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Be Prepared: Disaster Movie 101

March 31, 2010

California bites it in 2012.

Disaster movies are one of my favorite genre of films. Especially disaster movies that are totally implausible, based on some dubious rejected scientific theory, ridden with low quality special effects, and feature wooden acting. There are a few elements of disaster movies that happen pretty much across the board.

1. Everything happens “too far ahead of schedule”. Scientists in disaster movies always plot out how the disaster is going to go, how long it’s going to take to get really bad, and what all the catastrophic events before the main disaster will be. Ostensibly to add drama, the timeline is always inaccurate and there’s a lot of yelling at the scientists by the military brass who are always involved. Then the military wants to do something really dramatic and potentially devastating without considering the negative side effects on the Earth. Like say, detonating nuclear weapons. Which brings me to…

2. The solution to almost every problem in a disaster movie involves detonating a nuclear weapon. The San Andreas Fault is causing earthquakes at 10.5 on the Richter scale? We need to get some nukes down in that sucker. A supernova blast is threatening the Earth? Detonate some nukes in the magnetosphere to filter out the cosmic radiation! The core of the Earth stopped rotating? We need to nuke it to “jump start” it spinning again. A giant asteroid/comet/meteor is headed straight for Earth? Let’s break that baby up with some nukes. I mean really, is there nothing nuclear weapons can’t solve?

3. Discredited or dubious scientific theories make for good disaster scenarios. Roland Emmerich, the king of over budget disaster films, knows this well. In The Day After Tomorrow, the “superstorms” and hurricanes over land are ideas posited by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber in the book The Coming Global Superstorm. You may know Whitley Strieber as “that dude who was abducted by aliens and then wrote “Communion”, that book with the scary alien head on the cover”. Art Bell did a radio show, Coast to Coast A.M., about conspiracy theories, aliens, psychic phenomena, etc. These are not scientists and that book is not a thesis. The events in Emmerich’s 2012 are based on Earth Crust Displacement Theory, aka Cataclysmic Pole Shift Hypothesis, which was written about by Graham Hancock in his book Fingerprints of the Gods. Dude is not a scientist, the hypothesis doesn’t really hold water, but it makes for a really good (bad) disaster movie.

4. No matter what the main disaster is, Los Angeles always gets wiped out. It could be a supernova, tornadoes, a shower of comet debris, a volcano, or just a good old earthquake, but L.A. is going to get it. Or, all of California is just going to straight up fall into the ocean. People are dying to see this happen, like L.A. needs some kind of comeuppance.

5. When the going gets tough, a black guy is President. Mirroring our situation of today, whenever we’re faced with some kind of catastrophic situation, somehow a black man gets to preside over it. Two movies that come to mind are 2012 and Deep Impact with Danny Glover and Morgan Freeman respectively.

6. And finally, if there’s a ship and crew involved, maybe one person is going to make it home, if that. There’s a whole lot of heroism going on. In Sunshine, a movie in which the crew has to go “jump start” the sun with a giant presumably nuclear weapon, no one went home. They got picked off one by one. The crew sent to, again, “jump start” the outer core of the Earth in The Core got off a little easier, 2 of the 7 people made it back. Of course they were both young and attractive (Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank). See also Armageddon, Deep Impact, etc. etc.

There’s so many more disaster movie clichés, but this is just a 101 class.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2010 2:59 pm

    Seriously. I love this post like crazy. I just spent an hour pouring over bad disaster movies on Netflix with my girlfriend so we can take them to the beach next weekend for a marathon. Once, on a particularly bad day, she and I made little flags that said “You’ll never make it!” and “Enjoy the view while you can!” and “DIE!!!!!!” and curled up on the couch and watched Deep Impact, waving them at the appropriate scenes, simply because it was nice to remember that it could be worse. 😉

  2. March 31, 2010 4:05 pm

    Girl, you ain’t never lied. Danny and Morgan getting some jacked up shit.

  3. March 31, 2010 4:16 pm

    I love talking to the screen during disaster movies. So many scenes deserve commentary.

  4. March 31, 2010 4:17 pm

    You know? Maybe that’s why Barack got elected. Folks are used to a black guy handling the fuckedupedness.

  5. araymondjohnson permalink
    March 31, 2010 4:20 pm

    I went home for Thanksgiving and saw family I’d been fairly estranged from for years and years, and on the last night we went out to the movies and saw 2012 and we all really, really loved it, and I thought, I guess I am related to these people after all.

    I love fake science!!!!

  6. March 31, 2010 4:28 pm

    Roland loves him some disaster! Ever since Independence Day, he’s been keeping it real fucked up in a variety of cheesetastic ways.

  7. March 31, 2010 4:36 pm

    He knows disasters! I wish he had directed 2012: Supernova because that could have been a much better bad movie.

  8. March 31, 2010 4:37 pm

    All of Earth’s crust moving at the same time! Solar flares heating the core! The North Pole is now in Wisconsin! Ahh, implausibility.

  9. evmaroon permalink
    March 31, 2010 4:42 pm

    ZOMG, I never thought about the nuclear option–you’re so right!! Nukes and California, weird. Maybe the Hollywood studios didn’t want to travel far to shoot scenes?

    I would also like to say here that I really like the original disaster movies, like the Poseiden Adventure, Towering Inferno, and Airport. I think we lose something with these remakes, cuz nobody duplicates Ms. Shelley Winters, know what I’m saying?

    Also also, good point about the ships, and I think it extends into sci fi and horror, like Ghost Ship (so glad Joanna Marguiles has a better gig now with The Good Wife), Alien, Aliens, 2001, just to name a few.

  10. March 31, 2010 4:43 pm

    Shelley Winters, the magical fatty!

  11. March 31, 2010 4:53 pm

    I’m particularly in love with more recent disaster movies because I’m a science nerd and there’s not a lot of science talk in older disaster movies. However, they are still supremely entertaining because the special effects are even worse, the budgets were lower, and they’re ripe with opportunities to yell at the screen.

  12. hsofia permalink
    March 31, 2010 6:33 pm

    I heart this post because I heart disaster movies, and it is so on point! I heart the scene when the President gets the bad news and gets all grim and stares out the window with his chest poked out.

  13. June 28, 2010 10:43 am

    I love your point about LA always being destroyed, and maybe people think they deserve their comeuppance. Especially considering most of these movies are made by people who live in LA. I think they must realize they deserve to be destroyed for foisting so many terrible movies on us.

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