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Artwork copyright (c) 1974 Universal Pictures; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Barely registers on the Richter Scale


They're all in it - Charlton Heston, George Kennedy, Lorne Green - this is a disaster movie with pedigree.  Not particularly better nor worse than the countless others that went around it, it does its job well enough, featuring all the stunts you might want.  John Williams wrote the scores for many of the famous disaster movies of the early 70s, taking his cue from the one that started them all - Alfred Newman's Airport - but not really coming up with anything quite so memorable.  Indeed, in this writer's opinion, Williams's disaster scores are the weakest aspect of his career apart from those countless 60s comedies he did.  The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure are both virtually intolerable to listen to, but Earthquake is actually considerably better, easily the best of the three.  Damning with faint praise, perhaps, but it's certainly in a higher league.

The opening theme is as cheesy as they come - well, you might think, you haven't heard what comes later yet! - but despite its extraordinary naffness, it's actually quite fun and memorable.  Hardly up there in the pantheon of great Williams themes, but it's not bad.  In its solo piano form in "City Theme" it works very well, by far the most serious aspect of the score, and probably the most impressive.  "Something for Rosa" is like the worst piped muzak you ever heard, truly deliciously awful.  It's an absolute riot!  "Love Scene" is quite nice romantic music; again, it's a little like elevator music, but it's attractive enough.

The music becomes more serious in "The City Sleeps", which resembles other, better Williams efforts and is really rather impressive, a subtly moving and powerful piece which certainly does a good job of conjuring up images of a great city.  For an action movie, there is surprisingly little action in the score, but "Cory in Jeopardy" is probably the best track, featuring some imaginative piano writing and John Barry-style xylophone, all with the merest hints of the main theme coming through from time to time.  Good stuff.  "Something for Remy" is a bizarre mix of contemporary jazz, orchestral suspense music and sound effects (yes, the sounds of buildings collapsing - lovely to listen to with the wife over a glass of chianti) which fails abjectly at whatever it's trying to achieve.  The Finale piece is good enough though.

It's remarkable to think today, when he barely seems to put a foot wrong, that Williams once wrote scores like this.  Earthquake is a curious mixture of solid orchestral material and naff-beyond-belief contemporary music which really does fall into the "so bad it's good" category.  For fans of Williams who only know him through his more famous blockbuster scores, listening to something like this could be something of an eye-opener.  For his more seasoned fans, it's not likely to get much play time, but it's quite good in places, even if you do have to step over a few sizable cracks to get there.  (Geddit?)

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  1. Earthquake (2:52)
  2. Miles on Wheels (2:36)
  3. City Theme (2:53)
  4. Something for Rosa (2:30)
  5. Love Scene (2:26)
  6. The City Sleeps (2:24)
  7. Love Theme (2:26)
  8. Cory in Jeapordy (2:23)
  9. Watching and Waiting / Miles's Pool Hall / Sam's Rescue (3:40)
  10. Something for Remy (3:47)
  11. Finale / End Title (1:47)
  12. Special Effects (2:42)
  13. Aftershock (:24)