel. Charlton Heston is an engineer married to Ava Gardner, she's like a fifty-something version of Martha from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf", although she looks much older and makes her casting as the daughter of a 6O-year old Lorne Greene comical if it wasn't so ridiculous. But Gardner wasn't the most miscast character, believe it or not, she did bring the most reliable emotions in the film, the rest of the cast includes Genevieve Bujold as Heston's mistress, the widow of a former colleague. Heston takes care of her out of guilt, but his reluctance to play a cheating husband shows and sweeps off every ounce of chemistry with Bujold.
However, George Kennedy is perfect as a the tough, bulky but well-meaning cop, naturally suspended because of violent behavior, and Victoria Principal, unbelievably beautiful and desperately unharmed despite all the hell she went through. The all-star cast seems like consisting to throw away big names and pretend we would care for them, but it all depends on the performances, and they are unequal. Bujold does her best to save her little boy before the providential rescue of Richard Roundtree as a stunt driver, but the kid was so dull and bland I almost regretted he wasn't the typical smart-ass. It didn't even help that the film featured many actors at the peak of their careers but whose appeal can hardly translate to today's audience.
However, I've got to hand it to the film; it has one hell of an ending. Notorious for his straight-laced opinions, Heston demanded that his character would die rather than surviving his wife. He suggested the idea of having his character being killed while trying to desperately rescue his wife from drowning, abandoning the chance of happiness in the name of his marital vows. He plunged himself to a certain death but that transcended the tragedy of his character and create an even more shocking impact, had he survived like any typical hero. His death echoes the heroic demise of Frank Scott in "The Poseidon Adventure" but it allows the film to end in the kind of depressing, yet satisfying note, characters arc-wise.
It was the perfect idea to let the last word for George Kennedy, who, despite his physical and manly strength can hardly prevent himself for crying while realizing what Los Angeles has become. It's true some flaws can easily be redeemed by a powerful ending; the last minute of "Earthquake", with all its nihilistic material drowns the technical and written imperfection as effectively as the Manhattan Den sends the water down L.A.
Review by ElMaruecan82 from the Internet Movie Database.