The Poseidon Adventure CoverBUY IT AT AMAZON: CLICK HERE!
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
MSRP: $19.98
RUNNING TIME: 117 Minutes
• AMC Backstory: The Poseidon Adventure featurette
• Commentary by director Ronald Neame
• Commentary by Pamela Sue Martin, Stella Stevens and Carol Lynley
• Film-to-storyboard comparisons
• Nine new featurettes
• Still galleries
• Vintage promotional materials

The Pitch

Listen to me: if we’re going to get through this movie, we’ll have to do it together. Don’t listen to anyone telling you not to watch it. If you listen to them you’ll be dead. I know you feel like giving up right now. This has been tough on all of us. But you’ve got to think about your child! Right before your wife died, she gave me this special pendant. She told me to give it to you so that you can give it to your child once you finish this movie.

Now get up and find your inner strength while I deliver a similar monologue to twelve other people who seem to be in absolutely no hurry to escape certain death.

The Humans

It’s a star studded affair! Gene Hackman! Ernest Borgnine! Leslie Nielsen! Shelly Winters fat jokes!

The Nutshell

Walking stereotypes are enjoying their time on a luxurious ocean liner. Unbeknownst to them, the owner of the cruise line is an evil human being and insists the captain move the ship ahead at full speed. A gigantic wave, triggered by an underwater earthquake most likely caused by Poseidon, knocks the ship upside down.

Now, a ragtag group of survivors led by a renegade priest must try and do the impossible and escape the capsized ship. It’s climbing and crawling action on the high seas! Have fun trying to guess which characters will end up biting the dust in hilarious fashion. Just keep one thing in mind: always bet on Borgnine.

You’ve gone too far this time Wonka. Too far. All he did was steal fizzy lifting drinks you bastard!

The Lowdown

The Poseidon Adventure was the innovator of the 1970s disaster picture. After its gigantic success, many other films paid tribute to it by copying it almost word for word but with different disasters. The reason for Poseidon’s success is pretty obvious on the surface. It’s a definite “event” film featuring a giant disaster and an all-star cast. It’s also fast paced and a lot of fun, which makes it stand above its imitators and lends it a timeless quality.

To say the film is a bit formulaic would be an understatement. The basic plot progression of the film can be summed up with this outline:

Step One: The characters encounter a new physical challenge such as climbing up a tunnel.

Step Two: One character falls down, overcome by the challenge presented by this obstacle. The character will reveal something to the others (“I can’t swim,” “I’m really fat and can’t fit through pipes,” etc.) which hinders them.

Step Three: One character delivers an inspiring monologue which persuades the downtrodden character to continue onward.

Step Four: A character dies because of the rising water. If the group hadn’t spent ten minutes persuading each other to get off their asses this would not have occurred.

Step Five: Repeat steps one through four until the characters reach their final destination.

Such a predictable pattern of events would be a negative if this was high drama, but this is cheesy disaster drama. Half the fun of the film is listening to the embarassing, ham fisted monologues and laughing at some of the absolutely moronic actions taken by the characters. This is a film with monologues that actually make you root for people to die because they wouldn’t listen to the smarter characters.

Sure, the cloth ripped and she died on impact, but at least they made the effort.

The all-star (at the time) cast of the film really makes the two-dimensional characters come alive. Each character is a walking cliché from the grizzled former cop to the preacher who has lost his way. These characters could easily have ended up being as forgettable and useless as they were written on the page, but Hackman and Borgnine put a lot into their performances. It’s hard not to enjoy the rapport between the two, as Hackman frequently orders Borgnine to do the grunt work and the hairy caterpillars above Borgnine’s eyes furrow in frustration.

As big as the actors were at the time, the obvious star of the picture is the natural disaster. The effects can be a bit cheesy at times, especially during the initial scene where the ship turns upside down. It’s hilarious to watch the multitude of extras throw themselves onto tables and roll along the floor while it’s obvious that only the camera is tilted. The best parts are when extras “fall” along the floor while the chairs remain perfectly still.

With the exception of the ballroom scene, the rest of the film looks fantastic. Nothing looks like a cheap set on a soundstage. The intricate set pieces are awe inspiring in some scenes and it’s obvious that the crew put a lot of effort into creating a totally convincing replica of a capsized ship. The flooded hallways, cramped corridors and steaming boiler rooms all look authentic and lend the film some real credibility. It actually looks like these characters are trapped on an upside down ocean liner. The sets and effects are good enough that they don’t look the least bit dated even after more than thirty years.

The fact that the film holds up so well after so long makes the upcoming remake even more confusing. The effects still look great and are unlikely to be enhanced by cgi. The cast, while not quite so all-star these days, is still great. The Poseidon Adventure isn’t much more than a well made action film and it doesn’t aspire to anything more. It’s a textbook example of a simple film that accomplishes exactly what it set out to do and as a result it will remain simple fun no matter how old it gets.

No! The original masters of Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders! The only thing I ever loved in the entire world. And you killed it!

The Package

The artwork for this new special edition does its best to please everyone. The outer slipcase features a great reworking of the film’s original poster that is eye catching. Once the slipcase is removed, the artwork on the plastic case is the original poster art. It also retains the film’s great tagline of “Hell, upside down.”

The first disc features two commentary tracks and a “follow the escape” feature. The commentary by director Ronald Neame focuses on all the difficulties he encountered with the special effects and handling such a large task. Neame is a charming guy and admires his film while still admitting its shortcomings. He has a laugh or two as he points out the tricks he used to fake certain shots and admits to cutting corners here and there.

The second track features three of the film’s actresses: Pamela Sue Martin, Stella Stevens and Carol Lynley. With a film this star studded, it’s a real disappointment that none of the males participated. The actress track focuses on the hardships of acting in a giant disaster film, including throwing your body around and keeping make-up consistent.

Thanks for sandbagging us, Mama Cass. Not like we’re in a hurry or anything.

The “follow the escape” feature is a novel extra. If activated, a small logo of the capsized Poseidon will appear from time to time on the screen. Once the viewer hits enter, they will be taken to a map of the Poseidon which tracks the progress of the survivors throughout the ship and keeps a running tally of survivors. The feature enhances the sense that these characters are actually progressing through a real ship rather than aimlessly floating from set piece to set piece.

The second disc is full of featurettes focusing on the behind the scenes action. The thirty minute AMC Backstory show focuses on Irwin Allen’s battle to get the film produced at 20th Century Fox and his reputation as the “master of disaster.” Nine new featurettes produced for the DVD focus on individual aspects of the film such as the music score and the themes of heroism and leadership present in the story. None of the featurettes digs very deep and last about five minutes each.

7.5 out of 10