The Poseidon, a luxury cruise liner, is crossing the Atlantic for the last time. Among her passengers include a retired police officer (Ernest Borgnine) and his wife, grandparents (including Shelly Winters), two children traveling to see their parents, an angry reverend by the name of Frank Scott (Gene Hackman) who is being transferred to Africa and a band that has been picked up to play during the New Years' Eve party.
On New Years' Eve, while the passengers are partying in the main ballroom, the captain (Leslie Neilson) is alerted to an underwater earthquake. Minutes later, a ninty-plus foot wall of water comes hurtling toward the Poseidon. Every effort is made by the crew to keep the ship upright, but the sheer power of the wave capsizes the mighty vessel. With everything upside down, panic sets in among the passengers. Reverend Scott is able to convince a few of the passengers (those that are introduced at the beginning of the film) that the only way to live is to make it to the top of the ship. As the ship beginnings to sink, and floor after floor becomes flooded, it becomes a race against time before the air and emergency lights run out!
The seventies marked a time of uncertainty for America, as war and politics took a heavy hit on the general populous. This uncertainty crept into pop culture, and made way for the massively successful disaster film. Among the first, and the best, is THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Hidden beneath the breathtaking special effects, were several underlying messages. The first being that disaster and tragedy do not judge nor discriminate, and that sacrifices will need to be made in order to persevere. The second comes via Reverend Scott's sermons early in the film and his rallying cry once the waves hit, as he commands that only by being strong and actively participating will anything be accomplished. God will not help those that just idly sit by and pray.
Almost thirty-five years later, the special effects and sets are still impressive, and can stand proudly next to (and in many cases over) anything that has been produced since. The attention to detail, which started with the creation of the Queen Mary based Poseidon, is extraordinary. The sets are so huge, and the journey that the heroes take is so long, that it is almost impossible to imagine that they are in a studio and not inside an actual ship. The highlight of the movie, is the jaw-dropping sequence in which the ship flips over. This primarily takes place in the ship's ballroom, and every technique available is used. The entire set turned 45 degrees, so that the actors really would fall, and camera tricks were used to make the angle even more acute. The finale features a man falling from the top of the room a good thirty feet into a car-sized chandelier. Once the ship is capsized, each compartment and room becomes an alien world that the survivors must cross through.
The film is not without its faults, however. The acting becomes more over the top as the film, and the characters, though simply-defined, are two-dimensional. The men are gruff and argue over which decision to make, while the women are merely there to shriek and be dragged along to safety. Only the grandmother and the reverend make any sort of character arc, which make them the stand-out characters to watch. Due to budget restraints and the technological limits of the time, there are but a few exterior shots of the boat once it capsizes and begins to sink. This does work in the fact that you do not know where the water level is at any given time, though a few exterior sinking shots would have been a solid addition. No where is this more sorely missed than the conclusion, where only a fraction of the hull can be seen.
In the wake of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE came THE TOWERING INFERNO, EARTHQUAKE, AFTERSHOCK and twenty-five years later TITANIC. Made for TV movies would also come about, including the recent 10.5. However, this film is still the one to judge them all by, and makes for a great rainy day movie.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972)