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View From The Couch

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EARTHQUAKE (1974) / THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974). The Poseidon Adventure isn't the only '70s disaster flick being rereleased on DVD to tie into the theatrical bow of Poseidon (see lead film story): Fox has also issued a two-disc Special Edition of The Towering Inferno, while Universal leaps into the fray with Earthquake.

Earthquake's greatest claim to fame will forever be a miscasting mishap that ranks as perhaps the most mind-boggling ever witnessed on film: the 52-year-old Ava Gardner playing the daughter(!) of 59-year-old Lorne Greene. Move beyond that, and what's left are various soap opera storylines punctuated by seat-rattling special effects. Architect Charlton Heston is unhappily married to boozy Gardner and works for her dad, but all he really wants to do is get away with cute young widow Genevieve Bujold. Meanwhile, good guy cop George Kennedy counts among his acquaintances shapely beauty Victoria Principal, who happens to be the object of desire for psychopath Marjoe Gortner. Throw in Richard Roundtree as an Evil Knievel wanna-be and Walter Matthau (billing himself in the credits as Walter Matuschanskayasky!) as a garishly dressed drunk, and the stage is set for prime camp that all too often takes itself far too seriously. Earthquake is indefensible trash, but I dare anyone not to be entertained by some of its excesses. This earned Oscars for its visual effects and its sound, the latter victory aided by the employment of the short-lived audio system known as Sensurround. The DVD includes a 3.1 Sensurround option, though it's no match for the 5.1 Dolby Digital. There are no extra features on the DVD.

More competently realized than Earthquake though not necessarily more effective, The Towering Inferno somehow managed to pick up a Best Picture Oscar nomination, which ludicrously pitted it against such worthy contenders as Chinatown, The Conversation, Lenny and The Godfather Part II. This time, an impressive array of all-stars find themselves trapped in a blazing skyscraper, with fire chief Steve McQueen and architect Paul Newman leading the rescue attempts. Among those fighting fire with ire are Oscar-nominated Fred Astaire as a suave con man, William Holden as the corner-cutting builder, Faye Dunaway (wasted) as Newman's girlfriend and -- get this -- O.J. Simpson as the building's security officer, a guy so sweet that he even saves a cat from getting roasted. This snagged Oscars for its cinematography, film editing and original song ("We May Never Love Like This Again," from the same duo who wrote The Poseidon Adventure's "The Morning After"). DVD extras include audio commentary by film scholar F.X. Feeney, over 30 extended and deleted scenes, various making-of featurettes, and a 1977 interview with Inferno/Poseidon Adventure producer Irwin Allen.

Earthquake: **1/2

Extras: *

The Towering Inferno: **1/2

Extras: ***1/2

THE PRODUCERS (2005). Mel Brooks' 1968 movie (for which he earned an Oscar for his original screenplay) was resurrected by the comic legend himself as a hugely popular Broadway musical. That another screen version would follow is no surprise; what's startling is how the picture plays as little more than a static filming of the stage show, barely more mobile than those one-set Shakespeare dramatizations that used to pop up regularly on PBS. Yet director Susan Stroman's staging is by no means a death blow. On the contrary, The Producers functions in much the same way as the recent screen adaptation of Rent by emphasizing melody and mirth over movement -- in fact, it works even better thanks to the presence of master ham Nathan Lane. As the timid accountant Leo Bloom, Matthew Broderick strains too hard to be funny -- you almost feel sorry for the guy, praying he doesn't give himself a hernia through all those pained expressions. Lane, on the other hand, is a riot as Max Bialystock, the struggling producer who determines that a dreadful show called Springtime for Hitler will be his ticket to riches. Lane's brand of old-school shtick is exactly what this project calls for, and, now as in 1968, the showstopper remains the staging of the "Springtime for Hitler" number, complete with dancing Germans, a Busby Berkeley-styled Swastika formation, and Brooks' voice booming from off-camera, "Don't be stupid; be a smarty. Come and join the Nazi party!" DVD extras include audio commentary by Stroman (no Brooks or Lane?), 20 minutes of deleted scenes and 15 minutes of outtakes.

Movie: ***

Extras: **1/2

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