Tuesday, September 6, 2011

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Casting Coup Tuesday: The Towering Inferno (a DISASTERPIECE)

It's Disaster Film Month. If you want to watch alongside the Silver Screener, check out A Crack in the World on Netflix Instant tonight. Dana Andrews, Janette Scott and Alexander Knox. But for now...
We begin our special Disasterpiece Theatre edition of Casting Coup Tuesday with The Towering Inferno.

As the regulars know, I am not a huge fan of the film, which is disappointing since it's the most famous and awarded of a subgenre I adore. I see nothing wrong with a two-and-a-half-hour ensemble disaster flick (Independence Day clocks in at 2h33min and is masterful), nor do I have a problem with a disaster flick that takes itself seriously (it's how camp classics like The Swarm are born). No, the biggest crimes of The Towering Inferno are a lack of focus and a dull pace. Lead characters are poorly developed or quickly pushed aside, motivations are muddled, relationships are obscured, the editing is working against the thrills of the plot, etc.

The greatest shame is that The Towering Inferno should be amazing. The cast assembled is incredible, with most of the performances delivering. Steve McQueen, Richard Chamberlain and William Holden are best in show, along with surprising, brief turns from Sheila Allen and Susan Flannery. John Williams' score is better with repeated listenings, even if it doesn't measure up to Earthquake. I don't even hate that it's obviously two different books thrown together -- the buoy escape seems so dangerous that there has to be a backup plan, and even though keeping million-gallon water tanks on top of the roof seems...bizarre...I can totally accept that. Because it's outrageous. And that's the problem with The Towering Inferno: it gives you this outrageous situation and treats it with all the sobriety of Munich.

Which is why it needs a kick-ass remake. And isn't it fun to think about who can fill the shoes of the original actors? Click on the title below to continue....

DEATH TOLL: 5 (leads only)
ROMANCES: 4 (leads only)

Who is She: Daughter of Jim Duncan, owner of the Glass Tower, and unhappy wife of Simmons, the electrical engineer. I'm sure there's some way to liven up her character. I hope there is.

Originally played by:
Susan Blakely (The Concorde...Airport '79, Over the Top)

My Choice:
Zoe Kravitz (It's Kind of a Funny Story, X-Men: First Class)
Kravitz was rather magnetic in X-Men, and I know I can't wait to see more of her. Patty isn't a demanding role, but Kravitz has already livened up one sketchy-written character. Let's make it two.

Who is He: Security chief of the Glass Tower, he rescues a deaf mother from 87th floor. He also, of course, is the first to alert the fire department when he detects some smoke on 81st floor.

Originally played by:
O.J. Simpson (Klansman, The Naked Gun)

My Choice:
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (The Tooth Fairy, Fast Five)
The only pro wrestler to make a respectable name for himself in film, Johnson is a surprisingly good actor. Charming, a real presence. He's authoritative enough to fill those security chief shoes, the only actor who could wear that suit and still look bad-ass.

Who is She: The mayor's wife.

Originally played by:
Sheila Allen (The Poseidon Adventure, When Time Ran Out...)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe/SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Doubt), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Antwone Fisher), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Doubt)
Viola Davis (Eat Pray Love, The Help)
I know, I know: when are we going to stop giving the talented Ms. Davis these small/shallow roles? But let me say this: the character of Paula Ramsay is a strong woman, devoted to her husband but capable in an awful situation. She keeps her head, even though she's clearly worried. And that strength is something I identify with Viola Davis.

Who is She: Secretary to Dan Bigelow. Also, mistress to Dan Bigelow. But not just a lay 'em and leave 'em misress; no, these two would be married if it wasn't for the job. They have a secret office tryst during the big party...leaving them vulnerable to the merciless flames of THE TOWERING INFERNO. She dies.

Originally played by:
Susan Flannery (The Gumball Rally, "The Bold and the Beautiful")

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble, Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Dreamgirls)
Anika Noni Rose (The Princess and the Frog, For Colored Girls)
She's played beautiful and she's played dutiful. Now...combine!

Who is He: Head of public relations for the Glass Tower, Bigelow is the man who lights up all 138 stories during the dedication ceremony, overloading the system and causing a delay in the catching of the fire. Bigelow, unaware of the dangers, returns to his office for some secret nookie with his secretary, and winds up dying in a fiery blaze.

Originally played by:
Robert Wagner (The Pink Panther, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best [Original] Screenplay (Good Will Hunting), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Shakespeare in Love), WGA Award Nominee for Best Original Screenplay (Good Will Hunting) and Best Adapted Screenplay (The Town)
Ben Affleck (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor)
Good-looking, so he could snag a beauty like Anika Noni Rose. Clean-cut and professional, so he could play a believable suit. A big star, so it would shock the audience when he's offed early on.

Who is He: ...the mayor. Stays behind to help get the others to safety. After the breeches buoy and elevator are destroyed, Ramsay is among those battening down the hatches as the million-gallon water tanks above are exploded to extinguish the flames.

Originally played by:
Jack Collins (The Sting, Pete's Dragon)

My Choice:
Dennis Haysbert (Far from Heaven, "24")
No-brainer. President to mayor isn't that much of a stretch.

Who is He: Representing the good state of California, Senator Parker is Jim Duncan's VIP guest. Parker volunteers to stay behind and help the women get to safety, even willing to go by the numbers raffle to see what order the men get to go in. He is one of the men trying to stop Simmons from over-loading the breeches buoy used for their rescue. You...you can see where this goes.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Young Philadelphians), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Bullitt)
Robert Vaughn

My Choice: Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Broken Flowers)
Jeffrey Wright (Source Code, The Ides of March)
He just felt right to me. I don't know how else to explain it.

Who is He: Glass Tower resident and dedication party guest. Falls in love with Harlee Caliborne, even though she knows exactly what he is. Friends with her deaf neighbor, she goes to rescue her and the children when the fire breaks out. Liselotte is among those who take the gravity elevator...and then explosion rips it off its track. A helicopter comes to rescue them, but is Liselotte among the survivors?

Originally played by: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress (Song of Bernadette)
Jennifer Jones (Since You Went Away, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing)

My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award Nominee/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress [Drama] (Ordinary People)
Mary Tyler Moore (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Flirting with Disaster)
Part of what makes a Disasterpiece is bringing back an old-school great. In the 70s, it was Jennifer Jones; now, it should be Mary Tyler Moore, a now underrated actress who would bring humor and warmth to Liselotte.

Who is He: A terrible conman, he's far too nice a guy to pull one over on anyone. He arrives at the party intending to rip off Liselotte, but winds up falling in love with her instead.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor (The Towering Inferno), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor - Musical/Comedy (Three Little Words)
Fred Astaire (Top Hat, On the Beach)

My Choice: Golden Globe/Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actor [Musical/Comedy] (Mary Poppins)
Dick Van Dyke (Bye-Bye, Birdie, Night at the Museum)
A senior citizen love story between two of the greatest TV couples? Yes! Besides, Van Dyke is a more huggable and engaging actor than the admittedly great Astaire. He could work magic with this role.

Who is She: Good question. Who is Susan? She's Doug Roberts' girlfriend, but she seems to have an actual job besides that. And she's being offered a transfer with promotion, so her Big Decision is whether to take it or to give up on her dream so she can be Mrs. Paul Newman. Seeing as how her bf winds up one of the heroes, what do you think? (In my remake, I'd like to re-imagine her as the singer at the party, so that we can hear her croon "We May Never Love Like This Again".)

Originally played by: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress [Drama] (Network), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress (Chinatown, Network)
Faye Dunaway (Hurry Sundown, Mommie Dearest)

My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actress (The Reader), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Sense and Sensibility), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress - Drama (Revolutionary Road) and Best Supporting Actress (The Reader), SAG Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Sense and Sensibility, The Reader)
Kate Winslet (Romance & Cigarettes, Contagion)
She's game for a good time. And dammit, people, we have to get her singing in an actual movie at some point, right?

Who is He: The electrical engineer of the Glass Tower, son-in-law of owner Jim Duncan. Simmons is a villain; concerned more with cutting costs than with maintaining quality, Simmons' shortcuts lead to a frayed wire, a spark, and THE TOWERING INFERNO. Even in the emergency, Simmons continues to be a douchebag, and he cuts everyone to get to the buoy believing himself more worthy of saving than anyone else. Because he's a coward.

Originally played by:
Richard Chamberlain (The Swarm, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry)

My Choice: Academy Award/SAG Award Nominee/BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Brokeback Mountain), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor - Musical/Comedy (Love and Other Drugs), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Actor (Donnie Darko), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Brokeback Mountain)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Source Code)
Gyllenhaal's good looks and winning smile have made him the hero of a number of films, but I can't help but think of the assholes that some of his characters begin as. Donnie Darko is kind of a jerk, Holden Worther has stalker tendencies, Dastan is smug, Jamie Randall is manipulative. With the exception of Holden, they become heroes, but I would love to see him tackle a delicious villain like this.

Who is He: The wealthy, cost-cutting owner of the Glass Tower, he sees Money Money Money. When his own frugality leads to faulty wiring and a TOWERING INFERNO, Duncan tries to get the others to safety.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actor (Stalag 17), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (Network) and Best Foreign Actor (Picnic)
William Holden (Sunset Blvd., Paris When It Sizzles)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe/SAG Award Nominee/BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor/Indie Spirit Winner for Best Actor (Pulp Fiction), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor - Musical/Comedy (Jackie Brown) and Best Supporting Actor (A Time to Kill), Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actor (Snakes on a Plane, Black Snake Moan)
Samuel L. Jackson (Do the Right Thing, Jurassic Park)
Because I think he can find that space between opportunistic suit and basically good guy. And he would look great in the original costume, which you know we would keep. That look is killer.

Who is He: The architect of the Glass Tower, appalled that the skyscraper was erected below his standards. He leaps into action, saving Lisolette and Susan while leading the men in heroic action. When the firemen come, it is Roberts who acts as liaison, and it is Roberts who helps to detonate the water tanks.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actor (The Color of Money), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Foreign Actor (Hud), DGA Award Nominee/Golden Globe Winner for Best Director (Rachel Rachel), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (Nobody's Fool)
Paul Newman (What a Way to Go!, Road to Perdition)

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best [Original] Screenplay (Good Will Hunting), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (Good Will Hunting), Best Supporting Actor (Invictus) and Best Ensemble (Good Will Hunting, Saving Private Ryan, The Departed), WGA Award Nominee for Best Original Screenplay (Good Will Hunting)
Matt Damon (The Adjustment Bureau, Contagion)
Of course it's Matt Damon. What other actor is a movie star with an everyman quality at that perfect age where he's young enough to be hot but old enough to have serious jobs?

Who is He: Of the San Francisco Fire Department, a calm and responsible man who is just so completely awesome and the true hero of the piece. He hopes they stop building skyscrapers because they're deathtraps, running the risk of becoming TOWERING INFERNOS.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Sand Pebbles), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor - Drama (Love with the Proper Stranger, The Sand Pebbles, Papillon) and - Musical/Comedy (The Reivers)
Steve McQueen (The Great Escape, Bullitt)

My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Actor (Training Day) and Best Supporting Actor (Glory), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor - Drama (The Hurricane) and Best Supporting Actor (Glory), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Hurricane, Training Day) and Best Ensemble (American Gangster)
Denzel Washington (Much Ado About Nothing, Devil in a Blue Dress)
I needed an engaging movie star that we could immediately trust, someone we would want to get a beer with, someone who looks like he's been doing this job for years. And all I could think about was Washington in The Taking of Pelham 123 and Inside Man, ones where he is every bit the blue collar working man and the modest hero. Denzel is an incredible actor with a commanding presence, and would do the fire service justice.


TomS said...

WOW...so many great names in one film..the budget will destroy Hollywood for good! (Hmmm, maybe we should go with it!)

I think Viola Davis is almost too classy for this...Although it would be great to see her slumming for a change...

Find some old Republican movie stars and has-beens to keep the camp factor going...

The Rock is a perfect choice for a disaster film (and i actually like him on-screen).

Who could possibly be left for "Earthquake?"

Unknown said...

Good choices except...

Beau Bridges and Marsha Mason should play the mayor and wife
(just think better fit)

Samuel L. Jackson, donot like him, should be replaced with Harrison Ford as James Duncan

Unknown said...

I think Harrison Ford would be a whole lot better as Duncan than Samuel L. Jackson.

I personally donot like Jackson, so Ford is better fit for me.

Wayne Wasserman said...

Too many "big budget" actors (Affleck, Damon, Washington). And I agree that Jackson would hardly be my choice as "big building tycoon".

Unless, like McQueen and Newman, they were willing to take a smaller salary with a percentage of the gross, the salaries would be astronomical.

My choice for the main role (Chief O'Hallorhan) would be Keifer Sutherland. He is a modern day action star ("24" - need I say more). He knows how to play a role that both commands respect AND knows how to handle a crises with cool aplomb.

I would NOT have a civilian (Roberts) running around a burning skyscraper, saving people from a burning apartment, working his way up & down an exploded stairwell and climbing up a 137 story pipe shaft. Like in the two books the movie was based on, he would be better suited (more realistically) to working with the fire department chiefs, as he knows the building's strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else.

There are MANY plot holes, technical flaws and weak, undeveloped characters that need to be improved upon.

We need less focus on the subplots, and more focus on the fire-fighting / rescue sequences and firefighters characters.

A "new & improved" Towering Inferno - done right - could be hugely popular!!