The Poseidon Adventure. Don't judge me. You think you're better than me?!?
Sailing from New York City to Athens, the S.S. Poseidon is making one last voyage after years of service around the world, a ship destined for the scrap heap. That voyage is behind schedule though, and its captain (Leslie Nielsen) is under pressure to make up some serious time with so much money on the line. That speed may make up lost time but it puts the ship, crew and passengers at serious risk, but none of them know what awaits. Sailing through the Mediterranean, the Poseidon receives news of an immense earthquake off the Greek coast and its repercussions are heading right for the fully-loaded passenger ship. During a New Year's Eve celebration, an enormous wave moving at dangerous speeds is coming right for them. The ship is capsized in the wave's wake with much of the crew and many passengers killed. One small group survives though, and led by a fiery, trouble-making reverend, Scott (Gene Hackman), they try to make it through an upside down apocalyptic environment that was their ocean liner. Can they make it to the hull and possible rescue?
When it comes to disaster movies, I typically associate two movies with kick-starting the genre into its highest popularity. First, there's 1970's Airport. Second, well, here we sit. Though I've seen the entire movie here, I'd never before seen it in one viewing where I just sat down and blazed through it. Thanks, TCM! I didn't love it, but I did like it. It's difficult to watch this movie in 2015 and see it with a fresh light. This is a movie that has impacted hundreds of flicks since its release in 1972. So now on a fist-time view over 40 years later, it feels cliched, familiar and at times, overdone. None of those criticisms prove to be a deal-breaker in the end, but it will definitely impact your viewing. Still, this is a movie that helped launch an entire genre that was everywhere in theaters for almost a full decade. They weren't always classics -- or even that good -- but let's give credit where it is due.
One of the biggest impacts 'Poseidon' had on its future is the casting. This disaster movie from director Ronald Neame (and an uncredited Irwin Allen, the producer as well) assembles a pretty solid all-star cast. Future flicks would take the all-star cast concept to ridiculous levels where EVERYONE in Hollywood would make an appearance. If the script here is a little goofy, who better to keep righting the ship than Gene Hackman? I submit No One. His Reverend Scott is angry, a leader, a fighter and not interested in any excuses or garbage. When all else seems lost, he keeps his motley crew of survivors to keep moving as the water levels keep on rising. He's also rocking an impressive combover and a very stylish turtleneck. With a lot of actors, maybe the part gets a tad hammy, but because it's Gene Hackman, you go along for the ride. It's Hackman!
So what's the appeal of the ensemble all-star cast? Let's get down to business. We want to see which celebrity lives and which celebrity is due for an overdramatic death scene. So who is possible fodder for that finale? A Just Hit Play favorite, Ernest Borgnine goes for the gusto as Rogo, a police officer traveling with his new bride, a former hooker (Stella Stevens). There's also an older Jewish couple (Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson) traveling to see their grandson, two siblings (Pamela Sue Martin, Eric Shea) going to meet their parents, a lonely, middle-aged man (Red Buttons) who bonds with the ship band singer (Carol Lynley), and a member of the ship's crew, a waiter (Roddy McDowall). Winters was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress and comes across the best. The kids are pretty shrill, Borgnine and Hackman yell a lot, and Buttons is also very solid. A little hit or miss, but a strong cast overall.
How about some originality? Well, a capsized ocean liner quickly filling with water sure is a unique starting point. The survivors have to navigate their potential tomb...upside down. It's a hellish, claustrophobic, steamy, smoky environment littered with dead bodies and an ever-rising water level. You definitely feel like you're there with the survivors as they navigate this almost other-worldly situation. It's a cool premise that definitely pays dividends. The early, doom-building scenes are also incredibly effective as is the actual capsizing scene, just one epically uncomfortable extended sequence featuring some very cool special effects.
Sure, things get a touch overdone at times, especially with the pissing contest between Hackman and Borgnine for control of the group. Sure, the God/religion/faith aspects get to be a little much. Overall, it's an enjoyable movie that I've got to give a notch up simply because of its profound impact on countless movies released in its wake. Any movie that is still impacting flicks over 40 years later is okay in my book. Took quite a long time to sit down and watch it, but 'Poseidon' was worth the wait.
The Poseidon Adventure (1972): ***/****