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The Towering Inferno(1974)
A dedication ceremony at the world's tallest skyscraper turns into a high-rise catastrophe when an electrical flare-up causes a raging fire, trapping society's most prominent citizens on the top floor. Winner of three Academy Awards, this spectacular suspense thriller features dazzling special effects and a star-studded cast, including Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden and Faye Dunaway.
For more about The Towering Inferno and the The Towering Inferno Blu-ray release, see the The Towering Inferno Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on July 28, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Steve McQueen (I), Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughn
Director: John Guillermin
» See full cast & crew
The Towering Inferno Blu-ray Review
Fox delivers another sizzling presentation of a classic catalogue title to Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, July 28, 2009
It's a fire, mister, and all fires are bad.
All fires in skyscrapers are bad, of course, unless they're under the watchful eyes of a movie crew and support staff during the creation of one of cinema's great Disaster pictures. A staple of motion pictures, the Disaster movie (no, not that atrocity) has enjoyed plenty of ups (The Poseidon Adventure, Airport) and downs (the Disaster miniseries in particular) during its long and storied history. The genre's enjoying something of a CGI-intense comeback (see The Day After Tomorrow and the upcoming 2012), and of course, James Cameron's Disaster-Romance hybrid epic Titanic currently reigns as the top box-office earner of all-time. Irwin Allen's 1974 classic The Towering Inferno is the granddaddy of the genre, the film not only a technical achievement that holds up incredibly well (just ignore the clothes and decor) but the picture also boasts one of filmdom's all-time great ensemble casts and an impressive list of Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) and a trio of wins (Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Music, Original Song).
San Francisco's Glass Tower, designed by famed architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and financed by the wealthy Jim Duncan (William Holden, The Bridge on the River Kwai), stands proudly at 138 stories and, with its ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony, enters the record books as the world's tallest skyscraper. There's only one problem that's sure to spoil the fun. Duncan's son-in-law, Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain, Blackbeard), in a cost-cutting maneuver, has ignored Doug's strict and specific specifications and installed substandard yet nevertheless "up to code" wiring throughout the building. When the building lights up from lobby to roof in honor of the dedication and party held on one of the top floors, a circuit overloads and sparks a fire in a utility closet on the 81st floor that for hours goes undetected. By the time it makes its dangerous presence known and the local fire crews, led by chief Michael O'Hallorhan (Steve McQueen, The Sand Pebbles), arrive on the scene, it's too late. The fire has spread out of control, and countless innocents are scattered throughout the building's upper floors with a fire raging below them that shows no signs of slowing its rapid spread through the structure.
The Disaster picture's golden era -- the 1970's -- vastly differed from Tinseltown's current take on the genre. Whereas films like Deep Impact and the aforementioned The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 deal with various calamities on a large, generally planetary scale, the classics of yore focused on more centralized locations and singular events: a flooded and capsized cruise liner or, in the case of The Towering Inferno, a skyscraper ablaze. A bit slow to develop the plot, set the scene, and establish its characters and their relationships but fast and furious in its delivery of the various action sequences, The Towering Inferno burns up the screen with moviemaking magic the likes of which few films before or after it have accomplished. A polished, well-tuned and finely acted epic, The Towering Inferno offers a fascinating journey into a microcosm of humanity that's not-so-subtly tucked away behind the overreaching plot line of third-degree disaster. The film's plethora of characters are well-developed and become pawns the fire moves around its 138-story board, some of them taking a heroic stance against the fire and their fate while others attempt to weasel their way out of danger and spit in the face of accountability. Each death will leave the viewer lamenting a tragedy or relieved that a selfish, uncontrollable character has perished, their death likely to save more lives in the long run. Its lengthy runtime an asset rather than a hindrance, The Towering Inferno represents classic moviemaking that seems just as concerned with putting a good product on the screen as it does its revenue, never sacrificing plot or character development in the name of squeezing another showing per day into to the multiplex schedule.
At 165 minutes in length, The Towering Inferno can feel just a bit cumbersome at the very beginning as the film lays its most basic foundation, but once it gets past the arduous task of introducing its slew of primary characters and, of course, its location, things pick up considerably and the film seems to move along at a brisk pace that leaves it feeling shorter than its nearly three-hour runtime suggests. What makes The Towering Inferno so special, particularly when compared to the recent wave of CGI-heavy blockbusters and its poorly-conceived and abysmally-executed miniseries brethren, is its honest nuts-and-bolts approach. The film remains focused on its characters and their plights, develops the primaries admirably, and refrains from anything too flashy or unbelievable to advance the plot. Certainly there are plenty of hair-raising stunts and breathless heroics that come to define the experience, but none of it takes viewers out of the picture. Instead, most every frame draws the audience in tighter and tighter through to the end when, like the characters remaining, they feel completely strapped in and ready to face the inevitable, no matter the danger. The Towering Inferno even seduces viewers with tense and well-played segments away from the inferno, too; discussions on cut-rate wiring or plans of action to combat the blaze and rescue those trapped in its grasp make for some of the best scenes, due both to the wonderfully-penned screenplay courtesy of Oscar-winner Stirling Silliphant (Circle of Iron) and the fine performances of its dream ensemble cast.
The Towering Inferno Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Towering Inferno ignites on Blu-ray as another high quality classic catalogue release from 20th Century Fox. A very fine layer of grain swirls around this 1080p, 2.40:1-framed transfer; it's barely noticeable in most scenes. The print exhibits but a few minute pops and scratches, the film looking about as pristine as the day it debuted some 35 years ago. Colors take on that distinct and warm 1970s look; plenty of oranges, yellows, browns, and baby blues dominate the palette as seen in both the period clothing and decor that's scattered about the building. The transfer does look rather soft in many scenes, particularly in outlying areas of the frame while the center-screen action looks mostly sharp and clear. The transfer does serve up a fair bit of fine detail. As the film moves along, dirt and grime begin accumulating on outfits and the fireman's yellow tanks strapped to their backs that gives the film a sense of realism and texture. Also, close-up shots of actors later in the movie reveal beads of nervous- and warmth-induced sweat across every brow. Black levels impress throughout, whether the image is of a dark interior corner of the building or many nighttime exterior shots of the Glass Tower. Flesh tones also remain a rather neutral and natural shade. The many smoky shots never see any problematic banding or blocking. Despite a few bouts of softness, The Towering Inferno looks rather good on Blu-ray.
The Towering Inferno Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Towering Inferno explodes onto Blu-ray with a satisfactory DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. The track delivers an experience that's about as expected of a mid-1970s production, beginning with a sweeping score that sounds rather good as it spreads across the front of the soundstage and benefiting from the lossless presentation with a wonderful clarity that may not match the best of the current crop of newly-produced sound mixes but makes for a solid listen nevertheless. The movie delivers an effects-heavy soundtrack, and the lossless mix serves them up to a degree that's better than any previous home video rendition. Screaming fire vehicles race to the tower with loud blares of their sirens and revving engines that both streak across the soundstage. Later, various explosions are loud but pack a minimal wallop and come off as somewhat jumbled and undefined. The rear channels are used rather sparingly, offering up a bit of atmosphere but rarely delivering discrete sound effects. Dialogue plays an important role in the picture and though it's sometimes lost under background sound effects, it's mostly clear and intelligible. Not the most active or clear soundtrack out there but one that is certainly befitting the film, listeners shouldn't be disappointed with this lossless offering from 20th Century Fox.
The Towering Inferno Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Towering Inferno bursts onto Blu-ray with a long list of extra features in true Fox "classic title" fashion. First up is a commentary track with Film Historian F.X. Feeney. The track looks at the film from a slightly different -- detached and historical -- perspective, not the usual gamut of filmmaker and star commentaries. He speaks breezily and often fascinatingly about the history of the project, discussing the film's backstory and the conglomeration between 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers, the film's star power, the direction, the numerous stories and themes that develop through the film, and plenty more. Feeney's commentary is more akin to a fascinating college lecture rather than a dry recount of the grind of filmmaking. He never slows down during the entire extended runtime, making this one of the best commentary tracks yet. Also included are two scene-specific commentaries. The first, by X-Men: The Last Stand's Special Effects Director Mike Vezina, is available with the following eight scenes: Explosion on 81, Fire Chief Arrives on 81, 'I Used to Run the 100 in 10 Flat', Explosions in Stairwell, Roger Tries to Escape, Elevator Explosion, Breeches Buoy, and Water Explosion. The second, featuring The Day After Tomorrow's Montreal Stunt Coordinator Branko Racki, is available with the following nine scenes: Will Giddings Catches Fire, Battling Fire, Man on Fire, 'I Used to Run the 100 in 10 Flat', Fallen Stairwell, Scenic Elevator Brought to Safety, Fight over Breeches Buoy, Preparing the Water Tanks, and Water Tank Explosion.
Next up are 10 featurettes. Inside the Tower: We Remember (480p, 8:15) features cast and crew remembering the experience of working alongside the film's incredible star power. Innovating the Tower: The SPFX of an Inferno (480p, 6:55) briefly examines the various and innovative "old fashioned" methods of bringing the film's many effects shots to life. The Art of Towering (480p, 5:17) looks at the important role of the art department's conceptual drawings and storyboards to the finished product. Irwin Allen: The Great Producer (480p, 6:25) briefly looks back on the famed producer's career. Directing the Inferno (480p, 4:28) offers a short examination of the combined directorial work of John Guillermin (dramatic scenes) and Irwin Allen (action scenes) in The Towering Inferno. Putting Out the Fire (480p, 4:58) takes a look at the dangers of playing with fire and the role of local real-life firefighters in ensuring the safety of the cast, crew, and sets during the shoot. Running on Fire (480p, 5:52) pays tribute to the role stunt people in the film. Still the World's Tallest Building (480p, 8:23) takes a peek the history of skyscrapers and some of the world's most famous buildings. The Writer: Stirling Silliphant (480p, 9:16) looks back at the life and times of the Oscar-winning writer. Finally, AMC Backstory: The Towering Inferno (480p, 22:08) is a more generalized look back at the film.
Also included is a massive collection of 33 extended, alternate, and deleted scenes (480p, 44:58). Storyboard-to-Film Comparisons (480p) shows viewers a collection of storyboards followed by the final shots. Scenes offered for comparison include Fallen Stairwell, Helicopter Crash, Elevator Shaft, Scenic Elevator, Buoy Chair, and Water Tank Explosion. Moving along, Vintage Promotional Material offers up a collection of interesting tidbits, including NATO Presentation Reel (480p, 11:08), Original 1974 Featurette #1 (480p, 8:15), Original 1974 Featurette #2 (480p, 7:20), the nine-part 1977 Irwin Allen Interview (480p, 12:18), The Towering Inferno teaser (480p, 1:34) and theatrical trailer (480p, 2:12), and The Poseidon Adventure theatrical trailer (480p, 3:15). Also included are three interactive pieces from American Cinematographer: the 23-page "The Towering Inferno and How it Was Filmed," the 26-page "Photographing the Dramatic Sequences for The Towering Inferno," and the 34-page "'Action Unit' Lives Up to its Name While Shooting The Towering Inferno." Also included is a quintet of still galleries: Shot Compositions, Publicity, Behind the Scenes, Conceptual Sketches, and Costumes. Finally, this disc is also D-Box enabled.
The Towering Inferno Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Though not the highest-grossing, most popular, or largest-in-scale Disaster picture ever made, The Towering Inferno is still the standard-bearer of the genre, a classic epic that boasts impressive visuals, great characters and an even better cast, a fine story, and excellent pacing. Another treasure from 20th Century Fox's massive and largely impressive vault, The Towering Inferno sets Blu-ray ablaze with a presentation sure to satisfy all audiences. Boasting a strong 1080p transfer, a suitably good lossless soundtrack, and a wealth of bonus materials that run the gamut of the film's production, The Towering Inferno is a disc well worth warming up to. Highly recommended.
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• Today on Blu-ray - July 14th - July 14, 2009
For years, HBO had dominated television with their award-winning dramas that captivated millions of viewers on Sunday night and were the main topic of discussion around water coolers on Monday morning. That all changed when ex-Sopranos writer Matthew Weiner released ...
• The Towering Inferno Blu-ray Gets Detailed - May 13, 2009
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'The Towering Inferno', which is due to hit store shelves on July 14. Coming on a BD-50, video will be presented in 2.40:1 1080p AVC accompanied ...
• Fox/MGM Catalog Titles Prepared for June and July - April 2, 2009
In an early announcement to retailers, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and MGM Home Entertainment have revealed that they will bring 8 catalog titles - 'Dark Blue', 'The Graduate', 'Navy Seals', 'Out of Time', 'Road House', 'Rollerball', 'To Live and Die in ...
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