Friday, December 31, 2010

The Poseidon Adventure (1971) & Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)


          For some reason, I’ve always remembered a remark that Will Smith made around the time he broke through as a big-screen star with 1994’s Independence Day: When asked how he got so much mileage out of so little screen time, Smith explained that he studied Ernest Borgnine’s performance in The Poseidon Adventure because of how vigorously Borgnine attacked every scene. Smith was onto something, because even though Irwin Allen’s production of The Poseidon Adventure deserves its reputation as one of the cheesiest movies of the ’70s, it’s undeniably compelling for the same reason that Borgnine’s supporting performance is effective—the picture will do anything to get a reaction. Based on a novel by Paul Gallico, the story about a luxury liner turned upside down by a giant rogue wave is silly, because it presumes that the liner can stay afloat long enough for survivors to seek rescue through a hole in the bottom of the hull, but the movie is jam-packed with action, melodrama, romance, schmaltz, and spectacle. What’s not to like about unpretentious hokum that intercuts shots of gussied-up New Year’s Eve revelers singing “Auld Lang Syne” with vignettes of the ship’s stoic captain (Leslie Nielsen!) watching watery doom approach a few decks above their heads? Perfecting the disaster-movie template established by Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure offers a slapdash ensemble of familiar faces romping through one overwrought crisis after another. In sheer paycheck-cashing mode, Gene Hackman plays the hero of the piece, a swaggering priest who rediscovers his purpose in life by leading a band of hearty survivors to possible salvation; his performance is so faux-intense that it’s embarrassing and thrilling at the same time. Lending campy gravitas are Borgnine and other showbiz veterans, including Jack Albertson, Red Buttons, Roddy McDowall, and the flamboyantly buoyant Shelley Winters (“In the water, I’m a very skinny lady!”). Meanwhile, Carol Lynley, Pamela Sue Martin, and Stella Stevens shriek their lungs out in various states of soggy undress.
          The soap-opera storylines are drab, like the one about marital strife between a crass cop (Borgnine) and an ex-hooker (Stevens), but the fun of the picture is watching broadly sketched caricatures clash with each other against a backdrop of death and devastation. Allen spent a bundle on massive sets that could be flipped upside down and flooded, so what’s happening onscreen feels real because the actors actually got soaked, and drowning is such a universal phobia that it’s impossible not to sympathize with the characters’ anxiety. On top of everything, there’s a sky-high kitsch factor, especially when Lynley lip-syncs the movie’s atrocious but Oscar-winning theme song “The Morning After”—so whether you embrace the flick for its legit thrills or its unintentional humor, The Poseidon Adventure is a great ride.
          Allen reprised the story several years later, when his career was faltering; the sleep-inducing Beyond the Poseidon Adventure stars a bored Michael Caine as a sea captain who tries to salvage loot from wreck of the Poseidon shortly after the last moments of the original movie. Peter Boyle, Sally Field, and Jack Warden join the festivities, with Karl Malden playing Caine’s salty sidekick and Telly Savalas portraying the main villain. Unfortunately, the direction and script are so lifeless that even the colorful cast isn’t enough to keep the sequel afloatBeyond the Poseidon Adventure is a grade-Z heist picture that merely happens to take place on an abandoned boat.

The Poseidon Adventure: GROOVY
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure: LAME

1 comment:

BillyWitchDoctor said...

For Beyond, Allen hired Poseidon Adventure author Paul Gallico to write a novel as a sequel to Allen's movie, rather than Gallico's own book--since the book ends very differently, with Susan raped, young Robin dead, Reverend Scott proven disastrously wrong, and the Poseidon sinking along with several rescuers.

Gallico died before the novel was completed; it was finished by his family. Allen again made massive changes, although this time he had an excuse: Gallico's new novel had Rogo force the helicopter to return at gunpoint when he realizes the Poseidon may not sink for days; it turns out his "vacation" was just a cover, and he was onboard to protect a certain piece of cargo. He gets off and lets the helicopter depart, but Manny Rosen and James Martin elect to remain behind as well--Rosen to die with his wife Belle, and Martin just...for the adventure? ...Ha ha ha, sure, okay then.

Well, you can understand why that wasn't going to work; Beyond began filming five or six years after Poseidon, and getting visibly-aged Ernest Borgnine, Jack Albertson and Red Buttons back together to slosh around in those dangerous sets again was a bridge too far. So whippity-pow, their roles were transferred to a new set of survivors; Peter Boyle as the tough cop, Jack Warden repeats Manny's loss, and Mark Harmon (!!) scoots into Red's spot. Their ultimate fates get shuffled a bit--Book-Manny dies early on holding off Svevo's pirates while Movie-Warden not only survives but finds new love farrrrrrt in Shirley Jones--but those aren't the biggest changes: in the novel there's a freakin' escaped tiger prowling the cargo hold, and the overturned Poseidon (somehow) drifts over the volcano that triggered the wave that capsized it. ...Still, a well-filmed volcanic eruption would've been better than the "just blows up the instant all the good guys are out of range" nonsense that was apparently filmed in someone's bathtub. How many "exploding boilers" did that ship have, anyway?