The disaster film cycle of the ’70s consisted of roughly 20 titles, beginning with Airport and The Poseidon Adventure in ’70 and ’72, peaking with The Towering Inferno and Earthquake in ’74, and ending ignominiously with films like The Swarm, Meteor, Hurricane, The Concorde: Airport ’79 and When Time Ran Out. The genre was finally killed off in 1980 by the comic spoof Airplane!.
All popular genre films have reflected real-life social undercurrents — fantasies and fears that Joe and Jane Popcorn were grappling with deep down. Superhero films were essentially ignited by 9/11. The popularity of early ’30s romantic musicals and screwball comedies was fed by the Great Depression. Patriotic war films in the early to late ’40s surged for obvious reasons. The fatalistic film noir genre was about post-WWII gloom (i.e., ex-servicemen and their wives grappling with the loss of spirit and complex social realities). ’50s sci-fi and monster flicks were about cold-war paranoia, fear of Russian atomic bombs, shifting social mores.
What were disaster films essentially about? In a nutshell the fear of late ’60s social upheavals (drugs, rejection of straight-laced values by the counter culture, radical anti-war street demonstrations) by dutiful, lawn-mowing, mortgage-paying middle-class schmoes. The same people who voted for Richard Nixon in ’68 and ’72 and who loved films like That’s Entertainment! and Broadway shows like No No Nanette were especially receptive to disaster films.
Engaged X-factor audiences loved the early to mid ’70s, of course — Hollywood’s greatest creative surge happened between The Graduate and Easy Rider at the launch, and Jaws and Star Wars at the bitter end. But the polyester-wearing middle class was fairly terrified of the noirish mood of the early ’70s era and all the social convulsions.
Which is why a certain amount of credit should be given to Krakatoa, East of Java (’69) for being the first disaster film of that era, the elements having fermented in the mid ’60s and the film shot in ’68.
Krakatoa was unsuccessful critically and commercially and it was a closer relation of The Devil at Four O’Clock than anything else, but on some level producer Philip Yordan was the first to pick up signals that the climate of the late ’60s would be receptive to this kind of fare.
I still don’t want to watch it. It looks like crap.