Artisan // 1999 // 170 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // April 5th, 2000
Terror is off the Richter scale.
I'm old enough to remember first hand the onslaught of '70s disaster pics, some of which I enjoyed. Carrying on in that tradition is Aftershock, a television mini-series about, you guessed it, an earthquake in New York City. A big one. While the 3 hour sans-commercials film never explains why the Big Apple could get the Big One, it does a very realistic looking job of portraying it happening. Fine special effects, some good performances, and some human drama make this a well above average presentation, especially for television. Artisan, the bringer of all television mini-series to DVD it seems, gives us this one as well, with fine results.
As is usual in many disaster flicks, this one takes different people and their families, and rotates the stories among them as they try to survive the earthquake/flood/bomb/volcano/tornado/hurricane or whatever caused things to go seriously amok this time. The main stars are Tom Skerrit (Top Gun, Contact) as the fire chief in a political battle with the mayor, played by Charles Dutton (Random Hearts, Mimic). These two enemies have to put aside their differences and try to save as many people as they can, including members of their own families, some of whom are missing amidst the rubble. Sharon Lawrence (TV's NYPD Blue) stars as a mother who feels guilt over causing great injury to her son in a car wreck, even though the accident was not her fault. When her son is trapped in a wrecked school, she does everything she can to try to rescue him. Other characters include the mayor's daughter (Lisa Nicole Carson from Ally McBeal) who is trapped in a subway tunnel with the man whom she just won an acquittal for in a case of murder and who might not be innocent. The various characters try to save themselves and each other.
What I thought was the best part of the film was the way people came together in time of crisis. Total strangers band together to help each other and those who cannot help themselves, and enemies learn understanding of the other when personal enmity is set aside. Some very human stories, amidst realistic carnage, are what make this more than just a special effects flick. The special effects were surprisingly good though; far surpassing the 1974 disaster flick Earthquake. The effects were quite convincing of a city coming down around its ears. From the many buildings coming apart to the Statue of Liberty taking a nosedive I never felt like this was an obvious effect. Quite well done, especially for a television production.
The disc is a pretty fine work as well. It is full frame because it was filmed for television. The case does say "formatted to fit your screen" but I don't see any obvious scene cropping. The DVD presentation is far better than the original broadcast. The image on the DVD is more detailed, vivid, and clearer than it appeared on television. Colors are vivid and without a trace of chroma noise or bleeding. The blacks are very accurate and the DVD has a higher level of shadow detail than you usually expect with television productions. I found no artifacts or edge enhancement problems. High marks for the picture.
I was even more surprised by the sound. Someone took the normal stereo track and made a DD 5.1 remix from it. While it's not exactly reference quality compared to many film discs, it was more spacious and involving than any television soundtrack. I detected pretty frequent use of the discrete surrounds as pieces of buildings fell, sometimes giving me a feeling of whiplash to hear it come from my left rear channel. My only complaint is that the .1 channel could have had more boost to really shake the walls during the earthquake, but it was more than adequate. The bass was definitely there, just not shaking me out of my chair.
Extras aren't what I would call overwhelming, but there is a decent assortment. The trailer, fairly extensive cast and crew bios and filmographies, and a text supplement of how to prepare for and survive earthquakes are included.
Probably the worst flaw was the fact that this was a television production. This means that the pacing is centered on the cycle for commercial breaks. Without the breaks often you get a crescendo of music and a cliffhanger, then a quick fade to black and back to the same scene, sans the music. It comes off pretty jarring without the break. I would truly wish for a bit of editing when these are transformed into an all-at-once viewing medium. Some proper editing and you could do away with the fades to black entirely, giving a much better continuity to the picture.
While the performances were quite good considering, that qualifier remains a fact. This was a television series rather than a feature film and the acting isn't up to par with what you would expect out of one. The lead actors do a better job than many of the people you run across, but here and there a supporting cast member does shine for his moment here and there. So this is a small complaint at best.
As far as the disc, the lack of subtitles is something I'd like to see Artisan correct on future discs. I don't think that is terribly difficult to add so that the deaf and hard-of-hearing can also enjoy the film. The packaging, I should note, does not tell you that there is a Dolby Digital track. It only advertises the Dolby Surround track.
This is a fine disc from Artisan, who constantly surprise me with the level of care they are giving television mini-series. This one even has the DD 5.1 soundtrack, a big added bonus. This disc is worth at least a rental, and if you're a fan of disaster type flicks, a purchase. The disc only runs about 170 minutes so it is possible to watch straight through.
Artisan and the cast are acquitted without argument or prejudice. High marks on both film and disc, either of which could have been sub-par given its television roots.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 170 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Talent Files
* Earthquake Preparedness Information