Thursday, August 25, 2011

In the Land Before CGI: The Hurricane

Since I've long wanted to include John Ford's The Hurricane on an edition of In the Land Before CGI, I figured what better time than with Hurricane Irene making her way up the coast. Made in 1937 and playing as an island soap opera, it's not as well regarded by Ford fans as many of his other films but that has more to do with the fact that so many of his other films are masterpieces (Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, etc) than with The Hurricane's quality. Oh, it's nothing great on the story side of things, to be sure, but Ford handles soap opera pretty damn well for a man who was so associated with the more macho side of cinema.

And let's lay something else on the table: When you watch a movie called The Hurricane, you're watching to see the hurricane. I mean, seriously, let's be honest here, that's the primary objective.

And, wow, does Ford deliver!

With both miniature and full scale effects by James Basevi, effects photography by R.O. Binger and sound recording by Jack Noyes and Thomas Moulton, the climactic hurricane is a wonder to behold. I've assembled only a couple of minutes of the much longer hurricane sequence, omitting most character action and just focusing on the effects, shown in order as the island goes from wave battered to, finally, underwater. Enjoy the clips.
video

12 comments:

Bob Turnbull said...

That's awesome...So good that I kept expecting Anderson Cooper to show up and describe each scene live as he tried to keep his footing.

Far, far more effective than any CGI hurricane I could possibly imagine. I expect a CGI version would be cool and look spiffy on the big screen, but it wouldn't look like the real thing and I'd never actually be worried for the characters.

Fred said...

Thanks for posting that, Greg. I have a church next door, and if the bell starts ringing wildly on Sunday, I'll know that's my signal that I'm about to be royally screwed.

I agree with Bob about the special effects. They were much more organic than anything I've ever seen with CGI. I actually remember seeing this as a kid on television with my dad. The story line bored me so much, I fell asleep, but dad was kind enough to wake me in time for the hurricane to hit (which is the same thing that happened when we watched The Last Days of Pompeii together, except that was a vocano, which I hope we don't get next after the earthquake and hurricance). But just one more thing: I thought hurricanes were only in the Atlantic and that similar storms in the Pacific were called typhoons?

Greg said...

Bob and Fred: The thing is, if you either haven't seen this or haven't seen it in a while, I didn't put in most of the scenes with the actual actors/stuntpeople and let me tell you, on a set or not, those folks were in a hurricane, albeit a man-made one. The sheer wind forces blowing them around is evident that just filming the scene was dangerous. I don't have any stats on whether anyone was hurt but I wouldn't be surprised if they were.

Also, the miniature effects are grand enough that I would guess the miniature sets were quite huge. I assume that church model would be a few feet high at least. Anyway, when you watch the whole sequence, it's pretty amazing stuff.

And yes, Fred, the rest of the movie is fairly boring but still well done, if that makes any sense.

Fred said...

Greg, I saw on IMDB the following:

"Doubles were not used for Mary Astor and Dorothy Lamour when they were lashed to a tree during the hurricane. In her autobiography, Astor said that the sand and water whipping their faces sometimes left pinpricks of blood on their cheeks."

"According to Life Magazine, special effects wizard James Basevi was given a budget of $400,000 to create his effects. He spent $150,000 to build a native village with a lagoon 200 yards long, and then spent $250,000 destroying it."

Since this was IMDB, I'd say its reliability is somewhere between wikipedia and my local town drunk (with my local town drunk being on the high end of the reliability scale), but even if it is only partially true, you realize how much these actors suffered for their craft in making this film.

Greg said...

I want your town drunk to write an encyclopedia. I can't imagine it would be anything less than awesome.

And, yes, watching the full sequence (it's on Netflix Instant) you can see that it's the principal actors being pelted and smashed by wind and water. Pretty amazing stuff.

Christopher said...

Get up when a white man tells ya!!!"

Kevin Deany said...

Greg: I like this movie alot more than you do. In addition to that jaw dropping storm sequence, it does have a gorgeous Alfred Newman score, Dorothy Lamour in a sarong, and one of my favorite John Carradine performances. He's incredibly evil in this.

But that storm can't be beat. It was semi-remade in the late 1970s with Mia Farrow and Trevor Howard, but I can't remember much about it.

Greg said...

Kevin, I definitely like it though. Like I say in the post, it's reception is more a matter of Ford's other movies being so damn good than The Hurricane being not being good. It's a very enjoyable movie, unlike the remake which was, as I recall, truly awful. I saw it only once, years ago on cable, so I can't be positive but I remember it stinking pretty bad.

bill r. said...

I have this saved on my DVR! DON'T SPOIL IT FOR ME!

Greg said...

Oh, you and your DVR! What have you got, like, 10,000 movies saved on that thing? You'll never watch them all so you might as well let me start spoiling them for you.

bill r. said...

No, I had 10,000 movies on my DVR, but then it crashed. Now I have about thirty, and one of them is THE HURRICANE, so watch it, bub.

bpiper said...

Just saw THE HURRICANE again the other day the and the storm scenes are indeed fantastic. I can imagine younger audiences calling them "cheezy" because they don't look CGI.
Kids, I tell ya...

Hey, what about IN OLD CHICAGO ---??