Saturday, 3 August 2013



This is a wildly enjoyable South Korean throwback to the great disaster movies of the 1970s: an opening buildup showcasing the massive but doomed edifice, alternating enough character material to make you care about the right people (without spending so much time on them that the film starts to drag) with telling details of the mayhem to come. In this instance The Tower is a gleeful, effects-heavy rehash of The Towering Inferno, the best of Irwin Allen's all-star disaster spectaculars, with a dash of Die Hard thrown in - and in the main it's enormous fun, with only some presumably deliberate but still uncomfortable echoes of September 11 leaving a sour taste.

It's Christmas Eve at Tower Sky: an absurdly luxurious and very expensive residential development in Seoul consisting of two soaring skyscrapers linked by a Sky Bridge - a glass and steel walkway around the 70th floor that you instantly know is going to be the scene of a (literally cracking) suspense sequence later on. They've spared no expense for the fabulous party for the very best (richest) people - to the extent of dropping fake snow from helicopters. But there's an updraught, and one of the choppers crashes into the side of the 63rd floor, starting a fire. The sprinklers won't work - the pipes were rerouted to the exterior of the building to make room for shops, and so have frozen solid - and there isn't enough ventilation; the handful of selected survivors then have to navigate the various obstacles (collapsing floors, the crumbling Sky Bridge, a window cleaner's gondola hanging outside) to get to safety. Meanwhile the fire crews are fighting a near-hopeless battle against the inferno, and the structural buckling means the building is liable to topple against its neighbour, sending them both crashing into the centre of the city....

The characters are sketched in quickly enough for you to decide on whether you want them to survive or not: the shy widower in charge, his cute little daughter, the restaurant manager he has an unrequited crush on, the legendary fire chief who won't take the day off, the rookie firefighter who's joined the station that morning, the fire commissioner who wants the important (rich) people evacuated before the workers and peasantry. The hapless comedy chef (whose antics are wisely toned down in the second half), the snobbish woman who won't clean up after her dog and berates the staff for pointing this out, the development's owner who brings the firewalls down to try and save the building when there are still people trapped inside.

If it's sometimes tempting to mentally recast the Hollywood remake while watching the original, the drawback here is that the film is so reminiscent of The Towering Inferno, even down to blowing the water tanks (twice, albeit for completely different reasons) and following a handful of soaked and singed survivors from one calamity to another in the best tradition of Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure and even the hilariously dreadful When Time Ran Out. Rather more problematic is the 9/11 imagery - a helicopter crashes into the side of one of the two towers, vast clouds of dust billow through the streets as the tower collapses. I don't know when these things stop being "too soon", but it's surprising to see such shots in what's obviously a big-budget commercial movie.

With over 1700 computer-generated shots in the film (at least according to the IMDb) and a ratio of mayhem and destruction to soap opera character drama that's weighted heavily in favour of the visual spectacle, The Tower ends up as mostly terrific fun if a touch on the long side at just under two hours (although that's still forty minutes shorter than The Towering Inferno). Well worth seeing.


McQueen / Newman?

No comments: