Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Crack In the World (1965) review


Dana Andrews (Dr. Stephen Sorenson), Janette Scott (Dr. Maggie Sorenson), Kieron Moore (Dr. Ted Rampion), Alexander Knox (Sir Charles Eggerston)

Directed by Andrew Marton

"...Where the land mass is split, the oceans will be sucked in...and the colossal pressure generated by the steam will rip the Earth apart...and destroy it."

The Short Version: Riveting and thoroughly enjoyable sci fi disaster picture that shares far more in common with the extravagance of George Pal than the chintziness of Irwin Allen. This sadly obscure TV mainstay from the UK is a perfect matinee popcorn picture that delivers a grandly epic storyline even if the science is more fiction now than fact. The script and performances are too good to levy too much complaint on scientific accuracy from a film of this vintage. If geophysics aren't your specialty, then it won't matter, anyway, just sit back and enjoy the show.

A scientific lab located in Africa two miles below the Earth's surface discover a vast mass of magma, which can be used as a new source of energy that could provide an unlimited supply for the planets population. The problem is reaching it. A solution is suggested that using an atomic missile can successfully penetrate this last and relatively thin, but troublesome layer of the Earth's crust with minimal danger in order to harness this new found energy source. The plan works, but after numerous earthquakes and other disasters are recorded along the Macedo Trench, it's learned that the detonation of this warhead has caused a crack in the world that threatens to split the planet in two.

Combining the producer of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1962) and the director of THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) and GORGO (1961) doing the special effects (and art direction), this hugely entertaining apocalyptic tale of the world literally cracking open is an enormous amount of fun for fans of pseudo scientific "End of the World" scenarios. This British production is seldom talked about, but did get a lot of weekend airplay back in the 80s and while there are no monsters or aliens from outer space, the filmmakers keep the suspense and harrowing moments erupting at regular intervals.

Watching these early disaster movies (including this one) such as Pal's WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951) or even Ishiro Honda's GORATH (1962), the template remained largely the same till Irwin Allen made the films fashionable for a brief time before turning the sub genre into an enormous punchline by the end of the 1970s. History repeated itself in the late 1990s and 2000s when this style of film reared its calamitous head once more, only this time spearheaded by Michael Bay, who one would figure worshipped at the Temple of Allen. Even with the newer pictures technological marvels, these antiquated productions have a bit more heart and creativity surrounding them in addition to performances that make the audience feel something for the plight of the people onscreen.

There's an intriguing love triangle here between the characters played by Andrews, Scott and Moore. Dr. Sorenson (Andrews) is confident of the atomic detonator plan, but this is adamantly denied by another scientist, Dr. Rampion, whose wife left him for the considerably older inner Earth researcher. Rampion figures that by setting off a nuclear explosion that far beneath the Earth's crust will weaken fault lines thereby setting off a series of disasters leading to the total destruction of the planet. Of course, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to come up with an idea of how things will end up for civilization as well as our three main participants.

If you enjoyed Andrews and Scott in the quaint demonic horror of NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957), they conjure an entirely different, but no less engaging image here. The script does wonders with these three characters, reaching its peak once the missile test has been found to be a failure. Sorenson feels anger and solemnity that thousands have died for his mistake, although he tries to downplay the tragedy by noting more died in the Hiroshima/ Nagasaki disaster. He also draws a conclusion about his wife leaving him to go back to Rampion. As opposed to so many of these movies, the drama isn't submerged amongst the surrounding catastrophes, but resulting from an individuals own personal tribulations and personal issues.

For a film bearing such a title as this, one expects some spectacle and CRACK IN THE WORLD delivers that in abundance. The effects are Earth shattering in scope and hold up remarkably well for a film of this vintage. There are a few sequences that hold their own with any other similar pictures, old or new. One involves the lowering of a nuclear bomb below the surface of the Earth to offset the pressure from the previous atomic missile having struck a hydrogen pocket which is believed to be the reason the first test cracked the Earth's crust--the explosion being greater than anticipated. Rampion and Sorenson decide the best way to head the crack off at the pass is to create a similar explosion on the volcanic island of Tukamoa so when it erupts, the oncoming crack will be stopped dead in its tracks. This plan works, but unfortunately, the crack has changed course and doubled back for the coast moving faster than it was before.

From there it's one tense moment after another--our heroes desperately try to stop a train full of panicking people attempting to escape the calamity oblivious that they're heading right for the crack. Rampion and Maggie try to halt the train before it's toppled from the impending destruction caused by the rupturing Earth. When that fails, the crack ends up back where the project began with the two miles deep research center in its path. Both Maggie and Rampion attempt to rescue Sorenson, but he refuses to leave, deciding instead to remain below to record the resulting aftermath. All bets are off during this fiery, magma spewing finale where we see the planet nearly splitting in half(!) as twenty thousand square miles of Earth explode in a fiery mass of magma hurtling skyward in the form of a new moon.

CRACK IN THE WORLD delivers on its title and the special effects by 'man with many talents', Eugene Lourie are fantastic in their scope and execution. They would surely make Eiji Tsuburaya proud. The magnificent score by John Douglas is appropriately rousing in all the right places. This old style scientific planetary genocide was well ahead of its time, but has since went on to become fanciful and ambitious science fiction that's a great deal of fun and well worth tracking down for cataclysm completists. If you're a fan of Pal's visions or even the boisterously tacky productions of Allen, there's a crack in your DVD collection where this DVD should find a place on the shelf.

This review is representative of the Olive Films DVD

Reel Bad Cinema: When Time Ran Out (1980) review


Paul Newman (Hank Anderson), William Holden (Shelby Gilmore), Jaqueline Bisset (Kay Kirby), James Franciscus (Bob Spangler), Edward Albert (Brian), Burgess Meredith (Rene Valdez), John Considine (Dr. John Webster), Ernest Borgnine (Det. Tom Conti), Red Buttons (Francis Fendly), Barbara Carrera (Iolani), Pat Morita (Sam)

Directed by James Goldstone

The Short Version: Hilariously hokey "natural disaster" flick, the last from bad movie king Irwin Allen. The enormity of the cast explodes with greater force than the imminent volcanic eruption. Jaqueline Bisset is the best special effect here while all the bad composite shots and sparkler fireballs fail to impress in this grand scale gaudiness of the highest order. If awful movies are your thing, then this TOWERING INFERNO of hilarity is must see entertainment.

Hank Anderson, an oil rig supervisor discovering an unusual amount of pressure coming from a newly tapped oil well learns that the cause is related to the islands volcano which is threatening to erupt. Delivering this news to the manager of the expansive resort hotel nearby falls on deaf ears. Proclaiming that everyone is safe from harm, a handful of skeptics decide to take their chances against the impending disaster in an effort to make it to the other side of the island.

The last of Irwin Allen's string of disasters was a disaster in the truest sense of the word. Bombing terribly at the box office to the tune of only 3.7 million, it disappeared from theaters rapidly and showed up in a longer version on TV under the title EARTH'S FINAL FURY (which is where I first saw it in the early 80s). Odd that this "big" movie was virtually unopposed in terms of action spectacles aside from MAD MAX (1979), the modestly budgeted Aussie action film. I guess everyone was going back to see COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER (1980). The plethora of huge names should have been a major draw for the movie-going public, but it's best they avoided this natural disaster and waited to catch it at home. The small screen suits the picture as that's what it looks like--a television movie.

For a big studio production of allegedly twenty million in 1980, one wonders where in the hell the money went. It certainly wasn't to the special effects, the life blood of these kinds of movies. Still, the (mostly) cheap SPX shots add a layer of unintended goofiness made all the more obvious when compared with other big movies of the time. One scene that garners guffaws is when a handful of people are lifted out via helicopter from a tidal wave. As the chopper hovers over the engulfing lava, one of the guys clinging to the outside discovers to his horror that this magma has magnetic properties--when he falls, he is jerked SIDEWAYS to his doom.

As with his other efforts, Allen's last gasp features a wide array of major players put in harms way. The bulk of the budget most likely went into the pockets of the performers and to the expense of shooting on location in Hawaii. And like all disaster movies, a good deal of time is spent with soap opera antics involving the bloated cast before the explosions and screaming starts.

Which brings us to the so-called spectacle--there's relatively little of it...and genuine peril along with it. WHEN THE BUDGET RAN OUT manages a laughable scene early on where Newman, Franciscus and DR. DEATH himself, John Considine descend the volcano inside some sort of capsule (with a glass bottom of all things) to see the activity at the heart of the rocky powder keg. Not only that, but these scientific geniuses thought it was a good idea to build a science lab right at the opening of the volcano. The volcano sequence in 1965's CRACK IN THE WORLD is much better accomplished and elicits suspense as opposed to snickers.

At approximately 50 minutes in, after the various love affairs and promiscuity has been laid out, the not so special effects take over. Presumably from the shock wave of the erupting volcano, the Kraken is unleashed causing a massive tidal wave that wipes out a herd of extras and red shirts on loan from the original STAR TREK series. The "Insert Special Effects Scene Here" science lab gets blown up and tumbles into the erupting crater. The volcano then emits gigantic slow motion sparklers at the star studded resort setting Ernest Borgnine on fire resulting in him doing the remainder of the movie with his face covered in bandages saving him from having to use his hands to cover his shame. Seriously, this movie would have benefited had the writers written in a giant monster emerging from either the sea, or a flurry of them spewing forth from the volcano. At least the realm of believability wouldn't be strained by the atrocious process shots.

Once Newman, Bisset and Bisset's bouncing breasts have met back at the extravagant hotel, Brody proclaims the beaches are not safe, but mayor Franciscus fiercely refuses to close them. Stating that his massive construct is made with only the strongest of bedrock, Fred Franciscus manages to convince the cast of stock characters his hotel is the safest place to be while all the big names follow Paul Newman in an effort to make it to the other side of the island. It's here where the ludicrous meets the languid when our heroes make it to a studio bound bridge set with superimposed lava below them and a painted canvas behind them.

A good twenty minutes is spent here during this explosive finale that erupts like a flurry of firecrackers during a Chinese New Year celebration. This whole sequence could have been a thirty minute episode in an Irwin Allen disaster television series. I wouldn't doubt if the man entertained the thought of such a program--every week it would be a new disaster--onscreen and likely in the ratings, too.

Meanwhile, Burgess Meredith does his characters old tightrope act in order to get some kids across. This over long sequence is anything but a showstopper and one wonders why some form of help never arrived to lift the people out when the sleeping crater blew its top. There's no police or military presence, either. Most probably there were no other big Hollywood stars on vacation in Hawaii at the time and Jack Lord had ended his tenure with FIVE-O so Newman and his Own are pretty much screwed here. There's a bit of discussion about escaping by sea, but the churning waters are stated as making that impossible, yet when we get frequent views of the ocean, there's not a ripple in sight. There is one hilarious bit where a bunch of people with "dead" written on their forehead stampede the helicopter kicking and punching people away in an effort to escape. With none of the passengers that manage to take off not even knowing how to fly the whirly-bird, they end up crashing into the mountainside instead.

Reportedly, few, if any of the stars enjoyed making this movie and it shows. Both Newman and Holden look frustrated and that's probably more to do with ego than being in a big budget misfire. Only Franciscus seems to give a damn here finding time to mack on both Veronica Hamel and Barbara Carrera as well as wrangle his customers inside the bedrock hotel while the volcano festers nearby. Curiously, the script seems to be a disaster movie version of the tale of Sodom & Gomorrah (itself made into a grand international production in 1962)--the lavish hotel being the "city of sex and sin" rampant with infidelity and deceit and Paul Newman is Lot who tries to get the people out of the city before it is destroyed by god; in this case, it's nature's fury that destroys those who refused to find a safe haven.

TIME had run OUT for disaster movies and while they were the box office ticket during the 70s, sci fi had taken over the 1980s. Allen's production seemed hopelessly out of place here looking more like it was shot in the 70s then a picture at the dawn of the 80s. With his enormous Bee movie, THE SWARM, Allen had become Mr. B.I.G. with a bigger budget at his disposal, but getting the same results. No doubt this would make a great double bill with Allen's equally terrible BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1979). If you really want to see Irwin Allen at the "bottom" of his career, then you must seek out THE SWARM (1978), a magnitude 9.8 on the seismocraptagraph and an epically jaw dropping experience that only comes along every so often.

This review is representative of the Warner Brothers DVD

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