In terms of big budget, bloated, all-star movies in which boats meet disaster ridden, screaming-passenger consequences, The Poseidon Adventure is the Mac-Daddy of them all.
Cheesy? Sure it is. Kind of ridiculous? You bet. Filled with stereotypical characters? Yep (and in the case of Ernest Borgnine, double yep). But, then, so is Titanic, which some might consider the more serious cinematic boat catastrophe. Fine. But The Poseidon Adventure was Academy Award nominated too—and it also won for best song, the infinitely less-annoying-than-Celine-Dion ballad “The Morning After.” But this isn’t to say The Poseidon Adventure is masterful moviemaking (or that the Academy Awards mean much) far from it. And yet, the Irwin Allen produced, Ronald Neame directed picture is loads of corny fun.
The story sets sail when, quite suddenly, an underground earthquake flips over the U.S.S. Poseidon, a luxury liner that should be enjoying its New Year’s cruise. The massive tidal wave sends the ship bottoms up with nearly all passengers dead. The last group standing is a, well, interesting bunch of people, disparate types who’ll have to work together in order to climb their way upward through the ship. Of course the task is not so easy. Especially when Shelley Winters is so darn heavy.
Leading the crew is not the ship’s captain (a pre-Airplane!/Naked Gun Leslie Nielsen whom you can’t watch with a straight face) but a preacher played by the unforgettable Gene Hackman. Hollering at people has always been one of Hackman’s fortes, and his talent is utilized to great, hilarious effect as he corrals the rest of the bunch and screams at them to get their butts in gear to…live! Dammit!
Like most Irwin Allen produced extravaganza’s the cast is filled with stars—old and new—including Borgnine as a cranky cop, Stella Stevens as a former prostitute (who continually riles her hubby Borgnine), Carol Lynley as a freaked-out singer, Roddy McDowall as a waiter (one wonders who talked him into the role of waiter), Eric Shea and Pamela Sue Martin as the requisite kids, Red Buttons as the requisite oldster and Winters and Jack Albertson as an old married couple.
With deaths galore (and a few pretty mean ones at that), some impressive visual effects and a general feeling of chaos, The Poseidon Adventure, surprisingly holds up well through time. With the addition of top notch actors Hackman, Borgnine and Winters, you’ll find yourself caring about these people more than you’d think. Even when Stella Stevens quips, “I'm going next. So if ole' fat ass gets stuck, I won't get stuck behind her.”
Released the same week Wolfgang Petersen’s re-make, Poseidon hits theaters, this two disc special edition is jam packed with extras fans will love. An honor roll of the film’s talent, the disc comes loaded with many of the original players discussing the film in myriad detail. Disc one delivers two audio commentaries, one, very insightful, with director Ronald Neame, and the other with actresses Pamela Sue Martin, Stella Stevens and Carol Lynley, something of a kick.
Disc two doles out the goods with AMC Backstory: "The Poseidon Adventure," a 25 minute documentary that looks at the film from its inception to its final raging success and iconic status. The rest of the disc contains nine small featurettes wherein actors from Red Buttons to Roddy McDowall and writer Stirling Silliphant and director Neame share their thoughts on the film. There’s also discussion of the award winning song and some serious look at the movie in, even, a religious sense. In addition, we’re treated to storyboard to film comparisons, an interactive article from American Cinematographer, still photo galleries and of course, the original trailer.
A schlocky master of disaster, The Poseidon Adventure, though peppered with humor both darkly deliberate and un-intentional, still thrills. And really, by its 1972 standards, the picture puts many newer disaster films to shame. Remember that other luxury liner disaster film, Speed 2: Cruise Control? Yeah, I thought not.