The original quartet of OG disaster movies played on man’s fear of the four elements. Airport took place in the air, The Poseidon Adventure was in the water, The Towering Inferno was all about fire, and Earthquake is all about the vengeance of the Earth. Okay, maybe this analogy is just a tad bit pretentious. What all of these 70’s disaster movies were really about was seeing highly paid movie stars getting killed in preposterous ways. In that respect, Earthquake is a fairly decent disaster pic.
The first hour is all a bunch of various soap opera plots intertwining. Chartlon Heston is cheating on his old and ugly wife (Ava Gardner) with this hot Frenchie broad (Genevieve Bujold), a cop (George Kennedy) gets kicked off the force for punching another officer, a grocer (Marjoe Gortner from Mausoleum) gets pissed when his buddies find out he’s gay, etc. This shit is pretty dull, but once buildings start crumbling and people begin to kick into Survivor Mode, it’s kinda fun.
The special effects are a mixed bag. Some of them are rather well done while others just look like cardboard (like the house on stilts that almost falls on Bujold). Although a majority of the practical effects are pretty good, most of the miniatures look about as convincing as a Godzilla movie.
Plus, there’s some good laughs here; intentional and otherwise. Like when George Kennedy asks Marjoe Gortner, “You got something against religion?” Or Walter Matthau’s funny cameo as a drunk in a bar who tries in vain to drink while the building is falling down around him. I think the funniest thing about the movie is that we’re supposed to believe that Ava Gardner is Lorne Greene’s daughter. In actuality, she was only seven years younger than Greene but she looks like his fucking mother.
Then there’s the scene where an Evel Knievel knockoff (played by Richard Roundtree) practices jumping his motorcycle through a ring of fire just before the earthquake hits. As soon as this scene happened, I thought to myself: “If he doesn’t jump through a ring a fire during the earthquake later in the picture, I want my money back.” All I’ve got to say is thank God I watched it on TV for free.
Earthquake was originally filmed in “SENSURROUND”, which meant the theater’s subwoofer was set so loud that the whole theater shook. (Kinda like one of those cars you see on the highway that blare rap music, I suppose.) I only watched this at home so I missed out on the SENSURROUND gimmick, but it sounds pretty cool to me.