The Towering Inferno (1974) – 4.5/5

An unnecessarily long and somewhat tedious first act gives way to a pretty great action adventure film full of fire and explosions and people plummeting to their deaths, and all done in a manner more believable than I thought possible given the film’s lack of “modern-day” computer effects. It’s hard to imagine a film like this being made convincingly without the use of some kind of CGI, but here it is, and it looks great, probably better than it would have had they had the technology back then. It’s extremely impressive what they were able to pull off back then, and just how convincing it all ultimately looks. But that first hour sure is a chore to get through, and could easily have been cut by at least a half hour.

The film has a pretty simple plot: a fire starts and spreads atop a highrise. Yet how it all unfolds is great, epic, heart attack inducing. There’s stuff in this film I’d never seen before, even by today’s effects standards. Films have come after trying to imitate of course, but most just pale in comparison. You can tell Steven Spielberg was strongly influenced by this when making his later action adventure films, specifically Jurassic Park; the scene where **SPOILERS** the staircase explodes under Paul Newman and co. and he has to climb down from the ledge, then back up to rescue the little girl, while also having to talk the boy and the woman through making the same climb,**END SPOILERS** felt a lot like the scene in Jurassic Park with the T-Rex and the falling car. Granted it’s completely different in execution, but the basic concept is essentially the same, with their both being relatively small scenes of tense, almost quiet action.

James Cameron also was clearly inspired by this film when making Titanic. That film borrows this one’s same story elements almost beat by beat, even going so far as to use a similar villain type who does almost exactly the same thing Billy Zane’s character does in Titanic to save his hide. It’d be downright plagiarism if Cameron hadn’t chosen to make the love story the main pivot of his film rather than the sinking ship. This film has no real focus here beyond the fire, though it does try to establish a number of lame character side plots at the beginning that, as you can probably guess from my tone, don’t work. But luckily, the film puts them on the side burner once the fire starts and doesn’t really pick them up with any degree of seriousness ever again. And we can thank god for that.

Overall, I really liked this film. It’s great; an action adventure classic, almost a masterpiece of the genre to some extent. Sure, the story isn’t particularly deep or meaningful, the characters are uninteresting, and the first hour is so long and slow that it almost ruins the thing, but once you get through it, man is this thing brilliant. It’s the kind of film that gets progressively more daring as it goes along until it becomes just downright insane by the end, in a good way.

The film pulls no punches either: it’s brutal and demented and entirely devoid of mercy for any of its characters. Some of the imagery here even reminded me a bit of 9/11 at times, which made the thing all the more tense and disturbing. Acting wise, it’s okay. Steve McQueen is great as the larger than life superhero fireman of sorts, doing all sorts of crazy stuff to save people from the flames, including **SPOILERS** using a helicopter to land on top of an outdoor elevator stuck between burning floors. **END SPOILERS** Now that’s impressive. Don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. He’s the only standout, really. Newman is okay, nothing special.

So yeah, great, great film. A must watch for any fan of exciting high-octane nail-biting action adventure. Can’t recommend it enough, just try not to let the terrible first hour or so discourage you from sticking with it.



    • sa’ad al-khatib
    • January 16th, 2013

    Great!!!! ,whats great ? , the acting sucks the visuals are stupid and way too long and very predectable , this crap got nominated for a best picure oscar against The Godfather part II and China town what a joke

    • The visuals are of the time. You can’t expect modern day type visuals from a film that was shot in the early 70s. Some suspension of disbelief is required. Plus the effects weren’t that bad from what I remember. It’s just a fun action adventure film at the end of the day. Maybe not Best Picture worthy, but neither are most films that are nominated in that category every year.

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