Posted in: Film Reviews

Review: When Time Ran Out…

[Originally published in Movietone News 64-65, March 1980]

Going in, Irwin Allen’s latest disaster movie sounds as if it ought to be the ultimate in the genre. Entitled When Time Ran Out…, complete with ellipsis, and based on a novel called The Day the World Ended, the picture starts off with science-fiction-y images of a lone, safety-suited figure picking his way over a steaming grey landscape that surely does suggest a planet in line for burnout. I began to speculate whether a guy like Irwin Allen would bother ripping off a guy like Robert Altman, and have ol’ Paul Newman, from Quintet more recently than Allen’s own The Towering Inferno, materializing out of another bleak futuristic landscape (at least futuristic-in-the-making). But then the solitary stroller turned out not to be Paul at all; and the catastrophe portrayed in When Time Ran Out… proved to be nothing more than your basic Devil at Four o’Clock volcanic trashing of a single tropical island—and maybe only half the island at that.

What we have here is a hilariously programmatic hybrid of Allen’s The Poseidon Adventure (directed by Ronald Neame) and The Towering Inferno (codirected by Allen and John Guillermin), with TI‘s Newman and William Holden more or less repeating their roles as heroic engineer and decent-but-indecently-wealthy capitalist, James Franciscus in the Richard Chamberlin role of the weak and greedy opportunist who covers up danger signs in order to protect the business deal he has cooking, a nontowering luxury hotel’s staff and clientele split between trying to sit out the disaster in safety and making a PA-style trek to save their lives, a genial retired couple (Meredith and Cortese) whose distaff side has a weak heart (PA), Ernest Borgnine as a New York cop (PA) paired not with Stella Stevens but fugitive-from-justice Red Buttons for odd-couple poignancy….

But there’s really no need to rehearse the formulae; we may confine ourselves to speculating whether Allen seriously hoped to find an audience that would suck all this up rather than checking off the components as they roll by on the narrative conveyor-belt. To be fair, the climactic sequence, with Polynesian footbridge systematically disintegrating as the survivors seek to cross over a river of molten lava, is such primally cinematic stuff that the palms can’t help sweating as intended. The rest of the film can be rejected, even at the intellectually contemptible level of disaster flicks, for such inept conceptions as a volcano that throws fireballs nowhere except straight at the hotel, and a tidal wave that must be only about one block wide, for all that the tranquil sea views from just up the beach indicate; and for trembly special effects the like of which hasn’t been seen since the DeLuxe Color Allens at the turn of the Sixties. Of course that volcano is seriously unstable: it moves up and down, back and forth, every time they cut to the horizon!

© 1980 Richard T. Jameson

Direction: James Goldstone. Screenplay: Carl Foreman, Stirling Silliphant. Cinematography: Fred Koenekamp; process photography: Harold E. Wellman; miniature photography: Stanley Cortez. Special effects supervision: L.B. Abbott. Music: Lalo Schifrin. Production: Irwin Allen.
The players: Paul Newman, Jacqueline Bisset, William Holden, James Franciscus, Edward Albert, Barbara Carrera, Veronica Hamel, Red Buttons, Ernest Borgnine, Burgess Meredith, Valentina Cortese, John Considine, Alex Karras, Lonny Chapman, Pat Morita, Sandra Allen.

A pdf of the original issue can be found here.