Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

DISASTER MOVIES MONTH: Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)

Following the disastrous response that greeted “The Swarm,” Irwin Allen needed a hit. This was a good time to make a sequel to his previous hit, “The Poseidon Adventure.” He had tried before. In 1973, a sequel idea had been kicked around. It would've involved the original film's cast traveling via train to a hearing in Greece. The train would've been caught in a tunnel collapse, forcing the characters to daringly escape another dangerous situation. (A disaster movie about a tunnel collapse wouldn't come until 1996's “Daylight.”) When “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure” actually arrived, none of the original cast was present. In 1978, Paul Galico was commissioned to write a novel sequelizng the film, not his original book. This would be the source for Allen's film. It would not reverse his then-poor run of luck, becoming another flop.

During the New Year's Eve storm that capsized the Poseidon, a much smaller vessel is navigating the same seas. The tugboat is the Jenny, staffed by salvager Mike Turner, his second mate Wilbur, and passenger Celeste. The next day, they come upon the massive, upside-down hull of the Poseidon. The down-on-his-luck Turner immediately decides to search the Poseidon, hoping to find gold or diamonds. But he's not alone. Dr. Stefan Svevo has arrived, also intending to search the ship. Soon, the two crews get trapped inside and also meet up with another group of survivors. They also discover that Svevo's motivations are more complicated.

A sequel to “The Poseidon Adventure” is unnecessary. The original told a complete story, leaving little room for continuation. However, “Beyond” isn't the worst concept for a follow-up. It's a little less contrived than the tunnel collapse idea Allen first pitched. But only a little. How the cast gets into the Poseidon, get trapped, and meet up with the new batch of survivors is messy. Things only get worse from there. We discover that Dr. Svevo is an internationally renown weapons smuggler. The reason he's on the Poseidon is the story's dumbest reveal: A nuclear device was being smuggled on the Poseidon. Not only is this a desperate plot turn, one that really re-contextualizes the original's story, it also singles “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure's” weird transformation into an action movie. There's way more machine gun shoot-outs in this movie than in the first. Which seems to miss the point of what made the first compelling.

It's also a repetitive film. The movie cuts, way too many times, to stock footage of the ship's bows exploding. Characters often repeat their motivations, Peter Boyle's Frank constantly referencing his missing daughter. Twice, Karl Malden's Wilbur nearly has a heart attack, resulting in emotional conversations with his friends. Moments like that reveal “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure's” surprising sappy side. There are many long, quiet scenes of characters talking about their feelings. These scenes stop the plot cold, even if people are crawling through tunnels at the time. During one such heart-to-heart, other cast members are standing by, as if waiting patiently for the conversation to end so they can have their own. It's a baffling choice.

Despite the obvious weaknesses of the script and the execution, the cast is pretty strong. Either Michael Caine and Slim Pickins enjoyed working with Allen on “The Swarm” or he paid them really well, cause both are back this time. Caine is livelier this time, indulging that roughish charm of his. Pickins gets a lot more to do, delightfully hamming it up as a drunk Texan. (Even though his character arc is nearly identical to Fred Astire's in “The Towering Inferno.”) Sally Fields brings some pleasing energy to Celeste, in addition to having solid chemistry with Caine. Telly Savalas is coldly intimidating as Svevos, the kind of role he could play in his sleep. Peter Boyle's asshole charms are also put to good work as Frank. Only Malden and Jack Warden, as blindman Harold, falter. Both give maudlin performances.

If nothing else, “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure” is better than “The Swarm.” (It's also about forty-two minutes shorter, which surely doesn't hurt.) It's still a really dumb movie, without any of the tension, thrills, or pathos of the original. Allen's direction is still fairly flat. The film's effects, direction, and writing can all strain towards unintentional hilarity. Such as when a door randomly opens up, spilling flames into a room. Or the sudden explosion at the end. It's not exactly boring, the biggest crime a blockbuster can make, but it's not very entertaining either. Even big fans of the first “Poseidon Adventure” can easily skip this inessential follow-up. I can't blame audiences for passing on this one, hastening the end of the disaster movie's lifespan. [5/10]

[] Awards Bait Ballad
[X] Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures
[] Destruction of Famous Landmarks
[X] Grim Predictions
[X] Group In-Fighting
[X] Heroic Sacrifices
[X] Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
[] Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
[X] Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
[X] Star-Studded Cast

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