The Film VS Reality

What this article is about.

This article with compare the differences between natural disasters presented in films, and in reality.

The Film:


The movie "Earthquake" was a 1974 disaster film, produced and directed by Mark Robson. Hollywood disaster movies are a popular genre of film. This article will explore the realism of the scenes shown in the film.
Earthquake (1974) Official Trailer #1 - Charlton Heston Movie HD


The location where this type of hazard usually occurs are countries such as Indonesia and Japan, mostly because it has the most earthquakes every year.The country with the most earthquakes per unit area Tinga, Fiji or Indonesia since they are all in extremely active seism.

In the film the hazard was shown to be occurring in the city of Los Angeles. This is a typical location for this type of hazard as shown in the map below. The map shows the frequency of the minimal level of shaking where injuries become a common as a result of damage. As you can see here, most of the west coast is coloured red, representing the most likely places for an earthquake to occur. California is also on the San Andreas fault line.

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How does the hazard work in reality?

The release of built-up pressure inside the Earth's crust is what usually causes an earthquake. The power is measured on what is called the Richter scale using an tool called a seismometer.

The impact of an earthquake can be extremely harmful which can cause settlements to get destroyed, change the landscapes, and cause deaths.

Causes of earthquakes

An earthquake is the vibration and movement of the earth's crust due to shaking of the plates of the earth also known as plate tectonics. An earthquake takes place when the tension is let out from inside the earths crust. The plates can sometimes collide against other plates causing a vibration, causing pressure to build up. When the pressure is eventually released an earthquake occurs.

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Seismic waves

Seismic waves are the release of earthquake energy. Seismic waves spread out from the focus. These waves are felt most strongly at the epicentre, becoming less powerful as they travel further away from the epicentre. The most extreme damage caused by an earthquake will happen close to the epicentre. Shaking in soft grounds become larger and longer than when compared with the shaking experienced at a "hard rock" site.

The focus

The exact location inside the earths crust where the pressure is let out is called the focus. The point on the Earth's surface above the focus is called the epicentre, as shown in the diagram above.
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Most earthquake related deaths are caused by the collapse of structures and the construction practices play a tremendous role in the death toll of an earthquake. Earthquakes can also cause other disasters such as landslides, tsunamis, or tidal waves.

Case Study

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One real example of a earthquake that has occurred is the 2011 To hoku Earthquake (and tsunami) in northern Japan. The earthquake took place on Friday the 11th of March. The earthquake recorded was a magnitude 8.9, with the epicenter around 70 kilometres east of the Oshika peninsula. The earthquake also triggered a tsunami which reached up to 40.5 meters. The earthquake moved the main island of Japan 2.4 meters east.

On the 10th of March 2015, the national police agency reported 15,893 deaths, 6,152 injured and 2,572 missing. They also had listed 127,290 buildings completely collapsed, with 272,788 buildings 'half collapsed', and 747,989 buildings damaged. The hazard was typical to other similar hazard events because Japan usually has many earthquakes.

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How does the film differ from reality?

In the trailer of the film 'Earthquake' it showed building swaying from side to side and had objects falling from the buildings. It was a magnitude 9.9 earthquake. First of all, the highest recorded earthquake since 1900 was in Chile in 1960, but according to researchers, a magnitude 10 would be possible, but very unlikely. I would agree with the film that building would start to fall apart. In another scene, you could see people just falling through the window glass from the buildings, followed by a huge explosion inside the structure. I thought here that the film kind of exaggerated that scene too much, and made it unrealistic. Also, when earthquakes strike, they usually shake violently for a few minutes at the most, not nine minutes as shown in the movie.
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In the scene shown in the picture below, you can see in this scene a truck fall from a highway, although the highway is clearly not damaged except for the side railing where the truck fell from. In reality, the highway would probably split into half and make the ground uneven. The truck would probably fall to its side, because of an uneven surface area.
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In conclusion the clips shown in the film are more unrealistic than realistic although the impact after the earthquake were believable. This hazard is more unrealistic that realistic because too many of the disasters happening in the movie would be to extreme.

Compared to the hazard shown in the recent film San Andreas, the movie Earthquake looks pretty unrealistic. The special effects used in the movie were sometimes unrealistic, but has an exception because it was made produced in 1974. Hollywood chooses to exaggerate natural hazards because if the disaster is not exaggerated, the film won't be as interesting as an unexpected occurrence.


Websites used:

1) BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

2) "Earthquake (film)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

3) Fackler, Martin. "Powerful Quake and Tsunami Devastate Northern Japan." The New York Times. The New York Times, 11 Mar. 2011. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

4) "Causes of an Earthquake." BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.