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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Earthquake (1974)

Earthquake (1974)

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Released 2-Aug-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Disaster Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1974
Running Time 117:04
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (42:08) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Mark Robson

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Charlton Heston
George Kennedy
Lorne Greene
Ava Gardner
Genevieve Bujold
Richard Roundtree
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music John Williams

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 4.1 L-C-R-S-Sub (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, lots of burning buildings in the background

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

Plot Synopsis

    The 1970s were a time of big budget spectaculars, especially disaster movies, movies such as The Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno and Meteor. Nowadays it's Volcano, Deep Impact or Armageddon, but everyone loves a good disaster movie. In the early days though, instead of CGI over blue/green screen backdrops we had painted backdrops and exploding polystyrene and plaster models, but each movie in turn was designed to feed off that deep-seated fear of the terrifying nature of a natural disaster. Fitting nicely into this mold is Earthquake with its fake blood and fire, screaming actors, running hither and thither, trying to avoid the plaster of Paris debris raining down on them and of course those wonderful sound effects and ground-shaking earth tremors. When originally released back in 1974, Earthquake was accompanied by a media blitz advertising a new sound format, Sensurround.

    For those of us lucky (or unlucky in some cases) enough to have been old enough to adventure into a cinema offering this wonderful new invention, it was an eye-opener (and an a*** opener as well) to be sure. Placed underneath the seats at selected cinemas were little speakers (actually, if my memory serves me right they were only installed on selected seats) and as the earthquake rumbled and roared its way across the screen your seat would vibrate and you'd experience first-hand the fury of this natural disaster. Unfortunately, it also had an emetic effect on some, and like 3D and Smell-O-Vision, quickly faded away into oblivion. Still, it's amazing what they used to try and get you to go to the pictures.

    Fortunately, the movie itself isn't that bad and has a very good cast and a decent storyline from George Fox and Mario Puzo, which takes some time to get going but is well worth it. Add in some half-decent special effects (you can't look at this movie in terms of what is possible today - if anyone shook the camera like these guys did to create the effect of earth movement they'd be looking for a new job quick-smart) and this is an entertaining two hours.

    The story is fairly simple. Several characters from different backgrounds end up thrown together by adversity, trying to survive a natural disaster of biblical proportions that strikes the city of Los Angeles. Steward Graff (Charlton Heston), a former footballer and now architect/engineer works for his father-in-law, Royce, (Lorne Greene) building major construction works. His wife, Remy (Ava Gardner), is suffering from major neglect and Graff is slowly losing interest in her, plus he's found a new interest, Denise (Genevieve Bujold). Then there's Slade (George Kennedy), a cop who's just been suspended for assaulting a fellow officer in the pursuit of a hit-and-run motorist, Miles (Richard Roundtree), the next Evel Knievel, who's setting up his amazing bike stunt to impress a Las Vegas entrepreneur and a slew of other minor characters.

    While all these little subplots are being set up, there are various minor rumbles and tremors just to whet your appetite for the big one (which occurs around 50 minutes in). Once that hits, all hell breaks loose and it's every man and woman for themselves and you get lots of good model work and the odd crappy special effect thrown in for good measure. For our star cast, of course, there are problems galore. Graff's first order of business is the rescue of his boss and co-workers trapped in their own building when the stairwell becomes a mass of rubble and the lifts crash to the basement. Denise's son, in the meantime, who was riding his bike down by the spillway has fallen onto the concrete and been concussed. Naturally, the big dam just outside of town is suffering a few cracks and could go anytime and Miles' big chance has been thwarted when the quake destroys his setup and he ends up helping out Denise. Remy is all concerned for her father and follows him around hoping for the best and ends up in the sub-basement of a supposedly earthquake-proof building (didn't anyone ever teach these guys about tectonic movement? Oh well, that's showbiz I suppose) which naturally collapses and allows our two dramatic heroes (Kennedy and Heston) to show their macho-ness.

    All-in-all, Earthquake is a fun movie to watch that won't challenge any major precepts. Everyone knows that California is due for a big quake one of these days, seeing as it lies on the San Andreas fault line, so that rings true. The backplots are strictly 70s style, which don't age well, but our hero still manages to get his shirt off and show his hairy chest.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    The first thing you notice when watching this movie is that it is soft to the point of blurriness. I actually had trouble defining outlines for the first few minutes with everything taking on a double vision type effect. Naturally, once my eyes adjusted things were a lot better, but it still took some getting used to.

    The movie was originally screened in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and we are presented with a 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced version which is close enough not to matter

    Like I said earlier, soft is the order of the day and although there was no edge enhancement of note, outlines often tended to be indistinct, making things hard on the eyes. Shadow detail naturally suffered as a result with many backgrounds offering only the most elementary of detail. Fine detail was simply not present in many shots. Grain was fortuitously minor, which was good, although the general softness could explain a lot of its absence. Low level noise was not a major problem.

    The colour was good, if a little drab. Skin tones were very natural and there was no oversaturation or chroma noise. There was some colour bleed noticeable, mainly in the reds (see 6:41 on the cabinet with the axe, and again at 63:54, for the best examples of bleeding).

    Shimmering is persistent throughout the movie with your eye being caught on numerous occasions. Break-up into full-blown aliasing occurs at 6:15 (on a car), 14:20 (on some doors), 24:17 (one of the models breaks up badly) and 28:23. There are other minor instances but they were the worst. Only one instance of moiré artefacting was seen at 78:31 on a bus in the background. Pixelization can be seen from time to time (eg: 2:34 on Ava Gardner's shoulders) but isn't a major annoyance. Faint spots and minor blemishes pit the print but are so insignificant that the transfer could be considered extremely pleasing in this respect.

    Subtitles are located at the very bottom of the picture for minimal interference and are easy to read and fairly accurate to the dialogue.

    The layer change occurs at 42:08 and is noticeable because of the slight pause which barely disrupts the flow of the movie. Bad placement, good change.

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


    The soundtrack on this disc is listed as a Dolby Digital 4.1 track and after some intense listening it actually does have some faint surround activity, although at times you'd be right in assuming the surrounds weren't active at all. A bitrate of 384 kilobits per second isn't matched by what comes out of the speakers, though. For the first 18-odd minutes, the sound was almost totally in the centre speaker, including music and dialogue. If you hold your ear to the left/right channels, you will make out that they are working, but barely. It is a bit of a shock, then, when they kick in at the 18:30 mark, but from there on they start getting more to do. All-in-all, the audio track on this disc is a strange one. At times it is very fulfilling, but at others it's downright hopeless.

    The dialogue is clear and clean except at 23:40 when the voices sound very hissy, but only for a few seconds. Syncing wasn't an issue.

    This must have been one of John Williams' earlier efforts and although serviceable it has that real 70s sound to it. It matches the dramatic effects on-screen but never really becomes memorable.

    Unless you put your ear to the surround speakers you'd probably never even notice they were active during most of the movie. There is an almost total lack of sound output coming from them except at 50:10 when the major quake hits (as with the subwoofer). Even then, you don't get much of an immersive effect but you can at least make out that they are being used. For the most part, they went totally unnoticed.

    Very little use of the subwoofer was noticed until the earthquakes begin. Minor rumblings can be felt with the tremors but solid activity from around the 50:10 mark as the first of the major quakes hit mark its first real usage and it really kicks up a storm. After this, it gets the odd workout to add some good solid bass, but doesn't really do much else.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Theatrical Trailer

    With a running time of 3:03, this is presented at 2.35:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. The sound is strictly mono, the whole thing has a strange positioning on the screen and there is lots of aliasing.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 1 version of this DVD misses out on;

    The Region 4 version of this DVD misses out on;    Given this, the Region 4 (plus pricing) is the clear winner.


    Earthquake is one of the many entertaining disaster movies that came from the 1970s, although this one has a good cast and a good plot. Some of the effects are a little antiquated but for its time it was a cracker and still watches quite well.

    The video is very soft and takes some getting used to but it is very clean for its age. Only minor problems, apart from the blurriness, are issues here.

    The audio is adequate for the most part. It has moments of real quality and others where it is awful. Overall, it is just reasonable.

    Forget the extras, they are almost non-existent.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Monday, September 02, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD5300, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderRotel RSP-976. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationRotel RB 985 MkII
SpeakersJBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio LS fx di/bipole Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS350-LS Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer

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