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Earthquake – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Growing up, 1974’s Earthquake felt like a legendary “big deal” film to me. It was a big time disaster movie, starred a huge star in Charlton Heston and had a ride/theme park attraction at Universal Studio. As time as passed by, I feel its fallen out of public consciousness and sort of is a forgotten blockbuster. As we endure the trend of superhero films now, if you look back at the 1970s, disaster movies were that of its era. And Earthquake is one of the most notable ones of the era. Its also seen 2 bare bones releases on Blu-ray which Shout! Factory is rectifying with this pretty loaded Collector’s Edition featuring a new scan and the TV cut of the film! A must have for blockbuster enthusiasts, it releases on May 21st. Pre-order now!

Film 

When a major earthquake hits Los Angeles, the various residents of the city cope with the chaos and destruction. Successful architect Stewart Graff (Charlton Heston) argues with his demanding wife, Remy Royce-Graff (Ava Gardner), as the disaster hits. Later, when he checks in on his flirtatious friend Denise Marshall (Geneviève Bujold), they begin an affair. As the personal dramas continue, the city is threatened by aftershocks and possibly even greater quakes.

Earthquake was a big disaster film that had to rush its way to get out before 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros could get the star studded The Towering Inferno out in theaters. The film never feels like it was rushed at all and winds up having a big cast of its own. Granted some of them weren’t known too much yet. This is one of Richard Roundtree’s “hot and fresh off of Shaft” films. Chartlon Heston is obviously the biggest star of any of the disaster films, but he’s only a piece of this ensemble, which also includes Ava Gardner. This film is structured the way you’ve seen many of these, in an omnibus/anthology fashion with different groups of characters caught in their own arc of survival to overcome a certain disaster. This time, its a hellacious Los Angeles earthquake.

Said earthquake takes its sweet as time showing up. There are little ones and tremors leading up to build some dread, but it the real deal doesn’t happen til close to one hour into the film. In that meantime, we spend a lot of time almost over-establishing our characters and providing exposition about earthquakes and having the government back and forth about “We need to tell the people what we’ve found!”. This winds up pretty much feeling like a television show caught within a movie. And a 1970s one at that. Sometimes back in the 1970s, some films could have a hard time differentiating between TV and Film and for the first hour, the photography and dramatics feel like a prime time drama more than a potential blockbuster film. This was normal pacing back then, so I shouldn’t knock it, but it does drag.

What doesn’t drag too much is the destruction. The special effects, sets, model-work and sound design still impress today. Sure, some of the models and matte-work you can see the strings, but I’ll argue a majority of the film’s chaos holds up. Those who enjoy practical effects will find this thing to be a charmer. As far as sound, this one up’d the ante with Sensurround that redefined low frequency emissions in theaters and provided the ability to shake the room and build a more immersive feeling.

Worth noting is that this movie’s television broadcast was a pretty big thing unto itself as well. It went from theatrical blockbuster to a 2-night TV movie event. Like many films from this era, deleted sequences were added back to the film to help assist with the runtime and explicit content edits. But, Earthquake went much further, actually incorporating a new opening, filming new scenes to flush out characters and even adding a whole new couple characters with their own subplot. To add to the experience, an FM station broadcast the Sensurround track in sync with the broadcast so people with a fancy stereo system could experience it as intended at home. This as a TV movie was a pretty big deal.

Earthquake is a pretty solid entertainment. It takes quite a while to get going, but ones the event happens it runs into the classic disaster movie outline that the genre was writing the book on as it was happening. The leads aren’t incredibly engaging and the film definitely needs more Richard Roundtree, but I’m surprised at how dangerous and effective the stunts and destructive sets still feel here in 2019. No, this isn’t San Andreas, but as seeing one of the originators of this genre, its a more than just an “I saw it” checkmark on the list.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (Theatrical), 1.33:1 (TV)

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Earthquake features a new 2K scan of the interpositive for the theatrical version of the film. It also features a 2K scan reconstruction of the TV version, featuring over 20 mins of made-for-broadcast footage. I can’t comment on the previous release of Earthquake as I’ve not seen it, but from what I gather it was lacking. This one isn’t lacking, but its merely solid. There is plenty of detail here on display and a good, crisp image, but one must wonder what a good scan and restoration from the negative might have produced. Still this one works pretty solid and is a more than enjoyable view for the film. The theatrical cut definitely fares better than the transfer of the TV cut, which is still solid, though a little less in its details, proving a bit more soft overall.

Depth:  Some solid spacing here with good pushback and nice implementation of the matte paintings as part of the action. Movements are cinematic and smooth with no real issues regarding rapid motion.

Black Levels: Blacks are pretty deep and can be consuming, but I think that’s via the source and intention. There are terrific shadings and grain is a little heavier in the darker sequences. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors hold on to a kind of regular look, compiled of mostly grays and browns with some green to pop out among it. Flashier colors and richness comes in mainly the fashion on display and roaring orange fire.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish. Facial features and detail are pretty solid from any reasonable camera distance though some medium shots can be miss moreso than it.

Noise/Artifacts: Features no digital distortions of issues, but does have a good layer of grain and some dirt/specs time to time.

Audio 

Format(s): Theatrical – English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.1 DTS-HD MA (with Sensurround Audio), English 2.0 DTS-HD MA / TV – English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: For this review I was more inclined to be a purist and see how the Sensurround track turned out. And it did not disappoint. Overall, its pretty loud with no real analog hiss clouding over the feature. The effective factor was the use of the subwoofer for the low frequency sounds. There is so much variation and different uses throughout making it very fun but it also truly brings the shakes and the thunder with the earthquake, holding up to a majority of today’s 5.1 tracks today. As far as the mix, its well balanced and the layer/depth of the sound effects is pretty impressive for a film of its age. I tested around the other 2 tracks available and I have to say, I’d still recommend this Sensurround one as to recreate the theatrical experience best.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and pretty crisp, audible during any given action and never feeling really distorted. The opening voice-over about Sensurround kinda sounds crummy though, but it may have been by design. I can’t confirm.

Extras 

Earthquake – Collector’s Edition is a 2-Blu-ray disc set with each version of the film put to its own disc.

Disc 1 – Theatrical Cut

Audio Interview with Charlton Heston (HD, 3:48) – A brief interview with Heston that has the person asking the questions edited out. This may have been a promotional piece for local media customization.

Audio Interview With Lorne Green (HD, 5:08) – Similar to Heston’s, this is a EPK constructed for a local anchor/DJ to ask a scripted question to go along with this pre-recorded response.

Audio Interview with Richard Roundtree (HD, 4:02) – This time its Richard Roundtree to give the generic interview about working on the film and his character and a brief background on his talents.

Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:52) – Presented in 4×3 Letterbox stretched.

TV Spot (SD, :57)

Radio Spots (HD, 4:06)

Production and Publicity Still Gallery (HD, 9:14)

Behind the Scenes Still Gallery (HD, 3:14)

Matte Paintings and Miniatures Still Gallery (HD, 3:20)

Deleted Scenes Still Gallery (HD, :42)

Posters and Lobby Cards Still Gallery (HD, 9:31

Disc 2 – Television Cut

Scoring Disaster: The Music of Earthquake (HD, 16:42) – Jon Burlingame, a film score historian gives a history and breakdown of where John Williams was at in his career and the process of how the scoring for Earthquake came to be.

Painting Disaster: The Matte Art of Albert Whitlock (HD, 10:36) – Bill Taylor (ASC) talks about Albert Whitlock and his “sort of impressionist” work with his “mental illusion” he’d create with his work on films. He leads this into he’s specific work on Earthquake.

Sounds of Disaster: Ben Burtt talks about SENSURROUND (HD, 11:19) – A recognizable face for Lucasfilm fans, Burtt gives us a rundown of where sound design was in the 1970s when the film came out and gets into the specific of the new Sensurround technology that Earthquake implemented for the film to deliver low frequency impact for films.

TV Scenes (HD, 23:43) – Gives you the ability to watch the extra TV scenes on their own.

Additional TV Scene #1 (SD, 7:14) – The elements for this scene were not good enough to restore back into the TV cut of the film. Its presented here.

Additional TV Scene #2 (SD, 1:40)

Summary 

Earthquake doesn’t quite hold on like it should and probably is far too slow for a modern audiences to get into, but it still manages to impress and thrill once the titular disaster takes place. Shout! Factory delivers a solid new transfer and terrific audio presentation along with a slew of new and archival bonus materials to make this the definitive release of the film. Well worth the purchase for those who enjoy the film and disaster movies in general.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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