The nomenclature of "disaster movie" is as difficult a classification to place upon a film as any; for its definition is extremely malleable. Many movies incorporate a disaster, or even numerous disasters, and are still not known as "disaster movies"; the definition is not that simple. A disaster movie is usually declared as such when, and only when, the entire essence of the film revolves around disaster. Characters, and the realities which they inhabit, seem to exist only in order to be affected by the disaster(s). Disaster movies of all types (from alien invasions to in-peril travel movies), operate within the same formulaic realm; the death toll is large, the disasters horrific, and hero(s) nearly always saves the day. The allure of the disaster movie is that of "danger at a distance"; the audience can live (and nearly die) vicariously through the characters facing the disaster, while remaining safe in the knowledge that it's only a movie. The thrill is the heart of the disaster movie. However, there is more to the average disaster film than meets the eye; these films have a way of acutely reflecting the times in which they are created. Disaster movies are often capable of analogizing the fears and concerns of contemporary society in particularly inspired and insightful ways.
[...] Each decade within the past century has contained its own set of collective anxieties, and each has produced disaster movies which reflect the unease of the times. As new fears and anxieties would arise, disaster movies would find new ways to mirror the public tensions. The sci-fi films of the 1950's and 1960's involved the misuse of technology, the fear of invasion, subversion, and “otherness”. At a time when the world was at the height of the Cold War, these fears were extremely legitimate. [...]
[...] There was a wide-spread sense that no one could be trusted; a concept central to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and like films. Within all the sub-genres of sci-fi disaster movies (nuclear monsters, space invaders, etc.) at least one similarity universally existed. Throughout all the death and destruction, no matter the scale, there was almost always a hero; someone who made it out alive, and managed to save the rest of the world in the process. In the science fiction disaster movies of the 1950's and 1960's, the peoples of the world would unequivocally overcome their differences and, in the end, bond together to fight of the alien invaders. [...]
[...] Perhaps the fact that the disasters of these films were at less of a distance than in their sci-fi predecessors was intriguing to audiences in the 1970's. Moreover, these disaster movies offered something the science fiction films of the fifties and sixties rarely did; a chance to live vicariously through characters played by the likes of Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, and other list stars. The disaster films of the 1970's incorporated all the sadomasochistic thrills of the previous movies, and moreover, the audience got the chance to cringe and root for some of the most popular screen icons of the day. [...]
[...] Rather than emphasize the real, disastrous consequences of nuclear war, these disaster movies found a way to make tongue-in-cheek references to a truly frightening threat; again playing on the audiences love of danger at a distance. Nuclear holocaust was on the country's mind, but a more subtle threat was even more apparent in the sci-fi films of the time. A common trait of these films involves the invading of the United States by a “foreign” race; most commonly aliens. More often than not, these invaders attempt to take over the human inhabitants of Earth, as well as the planet; turning humans into mindless drones. [...]
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