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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Avalanche (Blu-ray)
Avalanche (Blu-ray)
Scorpion Releasing // PG // September 16, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted October 16, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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I had seen Avalanche (1978) only once before, 35-odd years ago when it made its network television debut. Back then the movie struck me as curiously cheap-looking, like a TV-movie, and generally uninvolving with barely-sketched characters. More disappointing was the disaster of the title, a major disappointment with its mostly lousy effects and overuse of stock footage.

Looking at it now, via Scorpion Releasing's fine Blu-ray, a release buttressed with a couple of good featurettes, I still pretty much feel that way and was surprised I had remembered its plot and characters as well as I did. Avalanche, it turns out, was the product of Roger Corman's New World Pictures, though atypical in some respects. (How did Corman resist calling it Avalanche!, I wonder?) For one thing it had two bona fide stars, Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow, the former one of the biggest stars of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and even in 1978 still a major name, thanks to the popularity of his McMillan & Wife TV series.

Wikipedia, quoting Christopher T. Koetting's book on Corman and New World, reports a budget of $6.5 million, many times the usual New World picture. However, in the featurette included on the disc Corman states the original budget was a much more believable $1.7 million. During pre-production, Corman was surprised to receive a $2 million offer from one of the networks to license the film for prime time television, provided he cast a big name or two in the lead. Corman was overjoyed: he pocketed a $300,000 profit before the first scene was even shot.


In the Colorado Rockies, developer David Shelby (Rock Hudson) has sunk his entire fortune developing a picturesque winter sports resort, bribing public officials to get around environmental and safety concerns. However, activists like photographer-ranger Nick Thorne (Robert Forster) oppose the impact the resort's construction is having on the beautiful but perilous mountain, especially how the removal of so many trees could trigger a massive avalanche.

The movie opens with the arrival of Shelby's ex-wife, Caroline Brace (Mia Farrow), a woman somehow connected with Vogue magazine, though in what capacity is never explained. Shelby wants his wife back but she's happily divorced. Judging by Shelby's behavior - he's pushy, irritable, fussy, nervous, autocratic, a sloppy drunk - it's easy to see why.

Also arriving at the resort are Shelby's mother, Florence (Jeanette Nolan; in fact she was only 13 years older than Hudson), and his bookkeeper, Henry (Steve Franken). Various other minor characters are also introduced, including arrogant ski champ Bruce Scott (Rick Moses), who's cheating on unstable girlfriend Tina (Cathey Paine), who in turn is cheating on her event announcer husband, Mark (Barry Primus). There's also a troubled ice skater (Cindy Luedtke) trying to overcome concentration issues with her understanding coach (Antony Carbone).

To say the least, Rock Hudson is cast against type. It's almost unsettling to see the tall, classically handsome actor, best playing strong, silent, and confident types (in films as varied as All That Heaven Allows and Ice Station Zebra) essentially playing a whiner, a man needy toward his ex-wife, played no less by Mia Farrow, usually cast as fragile, submissive types. But here she's a stronger character than he is. The part might have appealed to Rock for those reasons, but from his first scene, he rushing down a flight of steps to greet her, Shelby comes off as an unappealing wimp. Curiously, after the avalanche the character becomes something more like a conventional hero, one totally at odds with everything the audience has seen of him before.

The other characters are so sketchily written they're almost ciphers, though Forster's - What is he playing, anyway? He's introduced as a photographer, but alternately seems to be some kind of forest ranger and/or environmental activist -almost seems like a living human being, thanks to his good performance.

The avalanche, triggered not by Shelby's deforestation but rather a small plane crash (though Shelby's construction only makes things worse) combines stock shots of real avalanches with surprisingly good second unit work (supervised by future director Lewis Teague), miniatures and travelling mattes. The visual effects are generally poor. In an early scene, Shelby proudly exclaims, "I saw that mountain out there," at which point the film cuts to an obvious painting of one, the kind of thing Sears used to sell for $15 out of their catalogs. Roger Corman reports that the original effects turned out so badly even he wouldn't use them ("The snow came out red," he says with trademark grin) and when he ordered them redone, the new footage was rushed through to meet the film's release date. This time the mattes came out with a strong bluish tint Corman wasn't happy with, either, but by then it was too late.

However, Teague's direction of the second unit scenes is rather good, appropriately chaotic like a real disaster, with good use of full-size breakaway sets, fake snow and boulders. It's clear watching the film that for many scenes the snow had largely melted away. The filmmakers resorted to using shredded plastic, leaving tons of the non-biodegradable stuff on the mountain to be discovered after the spring thaw.

Corey Allen, a former actor (he played the teenager who challenges James Dean to a chicken run in Rebel Without a Cause), directs. Corman chose him for his talent with other actors, and the results are slightly above average, but the rushed production rears its head in other respects. Most glaring is a terrible lack of continuity in many shot. In one scene Shelby is in a Jacuzzi. Rock's hair is a drippy mess in one shot, but when he turns and the film cuts to a different angle, it's suddenly neatly combed back. In that scene and elsewhere signature Corman/New World elements, somewhat incompatible with mainstream disaster movies, turn up. For a PG-rated film there's a surprising amount of nudity, and elsewhere is extraneous footage of crashing snowmobiles and tumbling skiers, apparently to jazz up the film with a little additional action.

Video & Audio

Filmed for 1.85:1 widescreen, Avalanche looks pretty good on Blu-ray. During the titles and elsewhere is some minor but visible warping, and because of the rushed production some shots are inherently soft and out-of-focus, but overall this is a good transfer. The English mono audio, with no subtitles, is acceptable and the disc is Region A encoded.

Extra Features

Supplements include a trailer, in high-def, plus short on-camera interviews with Roger Corman and Robert Forster. Corman is his usual breezy, impossible to dislike self, proud of what the film accomplished on such a small budget while being forthright about its shortcomings. Both he and Forster have nothing but kind words to say about Rock Hudson, Corman adding that, unlike most fading leading men, Hudson understood that his career was winding down and perfectly okay with that.

Parting Thoughts

Avalanche is a bit better than the worst big-studio disaster movies of the 1970s, but that's not saying much. Genre fans will want to see it, however, and as Roger Corman points out, the Blu-ray format not only allows viewers to experience something closer to the original theatrical experience, but also, on Blu-ray, the snow is blue. Recommended.


Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.

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