Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Scorpion Releasing/Kino Lorber Studio Classics - AVALANCHE, METEOR and JUGGERNAUT on Blu-ray ""

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scorpion Releasing/Kino Lorber Studio Classics - AVALANCHE, METEOR and JUGGERNAUT on Blu-ray

AVALANCHE (1978; Corey Allen)
As a sucker for the movies of the 70s disaster cycle, I have to say to myself, "What could be better than the Roger Corman version of one of those films?". The answer is of course "a lot of things", but that being said AVALANCHE is still a hoot for a fella like me. Though I didn't see many of the classic 70s disaster films in the theater (though I was alive when they came out), I have come to have a genuine affection for them. One of my dream time-machine uses is to go back to 1974 and see EARTHQUAKE in Senssurround and though AVALANCHE is no EARTHQUAKE (still one of my favorite disaster flicks), it is entertaining in a similar way.
I always enjoy a JAWS-knockoff and AVALANCHE is no exception. Rock Hudson plays the Murray Hamilton-esque  owner of a swinging ski resort. Robert Forster parallels Richard Dreyfus' Matt Hooper in being the voice of scientific/naturalistic reason who is telling Hudson that he's endangered his guests by removing trees from the slopes making the lodge susceptible to avalanche. So AVALANCHE takes the JAWS structure a bit and also adds in some nature-wreaking-havok aspects of EARTHQUAKE. One memorable thing about this disaster movie is the deaths. There are many, including a few characters I didn't expect. There's also a scene of a with bunch of bodies in bags being loaded onto a flatbed semi trailer. I've seen a lot of these films and rarely do they illustrate the carnage quite that way. Leave it to Corman. Some folks do really get tossed around in this movie though. The stunt players got a nice workout for sure. The special effects are of course not on the level of a big budgeted studio picture. Many of the mattes are sloppy, a lot of the snow looks like the stryofoam-y material it must be made of, but this wasn't a deal-breaker for me. Having great actors like Hudson, Forster, Mia Farrow, Jeanette Nolan (who I oddly associate with her small role in the 80s DRAGNET movie), Barry Primus, and Steve Franken really boosts it. These folks are doing their best to play everything "real". Their reactions to the danger and carnage seem legitimate, especially with Forster. He's just a favorite actor of mine and a guy who is still underrated even after a stellar turn in JACKIE BROWN and an Academy Award nomination. He is a big part of the reason films like JACKIE and even something like ALLIGATOR are so good. Just a naturalistic, charming and powerful screen presence. He's a guy who absolutely should have been a much bigger star. It is one of the mysteries of Hollywood to me how a guy like that can fall through the cracks. But I digress. AVALANCHE is must own for Disaster film fanatics and the Blu-ray transfer is widescreen and looks better than it as any right to look. 
Special Features:
This Scorpion Releasing discs includes two on-camera interviews, one with Roger Corman and one with Robert Forster, both are great.

Here's a fun trailer for AVALANCHE, which is amusingly narrated by the guy who was the voice of Superman on THE SUPER FRIENDS (I believe).

METEOR (1979; Ronald Neame)
Director Ronald Neame returned to disaster film directing with this "classic" of the genre in 1979, seven years after he stormed into scene with the much beloved POSEIDON ADVENTURE (pun intended). Between the two films he did THE ODESSA FILE, which has nothing to do with disasters, but is a solid film nonetheless. Though METEOR isn't as conventionally loved as POSEIDON, it has developed something of a following since it's release. One such fan I encountered was one of my video store co-workers circa 2000 when i had first moved to Los Angeles. This gentleman (who is still one of my favorite people) opened my eyes to a slew of cinematic wonders, most notably LOGAN'S RUN and many many disaster films. You see, at the time I was not as fully committed to my love for the genre and was only really aware of the big entries like THE TOWERING INFERNO, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and a few others. It was through this coworker that I came to understand the glories of EARTHQUAKE, Irwin Allen and the AIRPORT films as well as METEOR of course. When I first saw METEOR, I was curious why more folks hadn't been more aware of the movie in the wake of the then recent ARMAGEDDON. I guess the fact that the films were about twenty years apart didn't help METEOR's notoriety, but the setup is obviously the same. METEOR has the better cast of course and in watching it again I was reminded why I love disaster movies of this period so much. It's really all about the casts. The 1970s was this wonderful time when a lot of my favorite actors were working. Some of them were from films of the 70s and some were more known for their work in the classic Hollywood era, but they were still around and available to be part of these fantastic ensembles. METEOR's ensemble is excellent. It includes Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden, Brian Keith, Martin Landau, Henry Fonda, Richard Dysart and Trevor Howard. How can any big-time cinephile not be impressed with that cast? And though the 70s disaster films didn't always have the strongest scripts, I've always felt like these actors elevated things to an enjoyable level no matter what the particular disaster might be. Whether it was earthquakes, asteroids, fires or even killer bees, I personally always get a kick out of these outstanding collections of veteran actors. METEOR should please those like me who love these actors. The transfer looks good, (I had seen the film on MGM HD years ago and it looked good then too) and the Blu-ray is a must-own for disaster completists like me and my old coworker. I think more folks should make themselves disaster completists, but I understand these films may bore some people. 

Here's a really cool Natalie Wood interview from 1979 wherein she talks about METEOR among other things:

JUGGERNAUT (1974; Richard Lester)
As I've mentioned here before (recently), I am a big fan of Richard Lester and his films. Lately, I've talked more about his early, freewheelin' stuff, but JUGGERNAUT is a different animal. It's his take on a disaster movie and I love it. It has all the things that I adore from disaster films: tension, a fun setting and a magnificent cast. This cast leans a bit more British than most disaster movies, but it is nonetheless great. Headlining are Richard Harris, Omar Sharif, David Hemmings and Anthony Hopkins, with Shirley Knight, Ian Holm, Roy Kinnear and even Clifton James all in tow. From Kino's site: "The Greatest Sea Adventure In History has Just Begun! The high seas have never been more terrifying than in this riveting, tension-packed adventure. HMS Britannic is caught in a storm at sea, but the real terror is on board - seven bombs planted by a terrorist calling himself Juggernaut, who demands a high ransom in exchange for the passengers' lives. Bomb expert Fallon (Harris) is flown to the ship and, as negotiations break down, he struggles with the most challenging job of his life in a race against time!"
I love that Richard Lester made this film between THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (both great adventure films in their own right), but I also love that he made PETULIA and HOW I WON THE WAR, not too long before. This group of movies is a lovely cross-section of his career and shows the versatility Lester had as a filmmaker (he would go on to do SUPERMAN II and III about six years later). It's a neat evolution to see the guy who started with the Beatles in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT and HELP! go on to bigger and more ambitious productions. It's not unlike the trend we say today of indie filmmakers like Marc Webb or TV comedy directors like The Russo Brothers go on to head up huge Marvel action movies. I am always intrigued to see a director who's done smaller, more intimate things take on this sort of material as there tends to be a focus on character that ends up really grounding the story in a largely positive way. JUGGERNAUT is no exception. I have this affinity for movies on boats and movies wherein there's a race against time to diffuse a bomb. A bomb is a lovely cinematic device in that it obviously creates a literal clock and keeps things tense throughout. One can't help but recall Hitchcock's story about the bomb under the table when two characters are discussing baseball and how it ratchets up the tension and makes even that kind of mundane conversation much more exciting and drives the audience crazy. While Lester isn't Hitchcock, he handles the tension well and this cast just elevates everything to a whole nother level. JUGGERNAUT is also woefully underseen as far as disaster films go and this Blu-ray should help correct that. It is well worth your time.
Below is the trailer and a clip from the movie featuring Richard Harris and Omar Sharif:

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