Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Disaster (USA, 2005)

 German Trailer:
Ah, the genre of disaster films! They've been around since the silent era, the earliest possibly being the British short film by James Williamson's Fire! (1901 / film), which was undoubtedly a direct influence on the first US disaster film, Edwin S. Porter's later short, Life of an American Fireman (1903 / film). But when it comes to feature-length films, say over an hour, the first true disaster movie is (arguably) Michael Curtiz's part-talkie Noah's Ark (1928 / trailer) — the filming of its flood scene cost the lives of three extras; others merely suffered broken bones or amputated limbs — or, after the arrival of full talkies, Felix E. Feist's Deluge (1933 / NYC destroyed), a once-lost movie that — like Roland Emmerich's disaster comedy 2012 (2009 / trailer) — involves the end of the world.
In the decades since Deluge, many disaster films of note and lesser note have come and gone (and were then mostly forgotten), but the genre truly flowered in the 1970s, with the support of big budgets, the "All-Star Cast" and "The Master of Disaster" Irwin Allen: one after the other they flickered across the screen, including such fun films as The Poseidon Adventure (1972 / trailer), The Towering Inferno (1974 / trailer), Earthquake (1974 / trailer), and the so-bad-it's-good Airport 1975 (1974 / trailer) and many, many more.* During the polyester decade, Hollywood rolled the disasters out one after the other, killing people en mass anywhere they could think of, until the genre's coffin was opened wide by such terrible and cheap-looking big budget feculence like The Swarm (1978 / trailer) and the mega-embarrassing Meteor (1979 / trailer), and then nailed shut with the take-no-prisoners comedy Airplane! (1980 / trailer).
But come the 1990s, the genre raised its head like a revived and unstoppable zombie in the (most notable) form of the idiotic and unpalatable alien-invasion movie Independence Day (1996 / trailer), the far more entertaining and knowingly ironic Sylvester Stallone vehicle Daylight (1996 / trailer), and the consciously culty Tim Burton movie, Mars Attacks! (1996 / trailer). Since then, hardly a year has gone by without some big budget disaster film being dumped on the market in which one nation's capital city or landmark after the other (if not the whole world) gets pulverized.
And among this plethora of mostly wasted celluloid are two films that must be seen as the illegitimate babies of the turkey's turd from 1979, Meteor: Deep Impact (trailer) and Armageddon (trailer), both from 1998. Neither is very good in the end; Deep Impact is by-the-numbers and unsurprising, while Armageddon is hilariously terrible. And, indeed, it was the latter movie that, despite being the bigger hit, got the worst reviews. (As an example, Roger Ebert, who put the movie on his worst films of the year list, said Armageddon "is an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained".)
Here at A Wasted Life, however, we must admit we have a soft spot for that movie. It is a train wreck, a total waste of all the talent of any and all involved, which of course explains why it was such a hit. But like most train wrecks, it is also oddly fascinating and, despite being a disaster movie — and unlike most Hollywood movies that advertise themselves as comedies — Armageddon is truly hilarious. We laughed our way through from beginning to the end and, since then, have heartily recommended it as the comedy it is to many a person — none of whom have found it as funny and entertaining as we. (Some people just don't know how to appreciate a good train wreck.)
So, enough film history and enough verbosity, let's get to the movie at hand...
We would assume that the makers of this movie here, Disaster!, were also not very fond of Armageddon. Perhaps, so amazed by the overall stupidity of that blockbuster, and inspired by the big-budgeted puppet movie Team America (2004 / trailer), they came up with the inspiration to do both better by doing both worse — sort like pointing out the overall stupidity by being even more stupid, both in narrative and in execution. (You know, sort of how the stupidity of Republican politicians sort of helps to reveal the stupidity of Democratic politicians, or the Muslim religion that of the Christian religion.) A "schnapps idea", to use some German terminology generally used to infer that the idea is so stupid that one has to be drunk to even think of it, but in all truth this time around the schnapps idea actually works — to an extent.

In execution, the movie works fine. A stop-motion movie of intentional low-quality execution, the stop-motion technique used is as primitive as the puppets, which display a total rejection of any attempt of quality execution — to the extent that no attempt is even made to smooth out the seams that arise from the casting of the puppets. The overall look of the film is one of loud and proud cheapness, and in its dedication to its tawdry shoddiness, the movie achieves a holistic style that not only succeeds but is enjoyable to watch. (As sloppily as the characters are made, the sets and backgrounds in which they agitate are prime examples of loving detail, full of so many throwaway gags that even attentive eyes hardly catch half of them.)

This cheapness is matched by the crude, overly puerile humor that never stops from the first to last frame of the flick: sex, violence, flatulence, drugs, gore, the handicapped (in the form of a wheelchair-bound and drooling "Stephen Mocking"), Afro-American studliness, white man penis inadequacy, blonde stupidity, dim-witted names ("Harry Bottoms", anyone?) — you name it, and the film probably takes the piss out of it. No topic is too haloed, no joke too stupid for Disaster! The movie is totally juvenile and totally tasteless from beginning to end, and we loved it — despite some glaring flaws.

The biggest flaw is simply the storyline. Armageddon was so hilariously stupid that it really didn't need a full-length parody; Disaster! might have been even better had the overall storyline not been a virtual one-for-one spoof. True, a lot of other films are obviously referenced — amongst others that we noticed: Godzilla (1954 / trailer), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968 / trailer), Alien (1979 / trailer), Alive (1993 / trailer), Twister (1996 / trailer), Deep Impact, King Kong (1933 / trailer), Dante's Peak (1997 / trailer) — but the overall narrative, despite all the jokes, is almost too familiar. True, we laughed a lot, despite the feeling that we've seen it before, but that feeling wouldn't have arisen had the script shown a bit more narrative creativity and a bit less Armageddon (or, optionally, had gone in the direction of Airplane! or Top Secret [1984 / trailer] and broadened its breadth of parody even more).

In our view, this is the only flaw of the film. Everything else we liked, and in truth we laughed our heads off despite not being stoned and despite the familiar plot — but then, we are partial to the P.I., foul and infantile take-no-prisoner approach that this film bathes in.

That said, be warned: viewers who want their jokes intelligent and refined should avoid this movie like, dunno, Pat Robinson a NAMBLA meeting.

* Of these films, The Poseidon Adventure has aged well and remains the best of them all — and indefinitely better than the misfired remake in 2006 (trailer). The Towering Inferno has aged the worst and despite its at-the-time huge budget looks oddly cheesy and cheap now. Earthquake has aged a tad better (but not much), while Airport 1975 — like all the movies of the franchise but for the very first, the relatively involving Airport (1970 / trailer) — is still as crappy and funny as the day it came out. The last movie, like all the Airport movies that followed, now stands out as excellent proof of the fleeting nature of fame: most of the "name" stars of the all-star cast that parade by in their cameos of varying length are long gone, forgotten and totally unknown today.

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