I spent part of last Saturday watching a disaster movie maraton on the Syfy channel. I hasten to add that I don’t normally do this, but there was nothing else to watch and I needed the sleep. After a few of these, I started noticing that there was a basic formula to disaster yarns, and certain characters almost always populate them.
1. A main character (usually female) has a brilliant father whose theory was rejected by the scientific community. The line is: “Something my father was working on.”
2. A young couple whose relationship is strained by her desire to have him escape with her to safety, against his need to respond to the call of duty. She is usually pregnant and may not have told him yet.
3. A hotshot pilot who either drinks or has a reputation for disobeying orders, but can fly anything.
4. Two brilliant scientists or doctors who used to work together, were married, now divorced, but must work together again (to save the world.)
5. A stubborn general or high official who refuses to believe that the disaster is going to happen.
6. A character who once made a bad mistake that cost the life of someone close to a main character. He begs for a chance to redeem himself. He may sacrifice his life saving others.
7. The President of the United States, usually a heroically brave, caring character, who does not run to safety until forced to.
8. A kid who gets lost/separated from his family, found at the end.
9. Sometimes one or two teenaged computer geeks who can do what the professionals can’t, or who are the first to discover what is about to happen.
10. Often there is a Russian Commander who is either a beautiful, but coldly dedicated woman, or a man who is ex-KGB, and suspicious of US motives.
11. Last, but not least, the evil CEO who hides the truth about his billion-dollar project that has set off the disaster because he will lose all that money and power. He is either killed by the results of his experimentation, or incarcerated for the rest of his life.
Did I leave out anybody??