Be Prepared: Disaster Movie 101
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.