Towering Inferno (The) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (3rd September 2009).
The Film

Disaster films usually make for good entertainment, once there was a time when it was a huge fad in Hollywood and a slew of disaster films were released, now it seems that Roland Emmerich is the only one that's keeping this tradition alive on a large budget (seriously can this guy make anything other than a disaster film?). Usually these films are a mixed bag, some were good, others as horribly bad as the disaster it depicts. "The Towering Inferno" falls somewhere in the middle, it's neither great, nor is it terrible. It's an entertaining waist of time much like the blockbusters of recent times, they are big, noisy and feature a cast of A-list actors all mugging for screen time.

Based on two books, "The Tower" by Richard Martin Stern, and "The Glass Inferno" by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson, purchased together to avoid similar movies being made from competing studios (both Warner Brothers and Fox co-produced the film together) and made after the hugh success that was "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972). Distaster movies would become a Hollywood staple for years to come. "The Towering Inferno" tells the story of the opening of a brand new office/apartment building in San Francisco, the large tower is poorly constructed and during the party, a fire breaks out and the building becomes a death trap for the party-goers as they try to escape to safety. Starring some of the biggest names of the screen including Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire and Robert Wagner among others.

The development of "The Towering Inferno" is one of my favorite in terms of Hollywood stories that deal with ego and excess. For example the film's stars Steve McQueen and Paul Newman both required top billing, both promised the same pay ($1 million plus 7.5% of the box office) and an identical number of lines of dialogue in the film. Anymore for one of them and the perception that one is a bigger star would have destroyed the delicate balance of which their gigantic ego's are the foundation. I wonder if at any point these two box office powerhouses of the time went as far as to measure their manhood... just to see who was bigger. If something like that were true it honestly would not surprise me.

"The Towering Inferno" is a fairly straight-forward action/disaster movie. The plot is fairly thin and the film is basically an exercise in special effects and an excuse to gather a star-studded cast all of which chew the scenery whenever possible... the action also helps. But at 165 minutes this "event" picture tends to wear out its welcome. There isn't much here that couldn't be said in 90 minutes, but what modern disaster films lacked that "The Towering Inferno" has plenty of is character development and thus viewers will find themselves attached to a particular character and actually care about whether they survive or not. But seriously nearly 40 minutes goes by before something seriously catastrophic happens. If this film was made today you would have lost half the audience already unless something exciting happens in the first ten minutes. Normally I wouldn't mind, but everything that occurs in the first 40 minutes of this film could have been trimmed without loosing anything major.

Although the film was directed by John Guillermin, while the film's producer, Irwin Allen, directed all the action sequences in the film and they are simply excellent. There's a scene were Robert Wagner's character attempts to run across his apartment only to be engulfed in flames in an incredible feat of practical stunt work and slow motion photography. Kudos must be given to the incredible team of stunt men and practical effects crew that pulled off a raging and uncompromising fire and the many full body burns in mostly a realistic manner but at times the action can be downright unbelievable (like ow a helicopter just blows up on the roof seemingly for no reason other than to add more drama to the plight of the people trying to escape).

The film was the pinnacle of top-of-the-line production design, with it's "blinking-light" computer rooms and then-contemporary architectural design, but by today's standards the film dates badly. If anything "The Towering Inferno" is a time capsule to the lavish over-the-top era that was the 70's, complete with ridiculous hair, massive side burns, suede smoking jackets with huge collars, horn-rimmed glasses and women in tacky cocktail dresses.

At a deeper level you could say that the tower is a metaphor for corporate greed and consumerism if the time... blah blah blah, or it's simply a popcorn movie for the masses. However you look at it "The Towering Inferno" is entertaining, if a little on the tedious side.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression. I was rather impressed with this image, for a film of its age and utilizing matte paintings and optical effects, plus the film stocks of the day, I really was expecting the worst. What I got was far from that and with this pleasing catalogue title making its way to Blu-ray I can breath a sigh of relief that other older films will get a fair shake in HD. Sharpness is consistent, with only a few shots here and there suffering from a bit of softness. The entire print isn't clean however, there are some specks of dirt and dust amid the print but it's never distracting and far from actually being an issue. The colors held up well, from the rich orange and reds of the fire, to the clothing and skin tones mostly appear accurate and natural (with only a few instances that skin tones were a little off). Blacks also looked good, and grain is nicely apart of this image. I don't think any DNR was applied here.

Audio

There are four audio tracks here in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit as well as tracks in English Dolby Digital 4.0 surround, English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD audio, which was created from the film's original audio mix. This up-mixed track fares better than most, with ample grunt given to the raging fire scenes, but lacks depth and serious range when it's needed the most. Dialogue is clear and distortion free but a little on the flat side. Ambient sounds are present but hardly make an impression as they seem a bit lost amid the other elements that make up the soundtrack including the blaring music score that accompanies the film. It's about as good as one can expect from a 70's era film that's been up-mixed to HD audio. You're probably better off viewing the film with either its 4.0 or 2.0 surround audio.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Fox has packed this disc with extras that includes an audio commentary, two selected scenes audio commentaries, a collection of thirteen featurettes, thirty-three extended and deleted scenes, six storyboard comparisons, an interview, a teaser trailer, a theatrical trailer and a bonus trailer as well as interactive articles and galleries. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a very informative feature-length audio commentary by film historian F.X. Feeney, Feeney brings his immense knowledge of the film, its development and production. This track may not be for everyone as its presented like a historical lecture, so the tone is very informational and dry. He talks about the co-production deal in making the film, the clash of egos and the challenges of the production. Feeney provides a well rounded and researched track that offers up a lot of background and its worth checking out.

Next up is a selected scenes audio commentary by special effects director Mike Vézina, Vézina has worked on films like "X2: X-Men United" (2003), "I, Robot" (2004) and the upcoming "2012" (2009) and offers up is analysis of the effects used in this film as he looks at key effects driven scenes from the film, the scenes he comments are include: "Explosion on 81", "Fire Chief Arrives on 81", "I Used to Run the 100 in 10 Flat", "Explosions in Stairwell", "Roger Tries to Escape", "Elevator Explosion", "Breeches Buoy" and "Water Explosion", he takes us through the use of practical effects and reveals how some of the shots were achieved.

A second selected scenes audio commentary is next by stunt coordinator Branko Racki who has worked on films such as "The Day After Tomorrow" (2004), "Dawn of the Dead" (2004). "16 Blocks" (2006) and "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006). Much like the previous track, Racki takes us through several stunt driven scenes and breaks them down for viewers. The scenes he comments on include: "Will Giddings Catches Fire", "Battling Fire", "Man on Fire", "I Used to Run the 100 in 10 Flat", "Fallen Stairwell", "Scenic Elevator Brought to Safety", "Fight over Breeches Buoy", "Preparing the Water Tanks" and "Water Tank Explosion". These two tracks can be a bit technical and only worth exploring if you hold a real interest in either the effects of stunt work, otherwise they can be skipped.

A total of thirty-three extended and deleted scenes are included, these can be watched individually or with a 'play all' option and feature the following scenes:

- "Alternate Opening Sequence" which runs for 55 seconds, this is a slightly different version of the opening credit sequence with more shots of the helicopter approach.
- "Harlee Meets Up With Lisolette And The Kids" runs for 1 minute 37 seconds, Harlee brings Lisolette some flowers.
- "Air Ducts" runs for 43 seconds, the building manager tells a worker to sort out the air ducts.
- "Close Up Of Harry On The Phone" runs for 1 minute 10 seconds, an unused shot in this extended scene.
- "Extended Scene With Doug And Susan" runs for 2 minutes 4 seconds, Susan models some lingerie for Doug as they share some pillow talk.
- "The Jeweler Delivers The Golden Scissors As Dan Bigelow Argues With His Staff" runs for 2 minutes 45 seconds, the title is self explanatory.
- "James And Dan Discuss The Party" runs for 1 minute 8 seconds, the two talk about postponing the party, meanwhile in the security control room more problems are being discovered.
- "Harlee And Lisolette" runs for 52 seconds, another extended moment between these two as Harlee picks up Lisolette for the party.
- "James And Susan Discuss San Francisco" runs for 2 minutes 26 seconds, James asks Susan if she can convince Doug to work for him.
- "The Mayor Addresses The Crowd" runs for 1 minute 39 seconds, San Francisco's mayor welcomes the crowd and marks this special occasion on the opening of the building.
- "James Discusses The Elevators With The Mayor And Senator Gary Parker" runs for 1 minute 48 seconds, after the building is lit up for the first time James tells the mayor and senator tells them in confidence that only one of the scenic elevators is actually working.
- "James And Senator Parker In The Elevator" runs for 1 minute 2 seconds, and is a short addition to the already existing scene.
- "The Party's Entertainer" runs for 1 minute 2 seconds, in this scene we get another quick glimpse of the band.
- "Firemen" runs for 58 seconds, more footage of the firemen on their way to the building.
- "Susan And Patty Discuss Their Significant Others" runs for 1 minute 52 seconds, the two ladies gossip about their partners while at the party.
- "The Electrical System" runs for 49 seconds, Susan and Patty wonder what's happening with the electrical system.
- "Emergency Vehicles On The Scene" runs for 1 minute 11 seconds, more vehicles show up on the scene.
- "Waiting For The Elevators" runs for 50 seconds, more footage of people pushing in to the elevators as more party-goers wait.
- "Four Fire Alarms" runs for 2 minutes 55 seconds, the security control room reports to set off a fourth alarm.
- "Trapped In Her Room" runs for 1 minute 8 seconds, the security guys watch security camera footage of Lisolette on the 87th floor.
- "Fire" runs for 1 minute 18 seconds, an exterior shot of the building in flames and more footage of the firefighters trying to put out blazes.
- "The Stairwell" runs for 1 minute 3 seconds, additional footage of Doug, Lisolette and the kids trying to climb down the collapsed stairwell.
- "Lisolette In The Stairwell" runs for 1 minute 3 seconds, yet more footage from this scene, this time of Lisolette attempting to climb down.
- "Still Waiting For The Elevators" runs for 40 seconds, yet more footage of panicked party-goers waiting for elevators.
- "In The Promenade" runs for 1 minute 49 seconds, Patty thanks James for giving her a good childhood.
- "Attempting To Revive The Unconscious Man" runs for 1 minute 51 seconds, the firemen find an unconscious man and revive him.
- "Shadow-Puppets On The Wall" runs for 1 minute 9 seconds, Lisolette and the kids entertain themselves by making shadow-puppets.
- "Roger Returns To The Promenade" runs for 1 minute 30 seconds, an alternate version of Roger's return after unsuccessfully trying to find a way out.
- "Window Warning" runs for 57 seconds, James asks Gary to help keep the people back as the firemen attempt to knock out the windows.
- "Adjusting The Elevator Controls" runs for 59 seconds, Doug does some handy work on the elevator controls.
- "Connecting The Cable" runs for 1 minute 8 seconds, extended footage of the Fire Chief connecting the cable to the scenic elevator.
- "Rescue Buoy" runs for 1 minute 3 seconds, additional footage of people going out the window in the rescue buoy.
- "Hosing Down Flames" runs for 1 minute 1 second, footage of firemen battling flames on the promenade.

Next up is "Inside the Tower: We Remember" a retrospective featurette that runs for 8 minutes 15 seconds. It is exactly what the title suggest, as we hear from cast members sharing their memories from the set and experiences of working with each other. The clip is fairly basic and offers up some nice anecdotes and you get a general feeling of how much fun it was making the film, but there's nothing here worth repeated viewing.

"Innovating the Tower: The SPFX of an Inferno" is the next featurette which runs for 6 minutes 55 seconds, a look at how the film was ahead of its time in terms of the effects utilized in the film which include the use of miniatures, coordinating the various shooting units, assembling the special effects crew, working with fire and the challenges they encountered. This is one of the better clips on this disc but it's all too short.

"The Art of Towering" featurette runs for 5 minutes 17 seconds and takes a closer look at the film's art design and their involvement in the film, but also on producer Irwin Allen's appreciation of the art crew and conceptual design crew that helped map out the film's look and various shots as well.

"Irwin Allen: The Great Producer" is the next featurette which runs for 6 minutes 25 seconds, this clip takes a look at how much of a showman Allen was. It's a fluff piece of people that worked with the producer talking about how great he was at his job, how much of a perfectionist he was and casting great ensembles in his films. Skip it...

"Directing the Inferno" featurette runs for 4 minutes 28 seconds, as mentioned in the film review above the film was directed by John Guillermin, who focused on the dramatic scenes while the film's producer, Irwin Allen directed the action based scenes. This clip takes a look at this collaboration and how it worked for a film such as this.

"Putting Out the Fire" is the next featurette that runs for 4 minutes 58 seconds and takes a look at the safety precautions undertaken during the filming of the fire scenes, which were relatively controlled but dangerous nonetheless and then also takes a look at real life firefighters. It's a neat clip but could have been incorporated at the end of either the stunt or SPFX featurettes.

"Running on Fire" featurette runs for 5 minutes 52 seconds, and is another stunt featurette, this time focused on the guys that did full body burns for the film and continually set themselves on fire, again this could have been incorporated into the stunt featurette.

"Still the World's Tallest Building" featurette runs for 8 minutes 23 seconds, this clip takes a closer look at the tallest buildings in the world, since this film is about a fictional building that happens to be the tallest catching on fire, it makes sense to include a clip about the real buildings around the world that hold such a record. It's worth checking out.

"The Writer: Stirling Silliphant" featurette runs for 9 minutes 16 seconds and takes a look at the Oscar winning screenwriter responsible for combining the two books in which this script is based on into one film able work and also covers the writer's background.

"AMC Backstory: The Towering Inferno" is the longest running of the featurettes at 22 minutes 8 seconds. This retrospective making-of cover the film's production rather well, there's some repeated information from the commentary here, but that's expected. It's a fairly succinct assessment of the production.

Following that are a collection of six storyboard-to-film comparisons, these compare scenes from their original storyboard phase and the final scene as shot for the film. It's not a side-by-side comparison as we've seen before but instead plays out the scene and intercuts the storyboards, these scenes included are for:

- "Fallen Stairwell" runs for 2 minutes 34 seconds.
- "Helicopter Crash" runs for 1 minute 10 seconds.
- "Elevator Shaft" runs for 2 minutes 20 seconds.
- "Scenic Elevator" runs for 1 minute 58 seconds.
- "Buoy Chair" runs for 1 minute 54 seconds.
- "Water Tank Explosion" runs for 3 minutes 7 seconds.

"NATO Presentation Reel" is a vintage featurette that runs for 11 minutes 8 seconds. This is a promotional clip that was made for the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) to sell exhibitors on the latest blockbuster from the makers of "The Poseidon Adventure" as we get a look on the production studios and workshops at 20th Century Fox.

Following that is the original 1974 featurette #1 which runs for 8 minutes 15 seconds and provides a cool behind-the-scenes look at the production, there's plenty of footage of scenes being shot as an ominous voice over narration takes us through the clip. We are hurriedly shown through the stages of production.

Next is the original 1974 featurette #2 running at 7 minutes 20 seconds. Another generic making-of promotional clip like the previous. The voice over tells us about the scale of the production and what it takes to make a major motion picture.

Original 9-part 1977 Irwin Allen interview is also featured on this disc and runs for 12 minutes 18 seconds. Topics covered are his involvement in the project, the design of the project, the next steps in getting the production units set up and assembling the crew, the challenges of working with fire and any danger posed to the actors involved, the hardest thing to film for the project, the big draw card of this film and the rewarding nature of seeing it all come together. This interview can be viewed as a whole with a 'play all' function or in its individual sections.

There's also the film's original teaser trailer which runs for 1 minute 34 seconds as well as the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 12 seconds. Plus a bonus trailer for "The Poseidon Adventure" running at 3 minutes 15 seconds is also included.

Three interactive articles from "American Cinematographer" are next, these allow you to zoom into the articles and read them in their entirety and include:

- "The Towering Inferno and How it Was Filmed" which features 23 pages.
- "Photographing the Dramatic Sequences for The Towering Inferno" which features 26 pages.
- "Action Unit Lives Up to its Name While Shooting The Towering Inferno" which features 34 pages.

There are a collection of five still galleries for:

- "Shot Compositions" features 28 images.
- "Publicity" features 41 images.
- "Behind-the-Scenes" features 71 images.
- "Conceptual Sketches" features 58 images.
- "Costumes" features 22 images.

Finally the disc is also D-Box enabled for those with the appropriate equipment.

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: A Audio: C+ Extras: B+ Overall: B-

 


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