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The Big One: The Great Los Angeles Earthquake

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In this four-hour miniseries, Joanna Kerns (Growing Pains) plays a Los Angeles seismologist who thinks a huge earthquake is on its way but can’t get members of the city government to publicize her findings because they fear a mass panic. In other words, this is a drama in which the drama is suppressed: The Big One spends tedious hours with scenes of city officials rasping variations on ”Word of this can’t leak out!” while Kerns says, ”But we must tell people about this!”

When the quake finally hits, there are a lot of standard shake-the-camera special effects, plus collapsing buildings that look like they’re made out of papier-mâché. This is bad, but not as hokey as the domestic scenes that try to humanize Kerns’ hard-working character. her husband (The Wonder Years‘ Dan Lauria) tries to comfort her with condescending mush: ”It’s not just a job with you anymore, babe, it’s an obsession.”

The Big One even tries to humanize the earthquake. ”He’s real to me,” Kerns tells Lauria. ”I’ve got a hunch that he’s gonna go on a rampage soon — wouldn’t it be great if we could predict when he’ll strike again?” The Big One is a monster movie that lacks a monster. Not scary. D

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