When it comes to films, I confess two passions: horror films, as my weekly column here easily demonstrates, and disaster films. Nothing delights me more than seeing entire cities atomized.
A simple diagram
If the Netflix catalog is quite thin when it comes to disaster films, Prime Video (Amazon) has not neglected this niche of films. Usually categorized as action or anticipation or science fiction, these film families do not fit the architecture of these genres. The latter is very simple: an imminent catastrophe is occurring or will occur, affecting all of humanity. The writers focus on a particular city, that of a handful of people who will have to save the planet. It is up to them to find the solution to avoid disaster. Of course, they find the solution, the world is saved, we congratulate each other and we leave our heroes at sunset, in front of a megalopolis whose ruins are still smoking.
Unlike other types of films – horror, detective, romantic, comedy – disaster films are the only ones which almost systematically put scientists first. They are physicists, nuclear engineers, renewable energy engineers, astronauts and their knowledge, which is not taken into account at the start of the film, is taken seriously.
The other key character in disaster films is the “physique”: a former soldier, a policeman, a bar bouncer. We can also find journalists or survivalists, but this is already rarer. The idea is to help the scientist in his mission to save Humanity, either by literally lending his muscles or by approaching public decision-makers. The framework is therefore simple, systematic, almost mathematical. The only variation is the disaster itself, which is based more or less seriously on science and offers more or less realistic solutions.
Adrenaline and survival instinct
The plot is simple, we may have seen dozens of disaster films, yet it almost always works, even when it’s objectively bad. Why ? Beyond the fact that it shows us a world that can disappear overnight and exert a kind of rather morbid fascination, it serves the same purpose as horror films: the adrenaline rush.
We also see the extent to which, even in the face of imminent and hopeless danger, individuals struggle for their survival. In a way, it’s heartening to see, even though it’s set in a movie, people who decide not to let go and hang on at all costs to a meager hope.
As for the realism of the films, if certain scenarios are perfectly far-fetched – at random, that of the film where a black hole will suck the earth and which is countered by a “simple” return in time – certain elements are more true. Thus, these films often feature survivalists a little disconnected from the current world, who give their tips to survive. Some are clearly set out in government “guides” in the event of a water, electricity, etc. cut. If you don’t read the guides in question, watching this type of film allows you to reach more people.
Jurassic Park Syndrome
In Jurassic Park, the chief computer scientist of the park is the only one with access to certain information. Its sudden disappearance in the stomach of a dinosaur translates concretely into a vital loss of elements. In some disaster films, we also find this script element.
Unlike the black hole avoided by going back in time, not only is this situation perfectly credible, but it is verified every day, whether in SMEs or in administrations. The very principle of being in pairs or at least leaving sufficiently explicit documentation available to people who need to know it, seems to be an accessory fantasy. The result is known: if the computer scientist is not there, everything breaks the figure.
The funniest part is also the figure of the computer savior in this type of film. In Jurassic Park, she is played by a computer addicted girl and in The Day of the Apocalypse (available on Prime), by two bewildered science fiction fans. In the real world, it’s often the maid’s cousin’s little nephew “who spends a lot of time on Facebook so he knows how it works.” The immediate result is not an imminent collision with the planet Mercury, but disaster is generally not avoided. Dear managers from all over the world, unite to pair up your technical staff or at least make sure that there is documentation.
If you too are a fan of disaster films, I can only recommend the Prime Video catalog, which is extremely well supplied.