Sunday, September 9, 2012

Gray Lady Down (1978)

The disaster genre was already starting to repeat itself by the late ’70s, so the only real novelty of Gray Lady Down is that it puts a military spin on the underwater tension that audiences enjoyed in The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Unfortunately, the military angle removes from the equation a key element to any successful disaster picture, which is overwrought melodrama. Specifically, since the characters in Gray Lady Down are trained to work together during crises, the only real conflict has to do with minor disagreements about strategy; thus, we’re deprived the cheesy fun of watching silly characters squabble during a catastrophe. Furthermore, the almost completely male cast ensures that Gray Lady Down is a monotonous onslaught of macho posturing. Atop all that, the movie’s simply not very good in terms of narrative execution—even with a solid cast for this sort of thing and the constant presence of life-or-death jeopardy, Gray Lady Down fails to generate memorably exciting moments. Charlton Heston, in extra-serious beardy mode, plays Captain Blanchard, skipper of the U.S. Navy submarine Neptune. One foggy night, the Neptune gets rammed by a freighter, then sinks to nearly 1,500 feet and gets lodged in an underwater canyon. Hard-driving but otherwise personality-free Captain Bennett (Stacy Keach) is sent to supervise the ensuing rescue effort, but when the Neptune sinks even further, additional manpower is required. Enter Captain Gates (David Carradine), the iconoclastic pilot of a small, experimental submersible called the Snark. Simply by dint of their watchable personalities, the scenes aboard the Snark between Carradine and Ned Beatty, who plays Carradine’s sidekick, have some life. And, of course, watching Heston tromp around the bridge of the Neptune while he barks orders through clenched teeth is campy and fun. Alas, most of Gray Lady Down is as bland as the color cited in its title, so what should have been a simple little thriller ends up being a chore to endure.

Gray Lady Down: LAME

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