The Towering Inferno (1974)

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Released 6-Nov-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Disaster Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer-(1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, 2:09 minutes)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1974
Running Time 158:16
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (84:01) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By John Gullerman
Irwin Allen

Warner Home Video
Starring Steve McQueen
Paul Newman
Faye Dunaway
William Holden
Fred Astaire
Susan Blakely
Richard Chamberlain
Jennifer Jones
O.J. Simpson
Robert Vaughn
Robert Wagner
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $24.95 Music John Williams

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

††† Three quarters of the fun in watching The Towering Inferno comes not from the on-screen action nor the story line but from the remarkable treasure trove of 1970s cultural history that it displays. The producers have given us an almost perfect time capsule for everyone who was ever a part of it to cringe about. This is, of course, one of those remarkably silly disaster films that made Irwin Allen so famous. In this case he acts as producer, although he is credited with being director of the action scenes. The standard formula requires the gathering together of as many Hollywood stars as possible in a situation that rapidly spins out of control, placing all of their lives in imminent danger. The heroes are obliged to survive, the wrongdoers are obliged to die (preferably towards the end of the flick so they can make everyone else's lives reasonably miserable) and a goodly proportion of the rest are expected to die at regular intervals in random, inexplicable and pointless fashions. Everything is expected to go wrong at precisely the wrong time so that, for example, explosions are meant to occur at the very spot where a group of the poor characters happen to be passing. One, and preferably only one, must be expected to succumb to the said explosion and have no further reference made about them. Disbelief is not simply to be suspended but must be hung, drawn and quartered.

††† This film accomplishes all of these requirements like clockwork. To be fair, it shows considerably more class than many other films of the genre. Interestingly, this class of film has pretty much become extinct, to be replaced with the modern blockbuster. Rather than The Disaster being the raison d'Ítre, we now have The Special Effect.

††† As I mentioned above, The Towering Inferno is set on the night of the dedication of The Glass Tower, an example of urban renewal of the future set in downtown San Francisco. Paul Newman is the building's architect, Doug Roberts, while William Holden is the hard-nosed builder, James Duncan. His son-in-law, Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) is the electrical contractor responsible for wiring the whole tower, but he has substituted low quality materials for those originally specified to allow him to pocket the difference in cash. A fire breaks out in a storage room midway up the tower, and smoulders away until it breaks out in a massive inferno. The party has already started upstairs, and it takes O. J. Simpson (Aaaarggghhhhh) as the building's security guard to detect the fire and alert the fire department. Fire chief Michael O'Hallorhan (Steve McQueen) promptly arrives and orders everyone down to the ground floor, but it is TOO LATE.

††† Explosions are set off left, right and centre as if the building were wired with high explosives. Fire escapes are either blocked with cement, are full of smoke or suffer from explosive gas leaks. Helicopters also suffer the same explosive fate as the building, although nobody seemed to think of the idea of winching people off the top of the tower. The generally well-behaved victims break out into panic at just the right time to ensure the body count continues to tick over. Between them, O'Halloran and Roberts string together a series of death-defying heroics to gradually get many of the party goers to the ground until the fire finally goes totally out of control and threatens the top floor. The ultimate solution turns out to be to blow up tanks holding a million litres of water above the top floor, thereby dousing the fire.

††† The whole story is set up to be a tribute to firefighters, but by modern standards it does look quite corny, almost but not quite at the "Gosh Batman!" level. However, as sarcastic as my comments might seem, this is not a bad way to while away a couple of hours. There is certainly never a let-up in the pace, and the film was considered good enough to garner three Oscars plus another 5 nominations. I found the whole production design and feel remarkably reminiscent of The Six Million Dollar Man although the film sports considerably better production quality than that particular TV series.

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Transfer Quality


††† The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It is 16x9 enhanced.

††† I was very surprised by the very high quality of the transfer on this disc. The picture was razor sharp throughout, with only some edge enhancement being visible and never any grain. The second half of the film is set during evening, and shadow detail was extremely good. It was never a strain to make out fine imagery in light or dark. There was absolutely no low level noise.

††† The colour palette was similarly great. The 70s was certainly the psychedelic decade, and it all comes shining through with perfect clarity. All colours are fully saturated without any hint of bleeding.

††† Aliasing was quite common, especially during the first half of the film, and manifested itself in car grilles, woodwork, costuming and all manner of other features. This problem tended to disappear once evening set in and the real action started. I also found a severe case of the telecine wobbles at 20:14 accompanied by a rash of film artefacts, so I presume that it might have occurred around the time of a reel change. Otherwise the picture was quite clean, with just the very odd little spot. The RSDL layer change occurred at 84:01, and is one of the best I have ever seen. Although located right in the middle of a scene, my machine just cruised on through it.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


††† In general the audio track is a pretty ordinary affair and can only prove to be rather a disappointment to any proud owner of a multi channel home theatre.

††† The single audio track is English Dolby Digital 2.0 which, while surround-encoded, just managed to provoke the smallest hint of activity up the back at the best of times.

††† Dialogue is generally very clear, although there are a small number of isolated cases where looping should have been used to correct poor microphone placement. The main front speakers were used quite aggressively to locate the dialogue to the left or right of centre. Audio sync was always satisfactory.

††† The score is by John Williams in one of his last scores before the miracle of Star Wars changed the way we viewed film music. It is one that I've had in my music collection for many years, and is very effective. The classic, though still developing, Williams style is evident throughout. The film won an Oscar for Best Song - We May Never Love Like This Again, by Joel Hirschhorn and Al Kasha.

††† The surround-encoding produced the most minor of effects, essentially just providing a degree of reverberation. The subwoofer was disappointingly quiet, and produced only the most insignificant of air movement even during the many explosions.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


††† The extras consisted of only a single Theatrical Trailer. Its quality was pretty good, and a nice change from what we often get even for far more recent films. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. While a little grainy it is a relatively clean print. Sound is no better than that described above for the film itself.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

††† The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on; ††† The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on; ††† Quite a choice. Do you go for the 16x9 enhanced PAL picture or the DD5.1 sound with an apparently impressive Low Frequency Effects channel? I'll stick with what I've got since the picture is so good.


††† The Towering Inferno is probably one of the best of the films from the disaster genre. The action is certainly non-stop so that you tend to forget, or at best laugh at, the hokey characterizations and the glitzy 1970s fashions. On balance I'd say this is definitely worth having a look at, although you might like to try a rental first before deciding if it's deserving of a place in your library.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Murray Glase (read my bio)
Saturday, November 25, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K310, using S-Video output
DisplayPioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D906S
SpeakersRichter Wizard (front), Jamo SAT150 (rear), Yamaha YST-SW120 (subwoofer)

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