I have (what I consider to be) an entirely justifiable fear of that mystifying monstrosity we call the ocean. Not where it licks the land—I can handle its mouth. It’s the belly that scares the bejesus out of me. Therefore, the idea of said belly encroaching on populated territory is the stuff of my recurring nightmares.
Unsurprisingly, with this imaginative fear comes a morbid fascination with on-screen depictions of mother earth unleashing her fury.
Usually disaster scenes are so worst-case-scenario and unbelievable that we can enjoy the what-if without really considering how it’d play out, which is why the unflinching Tsunami scene from The Impossible is so horrifying. We've seen it play out for real on the news, an incident out of real life, making it so much harder to watch.
Like what United 93 did for air disaster films, The Impossible achieved, at least in part, the same for ocean-related peril.
After all that reality, it’s probably wise to focus on a film that contains one of the most ridiculous end-of-days scenes in the history of the disaster film sub-genre.
I’m not saying it wasn’t researched for accuracy; perhaps it was overseen by NASA themselves, but when we’re presented with Tea Leoni (and her teary, cinematic eyes) and her estranged father, locked in an embrace as a wall of a wave the height of a skyscraper swallows them whole, we’re laughing as much as we’re expected to grieve.
The Day After Tomorrow & 2012
After the iconic disaster scene from his 1996 blockbuster Independence Day, Roland Emmerich decided to devote two entire movies to one-upping himself on the destruction front.
The Day After Tomorrow took water damage to its most outlandish extent, and 2012 saw John Cusack spend two hours speeding through a CGI world as it collapsed behind him. Both were heavy on the effects and light on the thrills, and are more effective watched in a tiny YouTube window than on a warts-and-all big screen.
Fittingly, though incongruously at the same time, it’s quasi-nihilist Lars Von Trier that serves up perhaps the most poetic apocalypse ever put to screen. After a masterful depiction of the fruitlessness of manic depression from Kirsten Dunst, the comet finally colliding with earth is a moment of welcomed catharsis.
It’s one of those moments that renders your mouth agape as a single tear of shock runs out of the side of one eye. Know what I mean?
Children of Men
Cheating a little, though you could say that mother earth is in charge of human fertility, and when the possibility of reproduction is removed from society, the results are just as frightening as any all-consuming wave. Alfonso Cuarón portrays the resulting climate after the disaster with chilling detail, and reminds us that globally felt disasters come in more than one form.
Mother Earth can do damage while standing still—one of her comparatively tiny shards of ice can slice through a cruise liner without her intending to cause any harm, which is exactly what happened to that massive ship where that poor, hot teenager fell in love with a buxom woman.
James Cameron’s iconic disaster scene lasted for a good hour, and unlike other titles mentioned above, it still holds up and then some. Say what you will about the first half of the film and/or Celine Dion ballads, but the directorial wizardry on display during the second has rarely been matched since.
Of course,…don’t tell Cameron we said that. He’s been lauded enough.
Catch our Naomi Watts and co-star Ewan McGregor in The Impossible on SBS On Demand: