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STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
RUNNING TIME: 164 Minutes
• AMC Backstory: The Towering Inferno featurette
• Commentary by film historian F.X. Feeney
• Extended and deleted scenes
• Irwin Allen interview
• Nato presentation reel
• Nine all-new featurettes
• Scene specific commentaries by stunt coordinators and special effects directors
• Still photo galleries
• Storyboard-to-film comparisons
The Poseidon Adventure was a huge hit and we want to duplicate it, but we don’t want people to think we’re unoriginal. We’ve got to make a film that’s the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of The Poseidon Adventure. Instead of being at the bottom of the sea, it’ll take place at the top of the sky! And instead of people being threatened by water, they’ll be threatened by fire! And instead of featuring Shelly Winters, it’ll feature Faye Dunaway!
Due to the limitations of the internet, the unique billing scenario from The Towering Inferno’s original theatrical poster cannot be recreated here. This poster allowed both of the film’s stars to receive top billing at the same time, placing one star’s name first on the left but the second star’s name one line higher. To compensate, the names of the film’s top two stars have been combined: Staul McNewman. This should prevent any lawsuits from zombie Steve McQueen.
The rest of the cast includes William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain and O.J. Simpson, who is remembered by most for his incredible performance in Capricorn One.
"Oh, for the love of God! Who hired Great White to play at the dedication ceremony?"
James Duncan has built the largest skyscraper in the world because he enjoys taunting God and proving that America is number one at going completely overboard when it comes to architecture. Of course, he had to cut a few corners here and there. There’s nothing to worry about really, just cheap building materials and faulty wiring. None of that should come back to bite him on the ass during the gala party and unveiling ceremony being held on the 135th floor.
Doug Roberts is the do-gooder architect who actually cares about safety regulations and other boring stuff like that. He’s pretty upset over Duncan’s flippant attitude towards fire safety. Fire Chief Michael O’Hallorhan cares about safety as well, but that comes secondary to brooding and looking really manly as he fights fire.
Worlds collide as the architect and fire chief must join forces when a freak fire occurs and engulfs the entire skyscraper in flames. Glass shatters, stairwells explode and people plummet to their deaths. Unfortunately, Fred Astaire never breaks into a whimsical song and dance as people burn around him.
"I’d like to give her some of Newman’s own if you catch my drift."
The Towering Inferno was fast tracked into production after the incredible success of The Poseidon Adventure. During this period, a myriad of other rip-off disaster films were made by rival studios. Irwin Allen would not be outdone by these imitators and devised the most extravagant and overblown disaster picture of them all. His film would have two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, gigantic set pieces, huge explosions and tons of mayhem. After all that was done being filmed he’d stick a little plot in there if he had some money left over.
Inferno is a fun action film but a lot of factors keep it from being as enjoyable as Poseidon was. The first and most obvious factor is that it feels like a retread. So many disaster films were released in the wake of Poseidon that all the scenarios feel cliché and boring. The characters will be hindered by obstacles and will have to navigate through dangerous corridors to progress. Once everyone escapes they move on to the next obstacle.
Anyone who has seen a few disaster pictures will be too wise to the formula to ever be truly shocked by The Towering Inferno. The audience knows that several extraneous characters will end up meeting their doom, so they never form a connection to any of them. The film can’t fool anyone with its quickie attempts to create dramatic tension and romantic relationships.
Another factor hindering the film is its length. The film is nearly forty minutes longer than The Poseidon Adventure. With the immense budget the film had, the temptation to include tons of stunts must have been hard to resist. The filmmakers forgot to include something compelling in between the stunts though, and by the two hour mark even the special effects might start to wash over an already numb audience.
"While you guys were detonating water tanks, fighting a blazing inferno and watching loved ones die, I saved this cat. No need to thank me. Just doing my job."
The film also has a greater number of characters to follow. Instead of being able to focus on a tight knit group of survivors as they stick together, the film has to jump from character to character. Some characters are in extreme danger, others are enjoying a cocktail. Whereas Poseidon could keep the amount of tension constant for its entire duration, Inferno’s constant switching of focus makes it difficult to appreciate the danger any of the characters are in.
The Towering Inferno is also noticeably less hammy and tongue in cheek than The Poseidon Adventure. The actors treat the situation seriously and the deaths of the characters seem particularly brutal, more so in the current political and social climate. The odds of this film being remade seem rather slim. Audiences might not consider people catching on fire and suicide diving out of skyscrapers to be fun entertainment these days.
Even though The Towering Inferno does everything bigger and better than its disaster film contemporaries, it still comes off as just another in a long line of similar films. Its extravagant nature was the perfect way to end the short lived genre and Irwin Allen’s decade of dominance, but it hasn’t aged as gracefully as The Poseidon Adventure. You’ll have fun watching suckers get burned once, but the only people likely to undertake repeat viewings of The Towering Inferno are pyromaniacs and Robert Vaughn Fan Club members.
Fans of the film are sure to enjoy some of the great special features 20th Century Fox has included in this special edition. The best of these features is the 45 second PSA that yells at you for stealing movies. This PSA plays every single time you insert the disc of the film that you just legally purchased. That’ll teach those lousy pirates!
The packaging is the same as the special edition of The Poseidon Adventure. The outer sleeve is a reworking of the original artwork with raised lettering. The original theatrical poster is used for the cover of the interior case. The back of the case reinstates how two dimensional many of the characters are, referring to them as “The architect,” “The fire chief,” “The senator” and so on.
Why doesn’t anyone make lobby displays as freakishly awesome as this anymore?
Commentaries are the only extras on the first disc. The feature commentary is by film historian and critic F.X. Feeney. Feeney knows the film inside and out and is never at a loss for words. He goes over every aspect of the film, from how the shots were set-up to the behind the scenes battles between the film’s stars. Also included on the disc are scene specific commentaries. 20th Century Fox wrangled up some of the special effects supervisors and stunt coordinators from their studio lot and had them commentate on the various explosions and fires throughout the film.
Short featurettes make up the bulk of the extra material on disc two. AMC Backstory: The Towering Inferno is a thirty minute speedy look at everything that went into the film’s creation. More time is spent on the pairing of Steve McQueen and Paul Newman and Irwin Allen’s Hollywood clout than the actual process of filming the movie. Nine all-new featurettes each focus on one aspect of the film’s production such as the scripting, the miniatures and the fond memories of the actors. Curiously, O.J. Simpson was not asked for his fond recollections on the film. What an odd omission.
Over thirty extended and deleted scenes are included on the second disc. These scenes are from an even longer version of the film that was shown on television. Due to the crummy quality of these scenes they weren’t integrated into the regular movie. To demonstrate exactly where these scenes took place, the feature plays the scenes from the regular version of the film in black and white and then switches to the extended portions in full color. Most of the extended scenes were cut for good reason as they only served to pad out an already overly long film.