Gosh - where to start!
`The Day The Earth Caught Fire' is one of the most intelligent science-fiction/apocalypse movies ever made, and that's that. If you can live with the completely absurd premise that our planet could be knocked over by 2 simultaneous atom-bomb tests, when the multi-million-megaton Chixulub impact of 65 million years ago didn't even make it sneeze, then the rest is easy-peasy.
Set in London, and mostly from the standpoint of the `Daily Express' newspaper office, the disaster unfolds with frightening plausibility. Most movies of this genre usually had (and still have) a political, military or scientific overview with the media presented as little more than a side-issue, a baying mob. here, we see the story breaking from the actual standpoint of the media, a premise to which the Daily Express gave substantial support. It is the other instiutions that are marginalised.
Seldom-seen Edward Judd won his first starring role as a journalist on the skids. His marriage has broken down, he has limited access to his estranging son, he has become disillusioned, bitter, and wobbles on the threshold of alcoholism and dismissal. He now holds women in contempt. But although obnoxious, he is desperately vulnerable. Judd was a big man and handsome in the traditional British way. He had tremendous screen presence, not unlike Richard Burton. His character is kept in some sort of order by the science correspondent, an indulgent uncle-figure here played by excellent Leo McKern, who always brought a solid lump of gravitas to every role. See his conniving `Cromwell' in `A Man For All Seasons', not to mention his enduringly humorous `Rumpole'. Janet Munro is `the girl'. She is marked to bring salvation to Judd's character - if they survive. And a very fiesty heroine she presents. These three are core to a host of decent character actors, with cameos from Bernard Braden and a juvenile Michael Caine.
The climate-change effects are simple, but believable and harrowing. Clear genuine disaster footage is incorporated seamlessly. The sweaty spell is never broken by clumsy editing.
But the real high-point is the script. It's as sharp and witty as those of the best film-noir. Some have criticised it for being too smart; however, I don't agree. These people are journalists, wordsmiths; their business is the witty summation, the one-line header. And it keeps the story moving at a fast, intelligent pace.
It is surely a measure of the adult theme of this movie, that despite its vintage, and despite the absence of any graphic violence or explicit sex, it still commands the same `15' rating as the Coens' recent and extremely brutal `No Country For Old Men'. On a couple of occasions there is swearing. McKern utters the `B' word once.
The `Network' DVD is satisfactorily clear both visually and aurally. There are no extras.