Sunday, 15 November 2009


“He who doesn't fear death dies only once.” - Giovanni Falcone

When I was young I used to draw pictures of townscapes with skyscrapers, intricate buildings, freeways, cars, people everywhere. Then as I was drawing I would make a comet appear in the sky, or a bomb, or fiery rain and I would start destroying the city. I drew bright orange flames that licked the buildings, great billows of black smoke that went up to the sky and then ensured that everything on the page was quite obliterated. All of this was accompanied by the appropriate sound effects that only a five-year-old can produce. I grew out of that phase fairly quickly, but I still remember the fun I used to have wreaking havoc in my worlds that I drew and destroyed – creator and destroyer at the same time.

We humans are a strange sort of animal. We can make something out of nothing, build enduring works of architecture, create works of art, plant gardens in the deserts. In the twinkling of an eye we can destroy all of that by pushing a button that drops a bomb, slash and burn in an act of vindictive vandalism or annihilate all in a spiteful act of rage or envy. Our dual nature exalts our spirit to heaven or damns it to eternal hellfire. What has taken our fellow human beings hundreds of years to raise up, we can unflinchingly obliterate within the blinking of an eye…

Destruction fascinates us, demolition may send waves of pleasure down our spine, extirpation may scare us, annihilation awes us. It is no surprise then that Hollywood panders to this side of our nature and regularly produces disaster movies that have as their theme death and destruction, the more massive the scale, the better. And I start listing some of the more famous ones (in no particular order, I’m just remembering some):
“On the Beach” (1959)
“The Day the Earth Caught Fire” (1961)
“The Apocalypse” (2007)
“Tornado” (2004)
“Volcano” (1997)
“Earthquake” (1974)
“Magma: Volcanic Disaster” (2006)
“10.5 Apocalypse” (2006)
“10.5 Apocalypse” (2004)
“Supernova” (2005)
“When Worlds Collide” (1951)
“Supervolcano” (2005)
“Earthstorm” (2006)
“The Day the Sky Exploded’ (1958)
“The Towering Inferno” (1974)
“The Poseidon Adventure” (1972)
“Virus” (1980)
“Testament” (1983)
“Airport” (1970) and all its numerous sequels!
“The Day After” (1983)
“Avalanche” (2004)
“Aftershock: Earthquake in New York” (1999)
“Pandemic” (2007)
“The Quiet Earth” (1985)
“Night of the Comet” (1984)
“28 Days Later” (2002)
“28 Weeks Later” (2007)
“The Mist” (2007)
“Disaster Movie” (2008)
“Armageddon” (1998)
“Doomsday” (2008)… etc, etc, etc…

I think I have made my point. All I can say is that there must have been an awful lot of kids out there drawing cities and then blowing them up when they were five. What made me remember all of this is a film we saw at the weekend and one which was just released and which we haven’t seen yet.

We watched Alex Proyas’ 2009 “Knowing” yesterday and this is a death and destruction disaster movie where the earth ends. It stars Nicholas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, and Lara Robinson, who do a fairly good job in a film that has a better first half than second half (strange thing to happen in a disaster movie where all the fireworks happen in the end). In this respect one may say that “Knowing” is a little atypical as far as disaster movies go, with a great deal of time spent in setting the scene, exploring the characters and making a moral point. The weakness of the second part relates to the explanations of why the destruction is occurring and in the “deus-ex-machina” (literally) solution to the survival of the human race.

It was enjoyable in a Sunday matinee type of way and for all the moralistic and philosophical pretensions of the film, it is a disaster movie in the final reckoning and is rather deficient in its catastrophic sequences in the end. One somehow expects more fireworks in a disaster movie, but what fireworks there were, were good enough.

The other film of course that everyone is talking about now is the 2009 Roland Emmerich move, “2012”. This sounds like a turkey of immense proportions, but I admit that I haven’t even seen the trailer. A lot of people were curious enough o go and see it, with a $65 million box-office bang in the USA, as per estimates, beating projections and the weekend competition.

It all goes to prove that as humans we love death and destruction. We are overwhelmed and awed by it and from the horrific news stories of real-life disasters to unlikely scenarios made into ridiculous movies, we watch…

What’s your favourite disaster movie?


  1. It's probaly going to be the movie coming out this month "The Road". I read the book, would like to now see the movie!

  2. Your blog reminds me of the boys in my class who drew airplanes going down in flames and making all sorts of crashing noises as they drew...this was during WWII and I was only in the second grade.
    I liked to draw flowers. Maybe women should be running things today with so many world problems.

  3. Hi Nic. Interesting blog. I have seen some of the movies on the list and I enjoyed "Knowing". My favorite disaster movie is "Titanic".

  4. hey i did that when i was little only it was battles
    my fave disaster movie is 'godzilla' :-)

  5. Well I loved "On the Beach", which you have mentioned. Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner as the unhappy lovers are excellent and the movie really works. It's based on an Australian book, I think.