Sometimes, Judge Cynthia Boris says, it's best to let the ship go down.
Before her fate is sealed by the deep, the superliner Poseidon will reveal one last secret.
In 1972, The Poseidon Adventure was a force to be reckoned with. It garnered eight Oscar nominations (won, Best Song), lead actors Shelley Winters and Gene Hackman took home a Golden Globe and a BAFTA, and the film grossed over 84 million in the US alone (against an estimated 5 million dollar budget). It was the top grossing film of the year, which had every studio jumping on the disaster bandwagon. Heralded producer Irwin Allen went straight into production on The Towering Inferno, which was another huge box office hit, but the gravy train ended there. Despite additional attempts like The Swarm and a string of made for TV disaster flicks, nothing came close to the draw of those first two movies.
Then Irwin had a brilliant idea. Why not make The Poseidon Adventure over again! Okay, so it seemed like a brilliant idea at the time…
Facts of the Case
Despite the fact that Beyond The Poseidon Adventure was made seven years after The Poseidon Adventure, the movies take place within hours of each other. The survivors of the original movie have just been airlifted to safety when the Coast Guard chopper is spotted by a tugboat captain, Michael Caine (Miss Congeniality). Figuring there's salvage to be had, he and his rag-tag crew (Karl Malden, Streets of San Francisco, and Sally Field, Norma Rae) decide to climb aboard the sinking Poseidon to see what they can find. Joining them on their expedition is Telly Savalas (Kojak), who claims to be a rescue doctor but gives off the vibes of a James Bond villain.
Once on board, the salvagers come across a handful of passengers. Together they make their way to the treasure, then climb up and out and off the ship. Okay, so of course, it's not that simple. There are the usual fires, flooded compartments, and explosions rocking the ship. The usual character conflicts; Peter Boyle (Everybody Loves Raymond) wants to keep handsome young Mark Harmon (N.C.I.S.) away from his innocent daughter, Angela Cartwright (Lost in Space). Veronica Hamel (Hill Street Blues) and Slim Pickens (Honeysuckle Rose) are both hiding secrets. Jack Warden (All the President's Men) is blind. Shirley Jones (The Partridge Family) and Shirley Knight (Desperate Housewives) round out the main cast.
Not enough danger for you? Well, don't worry—there's also a secret in the Poseidon's cargo hold, and someone will kill to get it. So add gunplay and murder to the mix and you've got a muddled attempt to recreate a classic.
Beyond The Poseidon Adventure should be a great movie. It's filled with top-notch actors. It's helmed by the Master of Disaster, Irwin Allen. It's got danger, suspense, murder, and mayhem. And yet it falls far short. Why? Got me! But since I'm writing this review, I guess I should attempt to figure it out.
A lot of the problem stems from odd casting. Even the best actors on the planet can't make good if they're cast in roles that don't fit. Start at the top with Michael Caine; he's hardly believable as a down-on-his-luck tugboat captain. Karl Malden in that role totally fits, but Caine and his hoity-toity British accent just doesn't cut it. Then there's Sally Field basically playing Carrie from the Smokey and the Bandit movies. She's quirky, she's clumsy, she's adventurous, and all that is a cover for a hurt little girl running away from reality. Works beautifully in Smokey and the Bandit, is horrific in Beyond The Poseidon Adventure. Comedy relief just has no place in a movie like this. Peter Boyle is also horribly miscast, but that could be colored by his current fame as a comedic star. In this movie he fills the loveable tough guy role that Ernest Borgnine played in the original (or should I say, attempts to). Shirley Jones is simply wasted as the lackluster ship's nurse and Savalas…well, the fact that Caine believes him to be a humanitarian is just the first in a long line of, "oh how stupid is that" moments.
Unlike the original movie, the characters in Beyond The Poseidon Adventure are flat and boring (with the exception of Malden, whom I like a lot). They don't grow and change as people, and as a viewer I didn't really care who lived or died. That's never a good thing when making a disaster movie.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Like the original, Beyond The Poseidon Adventure is big on action. You have to give them credit for trying to mix it up a little via the "killer on board" storyline. As with all Irwin Allen movies, you can't fault the production values. There are great sets (all of which had to be rebuilt! Remember they made this movie seven years after the first), big dangers, and no fear of throwing actors straight into the stream of water from a high-pressure hose.
Another upside: this DVD comes with a cool behind-the-scenes featurette that shows Irwin Allen rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty—metaphorically speaking. Having reviewed six recent Irwin Allen DVD releases, I have to say I'm still amazed by the extras they keep coming up with. If Irwin was filming and saving all this extra footage back in the seventies, long before little silver discs were even a gleam in Sony's eye, just image how jam packed his DVD's would be if he were making films today! Don't I wish!
Beyond The Poseidon Adventure may have singlehandedly ended the disaster movie genre, but obviously, the studios didn't learn their lesson. In the last few months, not one but two Poseidon remakes broke the surface, one for TV and one feature film. Neither pulled in the viewers, sponsors, or dollars they way they hoped. Perhaps now the studios have learned what we already knew—it's best to not mess with a classic.
Beyond The Poseidon Adventure would probably be found guilty if the jurors had made it to the end without falling asleep.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Behind The Scenes: Beyond the Poseidon Adventure"
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