Review- The Golden Age of Disaster Cinema A Guide to the Films, 1950- 1979 (McFarland, 2019)
Author Nik Havert’s new book from McFarland is the best kind of disaster. Why? Because it’s a great book about disaster movies! “The Golden Age of Disaster Cinema, A Complete Guide to the Films, 1950 – 1979” (henceforth called “Disaster Cinema” for the sake of brevity) is a fun look at a terrifying topic that has fascinated moviegoers since the birth of cinema and continues to do so today.
I particularly liked Havert’s book because I grew up in the 70s and 80s and I have many fond memories of the three major networks- ABC, CBS, and NBC- all playing the big budget Hollywood disaster movies on a regular cycle as part of their line-up. As a kid I saw avalanches destroying ski resorts, swarms of killer bees attacking Texas, 747s sinking in the ocean, skyscrapers burning, earthquakes shaking and animals attacking (long before FOX ever thought of “When Animals Attack”). Cruising through the pages of Havert’s book is often a nostalgic trip back to my youth.
“Disaster Cinema” starts with Havert defining the scope of what a disaster film is, and just as importantly, what it isn’t. The period the book covers, 1950 to 1979, was the featured everything from alien attacks to holes in the ozone layer. It was a time when nature was going wild and man’s folly was going to doom us all. I’d never thought about what was and wasn’t a disaster movie myself, but as I read his definition and the accompanying examples it clicked in my head as I would think “Yeah, Grizzly isn’t a disaster movie, but of course Day of the Animals is.” Other readers may or may not agree with the way he defines it, but that’s ok, he covers enough movies that I don’t think you’ll miss much.
After the introduction and definition of scope, Havert launches right into the films. Organized by year starting with 1950, he takes a short look at the films that fit the definition for that year, then he moves to the next. Each film is covered in a standard, somewhat academic format listing the film’s name, the writer(s), director(s), producers and actors involved. Then he takes the reader though a short synopsis of the film, giving major plot points, but not giving away the film’s ending. Havert peppers the synopses with trivia and in some cases interviews actors, crew and filmmakers behind the features. These interviews are one of the best parts of the book as they bring some special insight into the work that isn’t present when you just read a vanilla plot summary.
“Disaster Cinema” is also a fun read because of the depth to which Havert dives into his subject matter. Covering films from around the world, the author not only stirs my personal nostalgia for films from the 70s like The Swarm and Airport 77, but he also introduces me to a slew of films I never knew existed.
“Disaster Cinema” is a well-written and insightful look at an often-ignored genre of films that are an important part of film history and helped lay the groundwork for some of today’s biggest films. So check out “The Golden Age of Disaster Cinema, A Complete Guide to the Films” by Nik Havert and remember, whether it’s a giant meteor is hurtling towards the Earth or the sky catching fire, Hollywood’s got a plan to deal with it.