It’s tempting to lump Juggernaut in with the various disaster epics of the early ’70s, and, indeed, the movie is quite enjoyable if consumed as a thinking-person’s alternative to the campy escapism of, say, Irwin Allen’s mayhem-filled productions. Yet in addition to being a British film instead of a Hollywood picture, Juggernaut is really a terrorism thriller rather than a proper oh-the-humanity destruco-fest. For instance, the tragedy that the film’s heroes attempt to overcome is not a natural occurrence such as an earthquake or a tidal wave—it’s a bomb planted on an ocean liner. Accordingly, Juggernaut eschews the standard disaster-movie formula of introducing various characters whom the audience knows will later fall victim to capricious fate. The movie focuses almost exclusively on bomb-squad technicians and maritime officials.
Set largely aboard the cruise liner Britannic, the picture begins when an unseen terrorist who identifies himself as Juggernaut makes phone contact with ship’s owner, Porter (Ian Holm). Juggernaut says he’s rigged the Britannic to blow unless he’s paid a hefty ransom. Soon afterward, the British government sends in a bomb squad led by the intrepid Fallon (Richard Harris). The rest of the film comprises parallel storylines—Fallon’s attempts to find and defuse bombs (turns out there’s more than just one), and endeavors by a police detective (Anthony Hopkins) to find Juggernaut’s hideout on the mainland. There’s a good deal of tension in Juggernaut, so even if you feel as if you’ve seen a million “Cut the blue wire!” scenes before, the care with which director Richard Lester executes the suspenseful passages is visible in every claustrophobic close-up and every nerve-rattling edit. Lester, though best known for his exuberant Beatles movies and his lusty Musketeers pictures, apparently joined Juggernaut late in the project’s development and then supervised a heavy rewrite. It’s therefore unsurprising that the final film is very much a director’s piece, with characterization and story taking a backseat to pacing and texture. Perhaps because of this focus on cinematic technique, Juggernaut is excellent on a moment-to-moment basis, but not especially memorable overall.
That said, the movie promises nothing more than a good romp, and it delivers exactly that. Contained within its fleeting frames, however, is fine acting by a number of posh UK actors. In particular, Harris and David Hemmings have strong chemistry as bomb-squad teammates, with both actors articulating believable characterizations of men who face unimaginable stress in the course of their daily activities. The picture’s production values are exemplary, and the cinematography and music—by British stalwarts Gerry Fisher and Ken Thorne, respectively—contribute to the overall intensity and polish of the piece.