Last of the Monster Kids

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

DISASTER MOVIES MONTH: When Time Ran Out... (1980)

Irwin Allen's last two movies had both flopped pretty hard but someone was still giving him money. In fact, the producer would raise his biggest budget yet – 20 million dollars – for “When Time Ran Out...” His latest disaster epic was loosely based off the book “The Day the World Ended,” a recounting of the devastating 1902 eruption of Mt. Peele. Allen was clearly taking no chances. He would hire James Goldstein, previously of the pleasant “Rollercoaster,” to direct. He would bring back cast members from both “The Towering Inferno” and “The Poseidon Adventure.” However, none of these tactics would be successful. “When Time Ran Out...” would be the producer's latest failure and his final disaster movie.

Somewhere in the Hawaiian islands, a fancy new hotel has been built by millionaire Shelby Gilmore. He wants to marry his secretary, Kay, but she's in love with Hank Anderson, an oil driller working on the island. Hank becomes concerned that a near-by volcano may soon erupt. Anderson tries to convince Bob Spangler, operator of the hotel, that disaster is incoming. Gilmore and Spangler do not want to endanger the new business though. Hank is, of course, right. The volcano explodes, flooding the island with lava, poisonous gas, and explosive rock. It's up to Hank and Kay to get as many people to safety as possible.

The title of “When Time Ran Out...” implies a suspenseful race against disaster. The movie is technically about that but the execution drains all the tension out of the material.  “When Time Ran Out...” is hampered by a stereotypical and sluggish script. You can see every beat of the story coming, the grim predictions by the brave hero being ignored by the corrupt officials. You can guess who's going to live – the hero, the love interest, the wacky comic relief – and who will die – the greedy hotel owners, the corners of the love triangle – from the moment we see them. Moreover, the movie feels like it barely moves until the volcano erupts half-way through. There's pretty much nothing interesting about “When Time Ran Out...” on a narrative level.

But other disaster movies have had shitty screenplay and did okay. What about the carnage? Unfortunately,  “When Time Ran Out...” disappoints in that department too. Despite being Allen's priciest production, the special effects in the film are shockingly bad. A moment devoted to boiling hot water crashing over a town looks worst than the similar tsunami scene in the prior year's “Meteor.” A scene devoted to the survivors precariously crossing a crumbling bridge over a river of lava features ridiculously fake looking shots of people falling to their doom. The worst effects are saved for the conclusion. The volcano shoots molten rocks at the hotel, which then explodes in a blast that looks like it was pasted over from another movie. I don't know how Allen's earlier films, which were older and made for less money, looked better than this one.

Rumor has it that “When Time Ran Out...” was the only movie Paul Newman did strictly for the money. Boy, is that evident. Newman is visibly bored. Who can blame him, when the script is this weak? The film features the lamest collection of subplots I've ever seen in a disaster movie. The love triangle between Newman, a bubbly but underutilized Jacqueline Bisset, and a sickly looking William Holden is deeply uninvolving. (Holden would die the next year in a bizarre, alcoholism related accident.) Even worst is the film's second love triangle involving James Francisca, the faux-Heston making his second appearance this month, cheating on his wife with Barbara Carrera. The subplot involving Ernest Borgnine's cop chasing Red Buttons' bonds smuggler is by-far the film's worst. But at least it's less generic then Burgess Meredith's appearance as one half of the token old married couple. Also, Pat Morita shows up as the cock-fighitng bar owner.

His career had survived flops before but Irwin Allen wasn't coming back from this one. You can't say “When Time Ran Out...” signaled the end of the golden age of disaster movies. That had concluded a few years earlier. This was more like the genre's last, desperate attempt to cling to life. But it was no use. The film flopped, was mocked by critics and audiences, and was immediately forgotten. (It also got an Oscar nomination somehow, for Costume Design.) The seventies were over, Irwin Allen. It was time to pack in all your stock characters and huge disasters and go home. [4/10]

[] Awards Bait Ballad
[X] Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures
[X] Destruction of Famous Landmarks
[X] Grim Predictions
[X] Group In-Fighting
[X] Heroic Sacrifices
[X] Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
[X] Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
[X] Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
[X] Star-Studded Cast


whitsbrain said...

Disaster movies...Thanks for doing this. It's a fun idea.

Have you ever seen "Without Warning"? It's a 1994 movie and is kind of a spin on Welles' "War of the Worlds". It's done as a live news broadcast.

Here's my thoughts on Letterboxd:
Here's a YouTube link:
The movie actually ends at around 1:28:00. For some reason this particular link has the movie starting over after it runs through the first time.

Bonehead XL said...

I have heard of that one! I'm very intrigued by it. (As well as the similarly themed "Special Bulletin.") It's on my list if I ever do a second one of these.