DISASTER FLICKS DO MUCH BETTER BY THE NUMBERS.Byline: Reed Johnson Daily News Staff Writer
First came platform shoes, then Village People reunions, and now this fall's second coming of the Donny and Marie Osmond show.
Yes, the '70s - God help us - are back. Is it any wonder, then, that so is the big-budget disaster flick? We're barely past Memorial Day, and already we've had two of these all-hell-is-breaking-loose screen epics, Mimi Leder's ``Deep Impact'' and Roland Emmerich's ``Godzilla.''
Trouble is, neither movie delivers the payoffs we'd expect from a classic '70s disaster flick like ``The Towering Inferno,'' ``The Poseidon Adventure'' or the ``Airport'' series. Now those movies understood the genre's requirements: cheap thrills, cheesy cheesy (che´ze) caseous. dialogue, campy performances and memorably mushy theme songs. And that's just for starters.
By contrast, ``Deep Impact'' is probably the most painfully earnest disaster movie ever made - until it finally busts loose in its last 15 minutes. ``Godzilla'' has plenty of action, but its dumbed-down screenplay makes it a summer movie only a 12-year-old boy could love.
What both movies really need is the Irwin Allen Checklist, named for the late Hollywood mogul who gave us ``Poseidon'' and `` Inferno,'' two of the greatest ``who will survive?'' shlockfests of all time.
For the sake of mayhem lovers everywhere, the Daily News here reprints that list, beamed to us telekinetically from Allen via a Lava lamp. Yeah, size matters, but it's the little things that make the difference in great disaster pics.
1) A sense of humor Noun 1. sense of humor - the trait of appreciating (and being able to express) the humorous; "she didn't appreciate my humor"; "you can't survive in the army without a sense of humor"
sense of humour, humor, humour : The best joke in ``Godzilla'' is the idea that a mere fire-breathing dinosaur could make anyone want to move from New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of to New Jersey. ``Godzilla'' tries to be funny by making some lame allusions to New York's Darwinian, dog-eat-dog way of doing business. But mostly its notion of wit is to flash pictures of Barney on a background TV set and have a French secret agent do a bad Elvis imitation.
Why didn't the filmmakers keep the amusing trailer clip in which Godzilla puts his foot through the dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Natural History? Why not have Godzilla sneak into the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade? Or how about playing ``New York, New York'' over the closing credits? (``... I wanna EAT a part of it, New York, New York.'') Even a good throwaway throwaway
See for your information (FYI). sight gag, like the upside-down toilet seats in ``The Poseidon Adventure,'' would've helped.
Compared with ``Deep Impact,'' however, ``Godzilla'' is ``Animal Crackers.'' The ``Deep Impact'' screenplay, about a Manhattan-sized comet striking Earth, is so deadly serious that it makes planetary extinction seem redundant.
2) Jeff Goldblum: Once typecast as a smart, cynical yuppie, Goldblum has emerged in the '90s as the quintessential smart, cynical cyber-geek. His wry, understated performances helped juice up Spielberg's two ``Jurassic Park'' flicks and Emmerich's own ``Independence Day.'' Plus, Goldblum knows that if he doesn't perform well, he'll have to star in ``The Fly, Part 3.''
3) Evil with attitude: In great disaster flicks of yore, the outside threat - earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, space aliens, great white shark great white shark
or white shark
Large, aggressive shark (Carcharodon carcharias, family Lamnidae), considered the species most dangerous to humans. It is found in tropical and temperate regions of all oceans and is noted for its voracious appetite. or whatever - often was equipped with a malevolent intelligence. It knew where you were hiding. It knew what you'd do next. It drove the action, instead of waiting around for the humans to do something.
The new Godzilla seldom has a clear motive for doing anything. He's not a relentless predator like the creature in ``Alien,'' much less a jilted jilt
tr.v. jilt·ed, jilt·ing, jilts
To deceive or drop (a lover) suddenly or callously.
One who discards a lover. lover like King Kong, but a simple brute with the personality of a McDonald's drive-through.
Ditto the lethal comet in ``Deep Impact,'' which the screenwriters try to equate with Moby Dick. Alas, the comet remains as stubbornly inscrutable as Melville's white whale white whale: see beluga. . Me, I'm thinking, ``How are they going to turn this into a theme-park ride?''
4) Blood and guts: You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs, and you can't level the entire East Coast without killing off a few hundred extras. Yet ``Deep Impact'' and ``Godzilla'' have been so visually sanitized san·i·tize
tr.v. san·i·tized, san·i·tiz·ing, san·i·tiz·es
1. To make sanitary, as by cleaning or disinfecting.
2. - presumably pre·sum·a·ble
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster. in order to keep their PG-13 ratings - that their frames could be cut up and used as Clearasil pads. Remember the nasty scene in ``The Towering Inferno'' where a flaming man staggers out of an elevator and collapses? Twenty-four years later, it's still unforgetable. Irwin Allen knew that where there's smoke
5) Great hokey hok·ey
adj. hok·i·er, hok·i·est Slang
1. Mawkishly sentimental; corny.
2. Noticeably contrived; artificial.
hok dialogue: At the end of ``Towering Inferno,'' an exhausted Paul Newman slumps with an improbably fabulous-looking Faye Dunaway and remarks that maybe they should leave the gutted 138-story skyscraper standing as a monument to ``all the bull---- in the world.'' Compare that zinger zing·er
1. A witty, often caustic remark.
2. A sudden shock, revelation, or turn of events.
Noun 1. with this scintillating scin·til·late
v. scin·til·lat·ed, scin·til·lat·ing, scin·til·lates
1. To throw off sparks; flash.
2. To sparkle or shine. See Synonyms at flash.
3. one-liner from ``Godzilla'': ``Jesus, Mary and Joseph, that is really large!''
6) Tear-jerker moments: The two best sources of sentimentality in movies are pets and old couples. In ``The Poseidon Adventure,'' a poignant moment occurs after Shelley Winters has sacrificed her life to save Gene Hackman, and her husband (Jack Albertson) lingers behind with her noble, if moist, remains. ``The Towering Inferno'' wields pathos like a sledgehammer See Opteron. in a scene where security guard O.J. Simpson - ever the heroic good Samaritan - hands Fred Astaire a female victim's pet kitty cat. ``Deep Impact'' manages to cram in a couple of dewy-eyed partings just before Virginia becomes part of the Atlantic Ocean, but the closest ``Godzilla'' comes to warm and fuzzy is when Matthew Broderick croons ``Singin' in the Rain'' to some radioactive earthworms.
7) Comic-relief characters: Helen Hayes practically stole the picture as a pixie-ish stowaway in the original ``Airport'' (1970). Whether you found her performance charming or suffocatingly cute, there's no doubt Hayes' Oscar-winning turn helped this airborne melodrama become a smash. Will Smith's jocular joc·u·lar
1. Characterized by joking.
2. Given to joking.
[Latin iocul fighter pilot did the same thing for ``Independence Day.'' ``Godzilla'' makes a stab at comic relief with its caricatures of movie critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, depicted as a bullying mayor and his fawning fawn 1
intr.v. fawned, fawn·ing, fawns
1. To exhibit affection or attempt to please, as a dog does by wagging its tail, whining, or cringing.
2. aide. But after the initial joke wears off, this overmilked routine gets two thumbs down - way down.
8) Moral paybacks: With '70s disaster flicks, you could count on the bad guys getting their just deserts. But in ``Godzilla,'' the lecherous lech·er·ous
Given to, characterized by, or eliciting lechery.
lecher·ous·ly adv. TV reporter played by Harry Shearer only has to endure a mild put-down put·down or put-down
1. A dismissal or rejection, especially in the form of a critical or slighting remark: "Such answers were, perhaps still are, a . . . from the young woman he's been hitting on. ``Deep Impact'' doesn't have any villains, only a misguided extraterrestrial. What's with this new compassion for creeps? In ``Titanic,'' for example, Billy Zane's snooty villain lives, while the saintly Leonardo DiCaprio goes down with the ship (though a voice-over informs us that Zane's character buys the farm in the 1929 stock market crash, heh-heh!). If this is poetic justice, '90s style, give us John Wayne any day.
9) Sexual subplots: A must for any red-blooded disaster flick. What would ``Airport'' have been without Dean Martin hanky-pankying with Jackie Bisset at 39,000 feet? Or ``The Towering Inferno'' without the adulterous high-rise tryst that gets a little too hot for its own good? (See No. 8, above.)
10) Shameless emotional manipulation: Oh well, 1 out of 10 ain't bad ...
OK, got it? Now all you need is, oh, $120 million and a great marketing slogan. Hmmm, how about, ``It's not how big you make it, it's how you make it big!''
Or has someone already used that?
PHOTO Maria Pitillo and Hank Azaria are two of the non-lizard stars in the monster-vs.-Manhattan disaster movie ``Godzilla.''