Earthquake Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Shout! Factory
Directed by Mark Robson
Written by George Fox and Mario Puzo
1974, 122 minutes, Rated PG
Released on May 21st, 2019
Charlton Heston as Stuart Graff
Ava Gardner as Remy Graff
George Kennedy as Lou Slade
Lorne Greene as Sam Royce
Geneviève Bujold as Denise Marshall
Richard Roundtree as Miles Quade
Marjoe Gortner as Jody
Los Angeles, the City of Angels; full of sunshine and movie stars, the urban area is built on a fault line and lives under the constant threat of damaging earthquakes. Minor tremors strike every year, but the big one, the one that will sink the city remains a distant menace – until now. Earthquake sets the stage for a major disaster by first introducing audiences to a wide variety of everyday characters whose lives will intersect one fateful day. A construction engineer, a police officer, an actress, a daredevil and a soldier are some of the people we are following before the nightmare begins and we witness their survival attempts once all Hell breaks loose and the city falls apart.
Charlton Heston (In the Mouth of Madness) stars as Stuart Graff, a successful construction engineer caught in an unhappy marriage with his boss’ daughter. Ava Gardner (The Sentinel) is Stuart’s wife Remy, a drama queen with a taste for booze and a knack for causing trouble. Her father, Sam Royce (Lorne Greene, Battlestar Galactica), is CEO of the company and is offering Stuart a promotion to president, but he may just be trying to please his daughter. Elsewhere in the city, George Kennedy (Uninvited) plays Lou Slade, a police officer recently suspended and currently drowning his sorrows at the local bar. Meanwhile, aspiring daredevil Miles Quade (Richard Roundtree, Shaft) is preparing his next big motorcycle stunt. Geneviève Bujold (Obsession) is Denise Marshall, a single mother actress having an affair with Graff.
The earthquake hits in the middle of the day causing tremendous damage to the city leaving countless injured and scores dead. People work together to rescue those in need of assistance and get them to the hospital. Looming over all of this is the dam outside of town, damaged but intact for the moment. A series of aftershocks wreak more havoc and soon the city is facing another deadly challenge as the dam threatens to break. The hospital suffers structural impairment leaving many people trapped underground and it is up to Graff and Slade to lead rescue efforts as the clock is ticking.
In the 1970s, a series of event pictures struck gold at the box office with titles including The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974) and The Swarm (1978) pitting an all-star cast against insurmountable odds. Disaster movies were in vogue and Universal Pictures entered the fray with Earthquake (1974), a high-stakes environmental thriller that followed the established template faithfully. Seasoned director Mark Robson (Isle of the Dead) helms this grand adventure with confidence, working from a script co-written by Mario Puzo (The Godfather). As an added draw for audience turnout, the studio created a new advance in audio presentation called Sensurround, a process that would vibrate the theater during key action sequences.
This is a sprawling story that follows a diverse group of people on the worst day of their lives. The setup takes a little while of course, but Robson keeps things interesting and once the quake hits the pace picks up considerably. There are a number of big action scenes in the picture, highlighted by the use of elaborate miniatures and beautiful matte paintings. I have a soft spot for disaster movies and this one tries really hard to please. While not as compelling as the competition, Earthquake remains a satisfying viewing experience that is worth checking out. If you’ve only heard of this one, I can easily recommend picking it up and giving it a shake.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the picture has undergone a 2K scan and restoration of the original film elements. Colors are strong and flesh tones appear natural throughout. There is plenty of small object detail and the special effects shots look terrific.
The film’s original Sensurround mix is offered here in a DTS-HD MA 2.1 track that provides added rumble to key sequences. A traditional DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix is provided as is an expanded DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track which stretches the action to the rear speakers. All three options are winners, but I default to the 5.1 mix.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Earthquake arrives in an all-new 2-disc Collector’s Edition with special features spread across both discs. Disc one brings the original theatrical cut (122 minutes) of the film while disc two provides the expanded TV edit (152 minutes). The extended version includes additional footage shot to pad the running time so the film could be played over two nights.
A collection of vintage audio interviews with members of the cast has been digitally restored and appears to be radio segments used to promote the film. Up first is Charlton Heston (4 minutes), who talks about his character, his physical fitness and the importance of a strong director.
Actor Lorne Greene (5 minutes) discusses the plot of Earthquake and shares his thoughts on the differences of working in film and on television. He is impressed by the special effects and Sensurround presentation and he also stresses the importance of giving back to the community.
Richard Roundtree (4 minutes) reflects on riding dirt bikes, proper exercise and the threat of real quakes.
A collection of five still galleries gathers assorted images of various aspects of the production. The first set offers an array of movie stills and promotional images (9 minutes). Next is a brief collection of shots from some deleted scenes (1 minute). These are followed by some behind-the-scenes photos (3 minutes) and another showcasing the matte paintings and miniatures (3 minutes). Lastly, we get a look at the marketing campaign with international poster art and lobby cards (10 minutes).
The original theatrical trailer is paired with a TV spot and seven radio ads.
Sensurround is the focus of the all-new featurette Sounds of Disaster (11 minutes), featuring an interview with legendary sound designer Ben Burtt (Star Wars). He reveals the process that went into developing the program and how it influenced modern audio techniques. This is a really interesting piece and Burtt is a master of the craft. Check it out.
Film and music historian Jon Burlingame offers a video appreciation of the work of composer John Williams in Scoring Disaster: The Music of Earthquake (17 minutes).
In Painting Disaster (11 minutes), visual effects artist Bill Taylor provides a look back at the work of industry giant Albert Whitlock who provided the numerous matte paintings in the film. He describes how the process works and there are several before and after images provided for clarity.
Earthquake was shot in the widescreen format (2.35:1 aspect ratio) but presented on television in a standard full frame (1.33:1) image. This process always led to unsatisfying results but was the norm before widescreen TVs became standard. For anyone interested in seeing the additional TV scenes of the extended cut without watching two-and-one-half hours of movie, the footage has been included separately here. Highlights include an alternate opening, a subplot involving newlyweds on an airplane and added screen time for some minor characters before the quake hits.
Two additional TV scenes were damaged and unable to be incorporated into the film and are presented separately from the best available film elements. They include a scene in a pawn shop and some more material aboard the airplane.
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