DVD Review: The Poseidon Adventure (Special Edition)
Release Date: May 9, 2006
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
· Ronald Neame
· Gene Hackman
· Ernest Borgnine
· Red Buttons
· Carol Lynley
· Roddy McDowall
· Stella Stevens
· Shelley Winters
by Paul Schultz
Published: May 13, 2006
The Poseidon Adventure features plenty of water, with generous helpings of cheese, and gets a "Special Edition" re-release on DVD just in time to cash in on this summer's big-budget remake. Originally seen in 1972, this was one of the first tales of cataclysm that would usher in the genre of disaster films that had its heyday during the 1970's. Based on the novel by Paul Gallico, this Irwin Allen-produced, all-star affair followed the story of a handful of survivors scrambling for safety when their ocean liner is a capsized by a tidal wave on New Year's Eve. In fact, you're told as much right at the beginning of the movie, which would seem to serve as a spoiler, but rather throws an ominous pall over the ensuing character introductions. We meet Belle (Shelley Winters) and Manny (Jack Albertson), proud Jewish grandparents on their way to meet their new grandson in Israel. We meet Rogo (Ernest Borgnine), ex-cop and wife Linda (Stella Stevens), a former prostitute who doesn't want to mingle with her fellow passengers for fear some "former clients" might recognize her. We meet Martin (Red Buttons), aging bachelor, Nonnie (Carol Lynley), singing in her brother's band as entertainment for the party, Acres (Roddy McDowall), a member of the wait staff, and Susan (Pamela Sue Martin),
a teen traveling with her kid brother. Finally, we meet liberal minister Frank Scott (Gene Hackman), who gives a bullshit sermon about God being too busy to concern himself with people, concluding with the dubious counsel: "Don't pray to God to solve your problems. Pray to that part of God within you. Let God know you have the guts and will to do it alone."
I hadn't remembered Leslie Nielsen as the captain, but there he is, in all
his seriousness. It was bit hard keeping a straight face seeing him play it straight, knowing how he would parody such roles years later. Despite warnings that the ship is too top-heavy to maintain faster speeds, he is pressed on by a representative of the ship's owners who are anxious to complete its final voyage to the scrap yard. An earthquake sets off a huge tsunami that sweeps along and overturns the boat just as partiers are ringing in the new year. The knowledge of what a real tsunami did along the Indian Ocean a year-and-a-half ago brought a frightening realism that otherwise might not have been felt.
It's now hell upside-down as everyone finds themselves on the ceiling of
the ballroom (following the famous scene of a man loosing his grip on a table to drop into the skylight). As those still alive begin to congregate, Frank
takes charge and orders the aluminum Christmas tree to be propped up as a
makeshift stairway to higher ground. Frank informs Susan, "You can't climb in a long gown so it'll have to come off." Alrighty, then... you now have my full, undivided attention! Same goes for Linda, amid the protestation of Rogo that she's got nothing on underneath. "Just panties," she replies. "What else do I need?" Her husband, nevertheless, gives him the shirt off his back. Truth be told, legs play a rather significant role as I found myself following the bared appendages of Susan, Linda and Nonnie with as much interest as the rest of the survivors.
The small group barely keeps one step ahead of the rising water as their
situation becomes more impossible and escape routes more difficult to
navigate. Major characters sacrifice themselves so the rest continue to
have a chance to make it to the very bottom of the ship, where the only possible rescue could come from. The special effects are good enough to convince you of the constant peril the survivors find themselves in. There are a few obvious moments when you know you're looking at a model of the ship, like during the opening credits with the fake-looking smoke coming out of the stacks, or as the gigantic wave crashes over the bow. But, for the most part, they are quite good for its time.
Being a time in cinematic history when every movie had to have a theme song, The Poseidon Adventure did admirably with Maureen McGovern's Academy Award-winning song, "The Morning After." I remember being thrilled with this action-adventure as a youngster, if only because I thought it was cool and naughty to hear Gene Hackman get away with yelling "You pompous ass!" on network television. Alas, long gone are the days when this was the worst you'd hear on free TV. There was a TV-Movie remake of this film last fall, starring Rutger Hauer, Adam Baldwin, Steve Guttenberg, and Bryan Brown, but it was a pretty lame attempt to update the story for modern times. My
advice would be to not miss the boat and stick with the original.
My practice is to listen to commentaries with subtitling so I can concentrate on what they're saying, while still following the action. The default when
you select one of the commentaries is no subtitling, so you must go through the confusing act of picking a commentary to turn on, then returning to the language selection to activate subtitles, then playing the movie.
- Audio Commentary by Ronald Neame - Director Ronald Neame
helpfully points out where shots took place on the actual R.M.S. Queen Mary (for example, the engine room) and which ones took place on a built
set. He knew Paul Gallico and was afraid the author would hate his
movie since it's not like the book (he didn't). He admits the film was
made for children and, because of that fact, it was "slaughtered by the
critics" when it was originally released. Neame's philosophy is
expressed in Reverend Scott's speech, which was written by him "from my
theory about life." He kind of spells out the action that is unfolding before your eyes, though he says, "I should shut up now" during the sequence of the wave hitting and the ship turning over, resulting in several minutes of silence from the audio track. He doesn't mind criticizing bad dialogue (not his own, of course, but that of scriptwriter Stirling Silliphant), though he reminds us that it's geared for kids. In an amusing anecdote, he relates how Jack Albertson took on the job of keeping Shelley Winters quiet during filming by playing Gin Rummy with her, because she was perfectly able to interrupt a scene by calling out helpful comments.
- Audio Commentary by Pamela Sue Martin, Stella Stevens and Carol Lynley
- Not terribly interesting girl-talk. They discussed which scenes
were shot out of sequence, though it was mostly linear. As various
actors appeared on the screen, there was a lot of talk about other roles
they played, and a running count of how many films they acted in together
with the commentators. There's some insight into character
motivations. Pamela notes that she's received many comments
over the years about her hot pants, and how her skirt came off a little too easily (and I guess you can add me to that list!). Stella occasionally interjects innuendo, which I found annoying (Pamela: "Gene helped me with acting tips." Stella: "I'm sure he did.")
- Follow the Escape! - an really cool interactive featurette that
pops up an icon when the characters reach a new escape route which you can then branch to a schematic (based on the actual R.M.S. Queen Mary) where you can map where they're at on the ship, how they got there, and who has survived thus far.
View the ship's schematic to "follow the escape" in this nifty feature.
- AMC Backstory: The Poseidon Adventure - How the movie project commenced, mostly focusing on Irwin Allen's studio struggles with 20th Century Fox.
- Featurettes - Each average a little under ten minutes long.
- The Cast Looks Back
- Falling Up With Ernie
- The Writer: Stirling Silliphant
- The Heroes of the Poseidon
- The Morning After Story
- The R.M.S. Queen Mary
- Conversations with Ronald Neame:
- Sinking Corridor
- Generations of Fans
- Turning Over the Ship
- Vintage Promotional Materials:
- Original 1972 Featurette
- The Poseidon Adventure Teaser
- The Poseidon Adventure Trailer
- The Towering Inferno Trailer
- American Cinematographer Article - complete transcription of a 1972 article about filming techniques used in The Poseidon Adventure.
- Galleries - Marketing, Publicity, Behind-the-Scenes
- Storyboard Comparisons - three detailed storyboard sequences
shown back and forth with the actual footage.
- Ship Capsized
- Up the Vertical Shaft
- Saving Reverend Scott