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THE TOWERING INFERNO
Special Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, O.J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner
Director:  John Guillermin
Audio:  Dolby Digital 4.0, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  165 Minutes
Release Date:  May 9, 2006

"How bad is it?"

"Depends on how good your imagination is."

Film ***1/2

Irwin Allen was the undisputed master of disaster in the 70s. He produced an endless stream of chaotic pictures, all dealing with some kind of larger than life catastrophe. Many were forgettable, but his best films remain the staples of the genre that today's movies like Dante's Peak, Armageddon, and Twister pay homage to. These were the films with the mind boggling special effects, the terror and suspense that were strong enough to overlook the often weak dialogue, and of course, the cast of stars that were there merely to be fodder for his disasters.

The Towering Inferno is one of his better works, and it's no exception to any of these rules. This is an amazing cast of stars, yet they're pretty much there just to meet grisly deaths by falling, crushing, strangling, and of course, burning. Talk about your celebrity roast!

Paul Newman is Doug Roberts, the architect who designed the Glass Tower, the world's tallest building (135 floors) designed to house both businesses and residences together. And on the eve of its dedication ceremony, it catches fire. We wouldn't have a movie otherwise.

Steve McQueen is the fire chief, who tries unsuccessfully to control the rapidly growing blaze. He remarks to Doug, "You know we have no way to fight fires past the seventh floor. And you keep right on building." And this fire is not just any fire. Throw in for good measure bad wiring, and gas pipes exploding, and you've got...well, an inferno.

Of course the party goers on the top floor (which naturally include the richest and most powerful people in the city) have no clue how bad it is. Until, that is, an elevator door opens to reveal extras flambť.

The major complaints most critics have with this movie are the dialogue, which does get silly from time to time ("there's nothing any of us can do to bring back the dead"), and the weak characterizations. Nobody's role is fully developed. Like I said, many of them are just there to die.

My take on these complaints is that they are legitimate, but I don't think it would be an Irwin Allen film without them. These are the things you chuckle about afterwards. They don't get in the way of the movie.

The point of a film like this is to be suspenseful and frightening. This is one of the best movies to do just that, for my taste. It always unnerves me, probably because it deals directly with two of my greatest personal fears, heights and fire. Or maybe it was seeing this movie as a youngster that gave me these phobias. Who knows?

Video ***1/2

This anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite good. If you're like me and have only seen this movie on television, and can remember how it looked, get ready to be blown away. This film has never looked nor sounded so good. The colors are all bright and vibrant, and even the darker scenes are clean and sharp, with only a slight touch of grain here and there. 

Audio ***

Why this special edition was changed from 5.1 to 4.0 is beyond me...I miss the subwoofer giving the fire its rumble.  The score, effects and dialogue are still all crisp and lively...no real complaints there, but the change wasn't necessary.

Features ****

What extras...two discs' worth of goodies!  Disc One has a solid commentary track from film historian F. X. Feeney, along with scene specific commentary by modern special effects director Mike Vezina and stunt coordinator Branko Racki.

The second disc has 9 featurettes, including remembrances from the cast, a look at the special effects, Irwin Allen, skyscrapers, fire and more.  There is the AMC "Backstory" segment on the film, over 30 deleted or extended scenes, storyboard comparisons, a 1977 interview with Allen, the original NATO presentation, stills galleries, teaser and trailer, and a trailer for The Poseidon Adventure. 

Summary:

The Towering Inferno is 70ís disaster at its very best, as only Irwin Allen could deliver.  Itís a terrific combination of thrills and suspense, of big name stars and low intellect dialogue.  Itís one hell of a good time.

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