Blu-ray Review: Earthquake (Collector’s Edition)

Impending natural disasters have become big business for new channels as audiences are glued to updates on the force of nature working across the map. Whether it be hurricanes, blizzards, wildfires or tornadoes, the channel interrupts normal broadcasts for days with wall to wall coverage and predictions of who will get hit next. But earthquakes don’t have an early tracking system. There’s no earthquake season. At any minute a fault line can shift and you can feel the earth move. We feel that only California suffers them, but the ground has wiggled all across the country over the last decade. Sometimes you think it’s just a big truck driving past your house. After the eighth call from an out of state relative checking to see if you survive, you realize it was an earthquake. Back in 1974, Los Angeles was the place people expected to be shaken into the sea. During the glory days of disaster film, Hollywood showed us what would happens when the Big One hit Tinseltown with an all star cast in Earthquake.

A slight tremor hits Los Angeles, but nobody seems to concerned. People go along with their ordinary day. Stewart Graff (Planet of the Apes‘ Charlton Heston) gets tired of arguing his wife Remy (The Night of the Iguana‘s Ava Gardner) and skips off to visit the widow of a co-worker (Dead Ringers‘ Geneviève Bujold) to give her kid a signed football. Daredevil Miles Quade (Shaft‘s Richard Roundtree) prepares his big motorcycle stunt for a Las Vegas Casino representative with the help of Rosa (Dallas‘ Victoria Principal). Jody Joad (Food of the Gods‘ Marjoe Gortner) endures another day of being picked on by the guys at the boarding house and bitter customers at the grocery store. Sam Royce (Bonanza‘s Lorne Greene) heads up to the top of a skyscraper with his employees for the perfect view of the city. Only people who don’t think it’s a normal day in La La Land are scientists monitoring seismic activity. They think a big one is impending, but who listens to scientists with a hunch? Millions of people are caught off guard when the world begins to toss and turn. While previous quakes are small, this shaking goes on for what seems to be eternity. Even when things calm down, even worse is coming from buildings and people. Miles’ big break is shattered when his stunt structure gets twisted. Joad gets called up to restore law and order in his National Guard uniform. He gets a does of revenge in the aftermath. He even gets a chance to get to know Rosa a little bit better as he “protects” her in the wreckage. Sam has serious issues trying to escape from the skyscaper that has emergency issues. Stewart has to choose between getting his wife to safety or focus on the sweet widow. As people struggle to find safety, the city has little clue that the nearby hydro electric dam is having serious structural issues. The nightmare isn’t close to ending.

Earthquake really allows viewers to get deep into the devestation. They’re been plenty of disaster movies in the CGI era, but somehow they lack the destructive joy seen in Earthquake with the models and matte paintings. There’s an artist stroke on the screen capturing the collapsing chaos. Charlton Heston gets to do his last real man on Earth character once more. There’s less of a nobility to him on the screen this time since his character seems begging for the quake to claim his wife since that would be “nicer” than a divorce. The real star of the film is Marjoe Gortner. He’s a sad character at the start of the film who everyone wants to bully. But once he gets in uniform and armed with an automatic weapon, he’s ready to not keep the peace, but discharge justice. He gets to live the life he’s been denied. He wants Rosa to be his woman as he becomes the man in the ruins of Los Angeles. He snaps when he gets enough power to snatch people for looting. Sadly Gortner’s amazing performance didn’t get recognized because half the cast of The Godfather Part II was given nominations for Best Supporting Actor. Director Mark Robson got his start making the horror films for Val Lewton that are currently being released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory.

What makes Earthquake: Collector’s Edition a must have is that it contains both versions of the film. First there’s the original theatrical cut with its legendary Sensurround sound that made your molars rumble as the screen shook. But there’s also the version of the film that aired on television back in 1976 when the movie ran as a two night event. This was a popular thing as TV stations wanted you to come back for an extra night of viewing like a mini-series. What’s interesting is that instead of dipping into deleted scenes, they created two whole new sequences that were filmed 1.33:1 for TV so they can’t be slid into the theatrical cut. One is about a couple flying into Los Angeles and the other is Jody stalking Rosa before the earthquake hits. This great for those who remember it at home instead of the drive-in. Earthquake still shakes after all these years.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic for the theatrical version. The TV version is 1.33:1 just like you saw it on your parents’ TV in the rumpus room in 1976. The transfer brings out the details of Los Angeles getting ripped apart and smashed. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.1 With Sensurround Audio and 2.0. Put your woofer to the test with the Sensurround option. The movie is subtitled in English.

Original Theatrical Trailer (2:52) promises a massive blockbuster with a script from Mario Puzo of The Godfather. You’re going to see and feel the movie.

Original TV Spot (0:57) is a motion picture event. The announcer might be Ernie Anderson (the father of Paul Thomas Anderson), the voice of ABC who said, “The Love Boat!”

Original Radio Spots (4:06) might be Ernie again swearing you’ll feel like you lived through an earthquake.

Vintage Audio Interviews With Charlton Heston (3:48), Lorne Greene (5:08), And Richard Roundtree (4:02) are what radio stations could use to fake like their local newscaster was talking to the stars on a junket.

Still Galleries includes Movie Stills, Posters, Lobby Cards, Behind-The-Scenes Photos, Matte Paintings, and Miniatures. You get a real sense of what went into making the film happen. The models of collapsed buildings are the best.

Sounds Of Disaster (11:19) allows Ben Burtt to discuss the glory of SENSURROUND. He speaks of how this bass effect was created and presented in studios.

Scoring Disaster: The Music Of EARTHQUAKE (16:42) is an appreciation of John Williams’ compositions. We get a history of how he worked up from being a studio pianist.

Painting Disaster (10:36) breaks down the matte art Of Albert Whitlock. How did he paint the background to make things look like a massive destruction. Whitlock worked on the camera negative to get things looking realistic.

The Additional TV Scenes (23:43) allows you to watch all the extra moments in the TV version without rewatching the entire film. You get a sense that the new elements include a lot of recap for viewers who just tuned into the film.

Additional TV Scenes are taken from the best available elements, but not as good as the TV version. First is a scene with the bullies in a pawn store (7:14) looking for a watch. It’s rather long and uneventful. The second (1:40) is a different cut of the jet plane dealing with the runway falling apart.

Shout! Factory presents Earthquake: Collector’s Edition. Directed by Mark Robson. Screenplay by: George Fox & Mario Puzo. Starring: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Geneviève Bujold, Richard Roundtree & Marjoe Gortner. Rated: PG. Running Time: 122 minutes. Released: May 21, 2019.

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