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The Towering Inferno (Blu-ray) Official AVSForum Review

6780 Views 10 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  Ralph Potts

The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )



Audio/Video total rating:

( Max score: 100 )


Studio and Year: 20th Century Fox - 1974
MPAA Rating: PG
Feature running time: 165 Minutes
Genre: Thriller/Drama

Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 2.35:1
Resolution: 1080p/24

Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, English Dolby Surround 4.0/2.0, Spanish Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Starring: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Richard Chamberlain, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Jennifer Jones, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner, Susan Flannery, Jack Collins, Gregory Sierra
Directed by: John Guillerman & Irwin Allen
Music by: John Williams
Written by: Stirling Silliphant based upon the novels The Tower & The Glass Inferno
Region Code: A

Blu-ray Disc release Date: July 14, 2009

"It’s out of control and it’s coming your way"

Film Synopsis:

A dedication ceremony at the world's tallest skyscraper turns into a high-rise catastrophe when an electrical flare-up causes a raging fire, trapping society's most prominent citizens on the top floor. Winner of three Academy Awards®, this spectacular suspense thriller features dazzling special effects and a star-studded cast, including Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden and Faye Dunaway.

My Take:

There’s no way out and no way down for Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Wagner and Faye Dunaway, trapped on the top floor of the world’s tallest building when the opening night gala turns into a nightmare of unimaginable proportions. A spectacular disaster epic that defined the genre, The Towering Inferno shocked audiences with its groundbreaking special effects and dizzying scale, garnering 10 Oscar nominations at the 1975 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

I saw The Towering Inferno during its original theatrical run and have been hooked ever since. I can still remember the markee, and the large billboard that had the picture of the burning building and the faces of the cast with their “titles” (The fire chief, the architect, the builder etc.) beneath them. The hype surrounding the film was huge and the cast was just incredible. As I watched it there were things that as a ten year old I had never seen before especially on such a large and realistic scale. The sense of peril, people catching on fire/falling to their deaths, and the grandiose and detailed nature of the action sequences. Irwin Allen is considered the master of disaster films which were at the peak of their popularity in the early to mid 1970s. This film followed the success of Allen’s “The Poseidon Adventure”, a disaster film that came out two years earlier and also featured an all star cast and large production. He had a flair for the genre which when coupled with his seemingly endless energy, charm and auspicious reputation garnered him a string of successful films. I wasn’t aware of it at the time but I was already a fan of his work. As a kid I loved the sci-fi television series Lost in Space which was created by Allen. Like everything he did The Towering Inferno was an elaborate production that featured a large budget (11 million but ultimately cost 14 million), two directors (John Guillerman and Allen shared directorial duties), a record setting number of sets (57, only two of which remained when shooting concluded) and an incredible all star cast that featured dual top billing that went equally to Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. Stirling Silliphant’s screenplay was based upon the novels “The Tower” and “The Glass inferno”. The film rights to these two novels were owned by separate studios (20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.). In order to make this film it was decided that a joint studio venture would be best. Warner and Fox combined and split the costs which was also an industry first.

Almost thirty five years since its release and this film hasn’t lost any of its luster in my opinion. I mean the special effects are certainly dated but I find it to remain a compelling, suspenseful and visually engaging film. What I really enjoy about it is that this is clearly a film that is built around its characters. These are strong, well developed characters and the screenplay focuses on several main plotlines that are carefully supported by smaller ones. The fire serves as the catalyst which drives the story’s elements and brings out the best and worst in these people as they struggle to survive. The result is a well rounded adventure/drama that establishes a solid connection between the audience and the experiences of these differing individuals as they struggle to survive. I will admit that the premise stretches Murphy’s Law to a large degree (how many things could go wrong in one building??) but with Irwin Allen that is a given. There are many memorable moments provided by the superb cast. Chief O’Hallorhan (McQueen) is unquestionably the coolest and he is definitely the guy you want carrying the ball when the game is on the line. However Doug Roberts (Newman) is the fiery, competent and compassionate guy who perfectly compliments the stern, get the job done at all costs O’Hallorhan. There is no question that Paul Newman and Steve McQueen have pivotal roles but I thoroughly enjoy watching William Holden (I’m going to hang you out to dry and then I am going to hang you!”), Fred Astaire, Jennifer Jones, and Richard Chamberlain. I always pull for Lisolette and Harlee but with his string of luck it is never in the cards (the cat was a nice touch though). Robert Wagner and Susan Flannery had small parts but their death scenes are both truly memorable. Richard Chamberlain’s Roger Simmons is the slippery, greedy, and callous antagonist that is easy to dislike and of course he receives his comeuppance. It’s the sadness associated with the innocent victims that I find touching. Mayor Bob Ramsey, Will Giddings, Senator Parker and Lisolette are great examples. Even Dan and Lorrie (Wagner and Flannery) who were having an affair were pretty sympathetic.

There is much to appreciate in this movie’s cinematography (for which Fred Koenekamp won an Oscar), SPFX (which unlike today used much more perilous/real time special effects), and the integration of its characters and story which breathes palpable life into the film thanks to the performances by the stellar cast and the thrilling grandeur and epic scope of Irwin Allen’s vision. It holds a special nostalgic place for me and is a film that I enjoy every time I watch it.

Parental Guide:

The rating is for thematic elements, peril and graphic images.

AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**

(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

Audio: 72

  • Dynamics:

  • Low frequency extension:

  • Surround Sound presentation:

  • Clarity/Detail:

  • Dialogue Reproduction:

Video: 76

(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • Resolution/Clarity:

  • Black level/Shadow detail:

  • Color reproduction:

  • Fleshtones:

  • Compression:

The Towering Inferno comes to Blu-ray Disc from 20th Century Fox featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 23 mbps and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound that has an average bitrate of 3.4 mbps.

I own the original 2003 THX certified non-anamorphic DVD release. Any comments relative to comparisons between this high definition presentation and DVD are in that regard. In looking at this presentation it marks a discernible improvement over the DVD. The film’s original elements appear to be intact as resolution remains stable over the course of the presentation. This is a dark film that inherently will never offer bright, razor sharp images or an infinite sense of depth. The perception of fine detail was camera angle/scene dependent and ebbed and flowed. There were many instances were innate softening robbed the video of subtle delineation and crisp definition. I also noticed that portions of certain frames (generally on the extreme sides or upper/lower areas) appeared out of focus while others (usually the center) were rendered clearly. This is also attributable to the photography rather than the encoding. While this all sounds like it adds up to poor image quality the truth is I have never seen this film looking better. Close ups of the cast had determinable texture and in some cases clear refinement and definitively resolvable edges. I could make out the pattern in the weave of fabrics in clothing and the structure in the surfaces of objects during mid level panning shots. Blacks were deep but not gradationally strong which left them a little flat. Shadow detail was good enough that shapes in darkened areas and shadows were discernible. This improved dimensional perspective during the many sequences that utilized staggered lighting, firelight and smoke filled environs. The period colors such as orange, yellow and lime green appeared accurate and snappy. Reds and blues were well saturated and popped nicely. Grain is noticeable here and there but its presence is visibly inconsistent. This seems to mimic the DVD which may suggest that there has been no noise reduction added at this stage but is perhaps something that was done initially during post production. Video related noise was kept to a minimum and except for a few dark backgrounds was rarely an issue.

The soundtrack didn’t seem to benefit much from the lossless audio treatment. I always felt that on DVD this had decent but one dimensional sound quality and that hasn’t changed. Dynamics are good but not especially worthy of note. Clarity and the rendering of lesser sounds/effects are very good even though the mix made predominant use of the center channel with mild ambient detail bled to the left/right channels. I never felt that the front soundstage sounded compressed although I wouldn’t describe it as spatially unrestricted either. Dialogue had slightly above average room penetration with good intelligibility and perceptible tonal distinction. The only time I felt that this wasn’t the case was the scene where the fire department are responding to the first alarm and the two firemen are standing on the rear of the truck talking as the siren wails. The audio took on an edgy and strident quality that diminished the inflectional character of their voices. The roar of the flames, the frequent belches of rupturing gas lines, exploding semtex, and the shattering of glass never sounded weak and generally had fair dynamic extension and appreciable low level emphasis. The original recording wasn’t designed for surround sound so rear channel activity was pretty much non-existent. I found myself just as engrossed in this film as I have ever been so I think it would be fair to say that this audio presentation remained faithful to the elements present in the original recording.

Bonus Features:

  • Commentary by film historian F.X. Feeney

  • Scene specific commentary by Mike Vezina FX Director on X-Men: The last stand

  • Scene specific commentary by Branko Racki stunt coordinator on The day after tomorrow

  • 32 extended/deleted scenes including an alternate opening sequence

  • Featurettes:

    1. Inside the tower: We remember – 8 minutes
    2. Innovating tower: The SPFX of an inferno – 6 minutes
    3. The art of towering – 5 minutes
    4. Irwin Allen: The great producer – 6 minutes
    5. Directing the inferno – 4 minutes
    6. Putting out the fire – 5 minutes
    7. Running on fire – 6 minutes
    8. Still the world’s tallest building – 8 minute documentary
    9. The writer: Stirling Silliphant – 9 minute documentary
    10. AMC Back Story: The towering inferno – 22 minutes
  • Storyboard to film comparisons

  • Vintage promotional material – original featurettes, 1977 Irwin Allen interview

  • Interactive galleries

  • Still galleries

  • Trailers

  • D-Box motion code enabled

Final Thoughts:

The Towering Inferno is a classic film that sits at the top of the disaster film genre that was prevalent in the 1970s. No one was better at bringing these thrilling epic style films to life than Irwin Allen. His legacy is strong and he will always be remembered as a cinematic pioneer whose vision was brought to fruition in his films. This is one of my all time favorites and I am thrilled to see it brought to high definition on Blu-ray Disc. This presentation from Fox won’t deliver the room filling surround sound or high gloss imagery of today’s blockbuster films that come to the format however it looks as good as I have ever seen it and the fidelity of its soundtrack appears faithful to its originally recorded elements. Fox has included the bonus supplements from the 2006 Special Edition DVD release. It contains a wonderful compliment of behind the scenes extras, cast/crew interviews, and takes an in depth look at the production (including a dedication to Irwin Allen) that offers fans some great insights into the making of this picture. This is absolutely a must have for those who appreciate this classic piece of American Cinema. Recommended.

Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Reference Review System:

JVC DLA-RS20 1080p High Definition Front Projector (Calibrated by Jeff Meier)

Carada Precision Brilliant White 96" Screen

Oppo BDP-83 Universal disc/Blu-ray Player (HDMI Audio/Video)

Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD Player (HDMI Audio/Video)

Sony Playstation 3 Blu-ray disc Player (HDMI Audio/Video)

Oppo 970HD universal disc DVD Player (480i HDMI)

Denon AVR 5308CI THX Ultra 2 Preamp/Video Processor

Sherbourn Technologies - 7/200 Seven Channel Amplifier

Philips TSU9400 Pro Series Touch Panel Remote Control

Canton "Ergo" Series speakers

Axiom Audio QS8 Quadpolar speakers

SV Sound PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)

APC AV S15BLK Power Conditioner/Surge Protector

Furman SPR-20i Stable Power Regulator

Wireworld, VizionWare, Audioquest, Best Deal Cables - Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling

Cool Components - CP-CP102 cooling package
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1 - 11 of 11 Posts
As I have a fondness for Towering Inferno myself, I bought the Blu-ray as soon as it was released. I can't tell you how many times I've watched this film on television in the past several years, LOL! Never got to see it in a theater, though.

Your review is spot-on, Ralph. Thanks!
I watched an awful 35mm print of Towering Inferno at a film festival in May so I am happy to see it's gotten its due from Twentieth Century Fox. My youngest daughter's favorite disaster film. Thanks for the review.
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Ralph, you are right on the money. We are the same age as I also remember seeing this movie in the theater at the age of 10. It left a lasting impression on me even to this very day. I have watched this on TV a few times, but this is a movie you need to watch uninterrupted. I bought the 2006 DVD version and have watched it numerous times. My wife just can't understand why I watch this movie several times. She always laughs at me and goes upstairs to our bedroom to watch something else. I really don't care as I can watch it with my 12 year old son and 15 year old daughter. They really enjoy it as well. It is funny though. They always comment on how cheesy the special effects look as they compare them to current action movies. Even though they laugh at the special effects, they do not move from their seats and watch this movie to the end. They have probably seen this movie 3-4 times. That is a testament to movie making. An engrossing story with great characters told by great actors of old. My daughter really liked Steve McQueen. She thought he was really cool. We have watched some of his other movies as well and she likes them all.

I will be buying the BD copy later tonight and will watch my wife laugh at me one more time. Not too worry though, this is on BD!! Finally.

Now, if only they will bring out the Six Million Dollar Man on BD.
Heck, I'd take it on DVD.
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The original Poseidon Adventure will always be the standard for "disaster spectaculars" but Towering Inferno is a very close second.

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I have owned the 2 previous DVD versions but this Blu-Ray is the best for sure. I shot this baby up on my 106" projection screen with lossless audio and I finally felt like I was back in the theater when the movie first came out (yes, I was also about 10 years old).

The special effects in this movie still hold up very well.
I have always been a hardcore Steve McQueen and Paul Newman fan and I am immediately replacing anything I have of theirs in my dvd collection with Blu-ray.
I enjoyed it enough and the BD quality was pretty good. It has been such a long time since I viewed this movie. At least Blu Ray is giving some folks the urge to see movies again and in much better quality a large percentage of the time.

Originally Posted by robertc88 /forum/post/16928838

I enjoyed it enough and the BD quality was pretty good. It has been such a long time since I viewed this movie. At least Blu Ray is giving some folks the urge to see movies again and in much better quality a large percentage of the time.


Glad you enjoyed it Robert!

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I remember waiting in line for three hours the night "The Towering Inferno" opened in Southern Calif. at The Newport Theatre. 70mm and Stereo Sound!

Awsome movie. Still is! Now "The Poseidon Adventure" on blu is a must!

Originally Posted by theKrouser /forum/post/17013811

I remember waiting in line for three hours the night "The Towering Inferno" opened in Southern Calif. at The Newport Theatre. 70mm and Stereo Sound!

Awsome movie. Still is! Now "The Poseidon Adventure" on blu is a must!


I absolutely agree...

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