Disaster Movie Week

This weekend Earthquake happened to be on TV again so I decided to pull this blog out of the archives to share with you.

Originally published on The RAPPS Blog on July 7, 2011

Retroplex is having a 70’s marathon this week. Of course that means… disaster movies! Now I’m sure everyone has heard of the more notorious transportation-related disaster movies Airplane (reproduced recently as Snakes on a Plane) and The Poseidon Adventure (reproduced recently as just Poseidon) but I, at least, was pleasantly surprised (and amused) by the planning- and building code-related disaster movies such as Earthquake (with the dashing Charlton Heston) and The Towering Inferno (with Paul Newman and Steve McQueen). These movies, both set in California coincidentally, chose to shock their audiences by reminding them that their engineering and building technologies and ambitions were outpacing their out-dated zoning and building codes.


Photo source: imdb.com

In The Towering Inferno, “The Glass Tower” (which at 135+ stories was hypothetically taller than even the famous World Trade Center Twin Towers) didn’t survive its inauguration party due to faulty electrical wiring and a sundry of other mishaps. In Earthquake, a sleepy-looking-1974 Los Angeles is shocked by a magnitude-7 earthquake. A graduate assistant (of course) at the California Seismological Institute warned of the catastrophe but his scientific evidence could not break through the barrier of party politics in time to save hundreds of thousands of Angelinos. Charlton Heston, a noted engineer in this role, reminisces on how they shouldn’t have built “these 40-story monstrosities… not here.”

Today as we watch cities like New Orleans be devastated by hurricanes and half of the Midwest be wiped out by tornadoes along with wildfires, black outs and heat waves, we must ask ourselves; have we learned anything from the 1970’s disaster movies? Are building code disasters a thing of the past or are developers still building just to code and putting lives in danger? Zoning code disasters certainly aren’t a thing of the past. Maybe Hollywood should come out with a movie Suburbia in which Hugh Jackman fights the sprawl of an undefined Sunbelt city. He and his sidekick Shia LaBeouf quickly find out that although crafty developers can somehow get as many variances out of the zoning commission and nuclear energy out of the government as they need to fuel their housing development clones, there really is a finite amount of land that you can build on.