At the height of the seventies came the “disaster” genre. Many of these found itself in one location and periods outside that one location, if The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure have shown. In the case of the middle of this decade, the genre stretched to one historical event. At the same time, director Robert Wise saw himself doing big productions after his success with the Sound of Music in the sixties. It was after that movie that Wise had his share of peaks and valleys all within a period of three years from the financial debacle that was Star to the sleeper success of The Andromeda Strain. However, he set a course into the 1930’s to give a what if spin onto a known disaster that came to this country before World War II and was made known by an exploding piece of film and radio broadcast, that is known in ads for a famous rock band’s greatest hits. It is the disaster known as The Hindenberg.
There’s a floating mode of transportation fresh out of Germany that is created by a man named Zeppelin. It floats in the air and carries a great deal of hydrogen. In modern times, it would be called a blimp but in those days it was named after it’s creator. A specific time, a new zeppelin is going to launch off. However, one particular individual in the United States foresees a disturbing presence in this traveling device. To make sure the trip comes to the States without a hitch, the German government assigns a colonel (George C. Scott) to make sure that this foreseeing of sabotage does not come true as he is placed in charge of security. As he starts to do his job, many different kinds make there way on and everyone is suspected of something when they’re all aboard, right down to a pet dalmatian.
The Hindenberg presents an intriguing premise of guessing how the zeppelin made it’s date with destiny and disaster that very day but unfortunately, it takes a bit to get going with this film. It does follow the pattern of a routine disaster film complete with all star ensemble cast, first quarter of character development, a song in between and the eventual moment of disaster in which all can be counted for both surviving and departing.
Things do start picking up around the halfway point and it starts to build up gradually but it slumps down and does save for a very good ending but the pace seems a bit uneven and many subplots surrounding this disaster don’t all work. The guessing of who’s behind it is predictable but in a good way, but it’s case of red herrings does kind of fall flat a bit.
Geroge C. Scott does bring some presence to this ensemble piece that has many familiar bit actor and actress faces from both films of the seventies and beyond as well as future TV stars as well but the trip isn’t entirely a disaster in itself.
There are a few things that save this film. One is the solid nominated art direction getting down the sets from the period wonderfully and the careful eye to detail aboard The Hindenberg itself was top notch all the way. Another is the presentation of The Hindenberg itself visually thanks to special effects legend Albert Whitlock. With the way this zeppelin was visuallized then, this blows a lot of CGI out of the water as it doesn’t look so much as a visual effect and never reduces itself to the level of cheesy.
Lastly, there is the last fifteen minutes of the film which incorporates the famous black and white clip within the action of the film and renders that part entirely in black and white. If only they could’ve shot the film that way entirely, there would be a lot more credibility on this film and it would’ve been a nice representation of the time period as well. Nevertheless, The Hindenberg provides an interesting and moments that are good, but not entirely great and at the same time, not entirely dreadful.
Video: How does it look?
The Hindenberg is presented non anamorphically in 2.20:1 and the results are fair to say the least. For one thing in each scene there are evidence of specks and many lines evident during the credits of the film. Although things start to clear up as the film linewise as the film progresses, the specks remain and the print cries out for a remastering as a lot can be cleaned up. Also, this viewer also noticed during the credits that the film was framed nicely but not properly at the beginning as a few names on the main titles stretched away from the screen and partially made it on but not entirely.
Audio: How does it sound?
If the visual presentation was fair for The Hindenberg, much can be said the same if not less for the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track as it took this viewer a good raise of the volume to hear what was going on, what the score sounded like and even though there were rumbling effects when the Hindenberg came over something and the score would amplify occasionally, it wasn’t enough at all and wouldn’t hurt with a cleaning up itself. It’s difficult to watch a movie when the dependence of the subtitles are at it’s highest and does no justice to a track that was nominated in it’s year (it lost to Jaws and rightfully so, even in mono that film was taken care of greatly and it was by the same studio). This disc also has English, Spanish and French subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The only things resembling extras on this DVD are production notes and cast and crew info. Sadly (and much to Universal’s reputation these days) there are no trailers for the film.
With very good moments in spurts and a missed opportunity to give a disaster justice, The Hindenberg provides a mildly entertaining “what if and whodunnit” disaster film that is saved by the second half and serves slightly over average but in terms of picture and sound quality on this DVD release, there’s a lot of room for improvement.