The Poseidon Adventure (1972) – Ronald Neame

Irwin Allen. The name is automatically associated with the television series Lost In Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, but he’s also inextricably linked with the disaster film sub-genre of action movies, and today’s film on the 101 Action Movies List, produced by Allen cemented the formula for the genre.

The Poseidon is a luxury ship, and it’s on its final cruise, and celebrating New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately things are about to take a terrible turn…

Following a minor ocean-quake, a towering wall of water races towards the top-heavy ship, and capsizes her. The race for survival begins, and it doesn’t matter who you are, everyone is expendable.

The film is jam-packed with stars, Gene Hackman, Leslie Nielsen, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Pamela Sue Martin, Shelley Winters, and Roddy McDowall. Hackman plays a reverend, who is on his way to the parts east, and becomes the de facto leader of a band of people who are trying to get out of the ship before it’s too late.

With the ship up-ended they have to make their way up to the lower decks of the engine room, to the propeller shaft, where the ship’s hull is its thinnest, and provides the best chance of rescue.

the-poseidon-adventure-gene-hackman-shelley-winter1The reverend leads a group of 10 survivors through the upside-down world of the flipped ship, avoiding fires, swimming through flooded passageways, and struggling against in-fighting.

The entire production is well put together, from the camera tilting back and forth to mimic the motion of the ocean, to the giant sets, including a massive dining room, engine room, and some claustrophobic corridors.

The film also boasts a score by one of my all time favorite film composers, Mr. John Williams, his music helps to ratchet up the tension, as well as giving us moments to mourn those who don’t survive as the group slowly gets whittled away.

The film is undeniably bleak, as we see even the reverend break down and rail against his god. In fact, no sooner do he and his small group escape the dining room, when the doors burst in and water begins pouring in, in moments, almost all of the entire crew and passengers are wiped out. In moments, all of those lives snuffed out, and our poor survivors are racing through the ship clinging to the faintest thread of hope of getting through it all.

paAs they race through the dying ship, the rev and the detective (Borgnine) are constantly at loggerheads, arguing about what to do, where to go, they keep the entire group on edge, even while lives are being taken, snuffed out and sacrificed.

The disaster genre has never been one of my favorites, but I do believe that if you’re going to make one, you make it as realistic as possible, and that means little to no CGI (one of the reasons I never cared for the remake, or any of the other recent disaster films). You can tend to tell when something is CG, no matter how good it is, so there’s no real threat, nor do you feel the threat. In this film, wherever possible, everything was real, the fire, the water, yes, there are special effects and model-work, but they are all real in the sense that there are physical objects, and as such, it’s easier to buy into the reality of the film.

There are a couple more disaster films on the horizon, but what are some of your faves?


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